Friday, April 28, 2017

Think North Korea is Scary? Not As Scary As This.



You don't ever want to hear somebody with serious psychological issues and his finger on the nuclear trigger say this about his new job: "I thought it would be easier."

Yes, Donald Trump keeps showing how ill-prepared and ill-suited he is for the American presidency. It began with health care reform when he let slip that changing the existing system was a "lot more complicated" than he had imagined. America's relations with China likewise flummoxed the Cheeto Benito with their complexity. Daily governance is a lot more complicated than Trump ever realized. He expected to be the CEO of the government of the United States of America. He dreamt of a position not all that far removed from Mussolini's.

It's not like any of this stuff should have taken Trump by surprise. The basic functioning of the American government with its vaunted checks and balances is standard fare in any grade school curriculum. Yet it took him by surprise. The workload demands on a president are well documented. The histories of the presidencies of FDR, John Kennedy, Clinton, Bush and Obama are no state secret and yet the reality of becoming president took him by surprise.

Barely a hundred days in office and Trump has revealed himself to be as ignorant and misinformed as he is incurious. That is a formula for reactionary government. Unable, through sheer ignorance, to formulate any effective vision there's little else Trump can do other than to react to whatever is going on at the moment which is a great way to paint yourself into a corner which is a proven way to back yourself and your nation into wars no one wants. He wouldn't be the first hapless leader to initiate a war to mask his own failings. A little war, of course, with a high probability of "mission creep."

Now, with Congress rejecting Trump's requests for funds to build his sacred cow, the wall along the Mexican border, he is sounding dispirited.  He promised to achieve so much in his first hundred days in office and has delivered precious little. He and his closest associates are under investigation by the FBI as well as the House and the Senate intelligence committees. For a guy obsessed with ratings, his approval numbers are appalling. With the exception of Theresa May, European leaders thumb their noses at him. Eager to be seen to be doing something, Trump is massing forces at North Korea's doorstep and launching a trade war with Canada.

If there's one thing the world doesn't need it's Donald Trump in the throes of depression.

UPDATE:

As if Trump's mood issues aren't enough to worry about, Thomas Homer-Dixon explores another of his character predilections, turning every issue into a game of chicken.

In the classic representation of the game, two teenagers in fast cars race toward each other on a long straight road, each straddling the centre line. If only one swerves to avoid a crash, the other gets bragging rights for having guts, while the driver who swerved is labelled a wimp. If both swerve, neither has bragging rights, but each lives to tell the tale. But if neither driver swerves, both die in a head-on crash, and each looks, frankly, pretty stupid.

Theorists of conflict and negotiation find the game fascinating, because it models a particular approach to negotiation – one in which each party is locked into a logic of escalation that risks calamity for both. But threatening escalation to calamity is usually a horrible bargaining strategy. For one thing, it takes all possible win-win outcomes off the table (if both drivers swerve, neither really wins). Also, in any bargaining process that continues over time, a game-of-chicken approach by one party almost always makes the other party angry and recalcitrant, because they’re forced to choose between humiliation and annihilation.

But some people tend to approach all negotiations this way, especially those who want to demonstrate their dominance over others and who don’t have the motivation or ability to get into the nitty-gritty details of the bargaining process. Anyone come to mind?

...

Mr. Trump built his public brand around his deal-making abilities. We’ve now had three months to observe his approach to bargaining – over Obamacare’s repeal, with Russia over Syria, with North Korea over its nukes and recently with Congress when he tied financing the Mexican border wall to ongoing government funding. It turns out he’s a terrible negotiator.

In each case, he’s revved his engine, smoked his tires on the pavement and roared at high speed down the centre line toward his opponent. In the two cases where a crash has become imminent – Obamacare and the wall, both domestic – he’s swerved at the last moment, because he’s recognized the staggering political cost of a crash. There’s no doubt that both Russia and North Korea have watched these domestic melodramas and are now tempted to regard Mr. Trump as a blowhard and a wimp.

And that’s the problem with having a reputation for using an escalatory strategy in bargaining: to sustain your credibility with the strategy, sometimes you can’t swerve. Sometimes you simply must go straight down that centre line while throwing the steering wheel out the window.

Mr. Trump and his advisers know it’s true. So, at some point the President will have to re-establish his alpha-gorilla credibility at the expense of a bargaining counterparty. That counterparty will likely be another country, because Mr. Trump has his greatest latitude for independent action on the international stage. If he chooses North Korea, a regime led by a dictator who seems quite ready to risk it all, woe awaits the world.


Homer-Dixon argues that Canada has to be ready to play chicken with Trump and Trudeau has to be ready to play for keeps. Sometimes you simply must go straight down that centre line while throwing the steering wheel out the window.


WHAT? Not Again!



I wanted to write "who can forget the El Nino of 2015-2016?" until I thought of today's dreaded Memory Hole. Let's start again. Do you remember the devastating El Nino of 2015-2016. If you do, you might be surprised that it's expected to return before 2017 is out.

We had a brief interlude of El Nino's nasty step-sister, La Nina, that brought drought-quenching relief to California, but that lasted about six months and then - poof. Still it had been thought we might have an extended ENSO-neutral stretch of breathing room for a couple of years or more. Apparently not.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Friday that a new El Niño was 50-60% likely before the end of 2017. “Memories are still fresh of the powerful 2015-2016 El Niño which was associated with droughts, flooding and coral bleaching in different parts of the world and which, combined with long-term climate change, led to the increase of global temperatures to new record highs in both 2015 and 2016,” said Maxx Dilley, director of WMO’s climate prediction and adaptation division.

It is unusual for El Niño conditions to return so swiftly, said Tim Stockdale, principal scientist at the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts(ECMWF), one of the leading prediction centres around the world and which contributed to the WMO forecast. “Normally we would expect a longer interval before another warming. But, having said that, El Niño variability is really rather irregular.”
...

..regional warming associated with El Niño has already caused very heavy rains and floods in Peru and Ecuador, after the sea surface temperatures in the far eastern tropical Pacific ocean rose to 2C or more above average during February and March. This phenomenon has in the past sometimes been followed by a global El Niño.

Another concern is that the variation in El Niño over decades may be switching to a new, hotter phase. “For the last decade, the tropical Pacific has tended to be on the cold side, and that has helped keep global temperatures down. With this warming coming back so soon, it makes you wonder if the decadal trend is a bit more on to the positive side,” said Stockdale. “Obviously if that were sustained over the next five to 10 years, it would make the global warming signal stand out more strongly than it has done over the past decade.”

Here's a good animation to explain El Nino from Britain's Met Office.



Has Equality Become a Quaint, Obsolete Vestige of the Past?



I know, I know, you're probably saying "what equality?" When did we ever live in a world of equality? We didn't but we did at least once treat equality in some things as a desirable ideal. That we embraced equality as a value is evident today in the angst many suffer at our rapidly growing inequality. According to a piece from BBC, inequality could soon get far worse and very quickly. In fact, your existence might be treated as redundant.

[In the 19th and 20th centuries] equality became a dominant value in human culture, almost all over the world. Why?

It was partly down to the rise of new ideologies such as humanism, liberalism and socialism.

But it was also about technological and economic change - which was connected to those new ideologies, of course.

Suddenly the elite needed large numbers of healthy, educated people to serve as soldiers in the army and as workers in the factories.

Governments didn't educate and vaccinate to be nice.

They needed the masses to be useful.

But now that's changing again.


[Robotics-driven automation]  is one reason why we might - in the not-too-distant future - see the creation of the most unequal societies that have ever existed in human history.

And there are other reasons to fear such a future.

With rapid improvements in biotechnology and bioengineering, we may reach a point where, for the first time in history, economic inequality becomes biological inequality.

Until now, humans had control of the world outside them.

They could control the rivers, forests, animals and plants.

But they had very little control of the world inside them.

They had limited ability to manipulate and engineer their own bodies, brains and minds.

They couldn't cheat death.

That might not always be the case.

...

The rich - through purchasing ...biological enhancements - could become, literally, better than the rest; more intelligent, healthier and with far greater life-spans.

At that point, it will make sense to cede power to this "enhanced" class.

Think about it like this.

In the past, the nobility tried to convince the masses that they were superior to everyone else and so should hold power.

In the future I am describing, they really will be superior to the masses.

And because they will be better than us, it will make sense to cede power and decision-making to them.

...

We might also find that the rise of artificial intelligence - and not just automation - will mean that huge numbers of people, in all kinds of jobs, simply lose their economic usefulness.

The two processes together - human enhancement and the rise of AI - may result in the separation of humankind into a very small class of super-humans and a massive underclass of "useless" people.

...

Once you lose your economic importance, the state loses at least some of the incentive to invest in your health, education and welfare.
It's very dangerous to be redundant.

Your future depends on the goodwill of some small elite.

Maybe there is goodwill.

But in a time of crisis - like climate catastrophe - it would be very easy to toss you overboard.


Dismiss this if you like but I think we can all agree that it poses serious questions that we need to ask, issues that we need to discuss. Unfortunately it comes at a point where governments seem to have no great interest in discussing serious issues with us. Maybe they already see this writing on the wall.

Not the Reichstag Fire, But...


German authorities have arrested a German officer accused of plotting a "false flag" terrorist attack to stir up anti-migrant unrest.

The officer, a lieutenant-colonel, is said to have passed himself off as a Syrian refugee and claimed asylum in Bavaria. German police also arrested an accomplice in whose apartment were found weapons and explosives.

No one is quite sure how this officer's refugee claim was even accepted given he had no Arabic language skills.

Farewell, United Kingdom


At times she seems to think herself a latter day Margaret Thatcher but Theresa May's legacy might be as the prime minister who destroyed the United Kingdom.

She's been pushing the European Union for a new deal to grease Britain's Brexit from the EU. That's earning May a lot of pushback, most recently from Angela Merkel who added her voice to the chorus saying there'll be no deal, no negotiations for a deal, before Britain is out.

Scottish leaders say if the UK is out of the EU, Scotland wants out of the UK and they're demanding a second referendum. May says no but her arguments are lame and likely to fuel the drive for Scottish independence.

Now the EU is sending another body blow to 10 Downing Street with an expected announcement that Europe mght allow a unified Ireland to join the EU after Brexit. Nice. Peel off Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom. With the Scots in the mood to say adios that would leave England and Wales, if May could persuade the Welsh to stay put. The Britain, formerly known as Great Britain, a once United Kingdom no more.

Sounds like the gloves are off.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Change You Can Believe In, Even If You Would Rather Not



It caused a ruckus (is that still a word?) back in 2013. Four years ago, can you imagine? That's when we learned that atmospheric carbon dioxide had broken through the 400 ppm mark for the first time in - well it seemed like forever. Many hundreds of thousands of years to be sure.

Guess what? A scant four years later and we've broken 410 ppm of atmospheric CO2, a level not seen in millions of years. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Those fake news, alarmist, climate science hoaxters predicted it would happen this year and, surprise, surprise, they were right - unless it really is a hoax but I wouldn't count on that.

In what’s become a spring tradition like Passover and Easter, carbon dioxide has set a record high each year since measurements began. It stood at 280 ppm when record keeping began at Mauna Loa in 1958. In 2013, it passed 400 ppm. Just four years later, the 400 ppm mark is no longer a novelty. It’s the norm.

“Its pretty depressing that it’s only a couple of years since the 400 ppm milestone was toppled,” Gavin Foster, a paleoclimate researcher at the University of Southampton told Climate Central last month. “These milestones are just numbers, but they give us an opportunity to pause and take stock and act as useful yard sticks for comparisons to the geological record.”

...

The rate of increase will go down when emissions decrease,” Pieter Tans, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said. “But carbon dioxide will still be going up, albeit more slowly. Only when emissions are cut in half will atmospheric carbon dioxide level off initially.”

Even when concentrations of carbon dioxide level off, the impacts of climate change will extend centuries into the future. The planet has already warmed 1.8°F (1°C), including a run of 627 months in a row of above-normal heat. Sea levels have risen about a foot and oceans have acidified. Extreme heat has become more common.

All of these impacts will last longer and intensify into the future even if we cut carbon emissions. But we face a choice of just how intense they become based on when we stop polluting the atmosphere.

Right now we’re on track to create a climate unseen in 50 million years by mid-century.


The moral of the story, kids, is that we're not going back to the climate we enjoyed back in the 60s or even the 80s. We're not even going to keep the curious climate we've got today where you never know if next week you'll be golfing or shoveling snow. No, we're in for a far rougher ride than that and we won't have long to wait for the next climate to set in. That gun's already loaded.

The moral concerns our choices for the world our grandkids and theirs will live in, the climate they'll have to endure. We're already beyond the point where we can make their climate nearly as good as the weather we have today. What we can still do, however, and what our prime minister and all the petro-polls of Parliament Hill on both sides of the aisle are so plainly intent on doing is to make their ordeal  far worse than necessary. Trudeau and company, just like Harper and company, are banking on bitumen for our prosperity but they're stiffing future generations with the bill.


Dirtier Than We Had Ever Imagined.



Oil and gas fracking doesn't draw the same attention in Canada as it has attracted in the United States. It's probably fair to say that most of us hardly think of it at all. That could be about to change.

Two new studies into fracking operations in western Canada show that fracking generally and the LNG industry in particular are far dirtier, leaking massively more methane, than we had been led to believe.

A peer-reviewed study appearing in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions used measurements in the field to estimate that methane emissions from B.C.’s shale gas basins are now at least 2.5 times higher than provincial government estimates.

That makes the oil and gas sector the largest source of climate pollution in B.C., a greater source of pollution than commercial transportation.

Based on measurements from mobile methane detectors driven around in a Dodge truck, the study found that just the drilling part of the industry in the B.C. portion of the Montney Formation, a 29,850 square-kilometre siltstone area in Western Canada, is releasing 111,800 tonnes of methane a year into the atmosphere.

That is equivalent to burning more than 4.5 million tonnes of coal or putting more than two million cars on the road. Half of B.C.’s fracked gas currently comes from the Montney. The study did not look at methane leaks from pipelines or gas processing plants.

...

More than 130 scientists recently criticized the federal government for assessing the climate change impact of a proposed Petronas LNG terminal in B.C. by using unverified and unrealistically small estimates of methane leakage.

All LNG environmental assessments in the province to date have used a questionable methane leakage rate of 0.28 per cent estimated by the B.C. government — one of the lowest rates on the continent.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculates that most natural gas operations lose about 1.33 per cent of their product, while some sites have recorded leakage rates as high as nine per cent. Leakage rates above three per cent make methane as dirty as coal in terms of direct impact on climate change. 


But Wait, There's More

Meanwhile, another study found that methane leaks pose an even graver problem in Alberta, home to more than 300,000 oil and gas wells. (B.C. currently has 25,000 wells, but LNG developments could add 150,000 wells in the Montney Formation alone.)

To back up its case, the environmental group reviewed the findings of a 2017 study by the Alberta Energy Regulator and GreenPath Energy, which found that “the actual emissions at oil and gas facilities from pneumatic devices are 60 per cent higher than estimates used to compile Canada’s GHG inventory.”

Pneumatic devices, mostly powered by methane, help to pump and control the flow of gas from well sites and other facilities. Most vent methane directly to the atmosphere too.

The GreenPath Energy study measured leaks from pneumatic devices at 395 sites and almost 700 wells at six locations in Alberta and identified 77 major leaks via infrared cameras and direct methane vents from 236 pieces of equipment. GreenPath Energy is a Calgary-based company that specializes in managing greenhouse gas emissions.

The researchers found that 95 per cent of the pneumatic devices at conventional oil and gas facilities vented methane and other gases such as benzene. Oil well sites leaked the most methane.


If you're not conversant with the fracking process and perils, this video may help.

















Kevin, That's No Way to Make Friends



My best Ottawa Tory buddy is miffed. He's pissed off with Kevin O'Leary and, by the sound of his complaint, he's probably not alone.

It seems my pal, and other reliable Tory donors, got hit up by K O'L for a campaign contribution just four hours before O'Leary announced his withdrawal from the leadership race which also happened some 10 hours after the Bad Boy from Boston had made his decision to pull the pin.

There may be a lot of Tories calling Visa, or American Express, or their banks this morning to try to stop payments to Old Baldy.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Now Here's a Number That Won't Leave You Yawning - I Hope


How does 90-trillion dollars sound? Got your attention?

The global impact of our rapidly warming and fast melting Arctic could create losses from the destruction of roads and buildings upwards of 90-trillion George Washingtons.

The Arctic Council reports that, "Arctic warming could have cumulative net costs from 2010-2100 of between $7 trillion and $90 trillion, it said, with harm exceeding benefits such as easier access for oil and gas exploration and shipping."

That's the T-word, not the B-word. Trillion dollars, lots of trillions of dollars.

Junior, our petro-prime minister, ain't gonna like this:

Among recommendations, the report said Arctic states and those interested in the region "should lead ... global efforts for an early, ambitious and full implementation" of a Paris Agreement in 2015 among almost 200 nations to limit warming.

Justin Trudeau isn't thinking in terms of early, ambitious or full implementation of the Paris climate agreement. He's thinking more along the lines of eventual, possibly, very limited and partial implementation - something a little more tailored to his partisan political interests. Jesus, I hope he's figuring to make a bundle off bitumen trafficking because we'll be looking at a pretty steep bill to cover the damages.

It's That Yawn. That's What Can Kill You.



The field of climate change offers rich pickings for social scientists. There's an immense amount of data to be mined in how we, collectively and as individuals, respond to this mountain of research and the steady stream of reports and studies that appear in the back pages of our newspapers literally weekly.

I've concluded that as the situation becomes increasingly dire, we Canadians and even more so our American cousins, become increasingly disinterested, apathetic.  There's a name for that dynamic. The political caste calls it "creeping normalcy" and they pay very close attention to it.

Yesterday our friend, Lorne, did a post entitled, "We Reap What We Sow, Eh?" about the latest international report that finds the Arctic is warming, and melting, much faster than had previously been thought.

I responded with an off-topic comment:

Reports are being published at a pace that blurs our ability to comprehend their significance. The recurrent theme is "latest research shows previous predictions were unduly optimistic." The latest research then turns out to be valid until it is overtaken, in turn, by the next. I'm left wondering if climate scientists haven't been cowed by fears of being criticized as alarmists which leaves them always behind the curve on their projections. If you were to look at nearly three decades of consensus reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, you would be struck by how seriously understated their conclusions have been even as they are routinely denounced as alarmists.


...These worsening conditions have achieved a measure of what politicians call "creeping normalcy." The political caste is reluctant to allocate funding to measures that may primarily benefit future generations, money they would prefer to use for tax cuts or programmes that will buy votes over the next electoral cycle or two. Creeping normalcy resulting from public apathy is manna from Heaven to the politicos as it takes them off the hook. Trudeau's supposed postponement of Canada's climate change plan until 2025-2030, by which time he'll be very likely gone from office, is a reflection of this cynical expediency.


Who can forget how Trudeau beat his chest and proclaimed, "Canada is back," when he and his enviromin, Dame Cathy, strode boldly into the Paris climate summit in December, 2015 vowing not merely to back the 2 degree Celsius target to cap warming but to march that back to a 1.5C target. We were leaders. Gone was the dastardly Harper who, for nearly a decade, had made Canada a climate change pariah.

Well that was then. This is now and now Harper's Canada is back and then some.  After draining every last drop of political capital from Canada's climate change vows, our whorish prime minister has moved on to better things such as ramping up bitumen extraction and export while approving new and expanded pipelines to deliver the toxic sludge to "tidewater" into a waiting armada of supertankers soon to be plying our dangerous coastal waters with the promise of lasting environmental calamity. Whores don't offer fidelity. Neither does this prime minister. Whether on Parliament Hill or some tawdry street corner, both operate on an ethos of cynical expediency and personal advantage.

We all carry a share of the blame for this. That yawn at the latest in a seemingly neverending deluge of studies reporting worsening Arctic heating and melting is a beacon to people like this prime minister. That yawn signals to this "duly elected" prime minister it's just another promise that he can afford to break, a lot like his solemn promise of electoral reform. He's weighed the risks and figures he can get away by telling the rubes that the path to a green future for Canada lies in flogging as much high-carbon bitumen as possible onto world markets. Think that's not whorish? Ha, ha, ha, ha.

And so we've put off any serious action on climate change until 2025-2030 and probably well beyond even that. This has been a pressing issue since the Chretien era and old Jean did sweet f__k all. Harper used Chretien's failures to justify his own. Now Harper's successor - in every sense of the word - is continuing the legacy of his predecessors. And he will just as long as we keep yawning.

Trudeau promised that his government would make policy based on facts and would be guided by science. Yet our prime ministerial streetwalker hasn't produced a shred of science to support shelving even the meagre initiatives he proposed for climate change. He knows what the science says. So do you. He knows that he's blowing smoke up your backside and as long as we keep yawning, he'll keep blowing.

And as we keep yawning, the clock keeps running and our remaining window of opportunity to act closes. The scientific consensus holds that we don't have another 10 to 15 years to wait. We need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions starting now, right now. What's the diametric opposite of that? Oh yes, that would be markedly increasing greenhouse gas emissions and for at least another 15 to 30 years. And that is exactly what this government has in store. All you've got to do is keep yawning.








Monday, April 24, 2017

Just Remember. We Are Not Masters of the Universe.



How can we take history’s greatest thinkers seriously when they were so oblivious to basic facts about the human situation? Future generations will almost certainly think the same of us, while snickering behind their hands at the primitive absurdities that today we believe unquestioningly, and dismissing the silly ideas that we build on top of our grand ignorance.


A handy reminder from Scientific American. We only pretend that we understand everything. In reality, we understand almost nothing.


There are no uncharted lands waiting for ships to find their shores, and few if any untasted fruits waiting for human lips. Many grand mysteries of the Universe have been cracked open by science, from the makeup of matter on Earth to the nature of the stars in the sky. The child who marvels at the adventures of Magellan or wonders about how the Universe works might worry: What is left for me to discover?

Our answer should be: Well, almost everything.

While we have made tremendous strides in mapping the planet and the cosmos, there are still vast tracts of unexplored scientific territory. Much of life on Earth, from the ocean’s depths to the microbiome in our guts, remains unknown. And the largest cosmic questions are still unanswered: How big is the Universe? What is 95 percent of the Universe made of? What happened before the Big Bang? Why does time move only forward? Does space have more than three dimensions? Is there life beyond Earth?

Even the tiniest particles inside the atom hold perplexing puzzles that elude today’s greatest thinkers: Why do we have anti-matter? Why does every particle have two heavy cousins? How many particles are there? Is there a single tiny particle (or string) that makes up all of matter?

Almost certainly, intellectual revolutions await us. Thinking back before the past few centuries of progress in scientific understanding, we can wonder: what it was like for people to live in such ignorance about the scale of the Universe, our place within it, the quantum nature of reality, and our own evolutionary history? How can we take history’s greatest thinkers seriously when they were so oblivious to basic facts about the human situation? Future generations will almost certainly think the same of us, while snickering behind their hands at the primitive absurdities that today we believe unquestioningly, and dismissing the silly ideas that we build on top of our grand ignorance. 

Is it any wonder that religious truth eludes us so completely that it can only exist, whatever its creed, on faith - on suspension of disbelief? The same holds for most of our orthodoxies to some extent. Authoritarianism is a belief- and suspicion-based ideology and yet it is widely embraced by its aherents with fierce certainty.

It's good to remind ourselves from time to time that, even among the ranks of the brightest of us, no matter how informed or well-intentioned we're really just dumbasses at the end of the day.                                   


Giroux - How the Left Aids and Abets Authoritarianism



Among those who imagine they populate the left and centre-left are a good many who are all too ready to denounce neoliberalism even if they have only a vague and incomplete grasp of what that really is. Unfortunately, when it was foisted on the West nearly 40 years ago, it didn't come with an operating manual or even, for that matter, a name.

Neoliberalism has run a course that a few predicted from the outset. It has seen liberal democracy succumb to a new form of authoritarianism, the end result of a progression of the surrender of state sovereignty; political capture and the rise of "bought and paid for" legislatures implementing transactional democracy; regulatory capture and the usurpation of government powers by the industrial sector; all culminating in today's neo-fascist populism.

As I've written so many times, the public have been quietly, almost unnoticeably, conditioned into a malleable state, what Henry Giroux calls the "moral coma." This numbing down of the public conscience has facilitated the wholesale transfer, theft of both economic and political power out of the working classes and onto the ledger pages of the new aristocracy, our very own autocrats. Giroux writes that the left has unwittingly and, at times, even wittingly aided and abetted the rise of this new authoritarianism.

A neo-fascist politics of emotional brutality, militant bigotry, and social abandonment has reached new heights in the United States. Think about the Republican Party call to eliminate essential health benefits such as mental health coverage, guaranteed health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, and the elimination of Meals on Wheels program that benefit the poor and elderly.
...

As the Trump regime continues to hollow out the welfare state, it builds on Obama’s efforts to expand the surveillance state but with a new and deadly twist. This is particularly clear given the Congressional Republicans’ decision to advance a bill that would overturn privacy protections for Internet users, allow corporations to monitor, sell, and use everything that users put on the Internet, including their browsing history, app usage and financial and medical information.

This is the Orwellian side of Trump’s administration, which not only makes it easier for the surveillance state to access information, but also sells out the American public to corporate demagogues who view everything in terms of markets and the accumulation of capital.
...

..the relative silence of the American public in the face its government dropping the “Mother of All Bombs” in Afghanistan and unloading endless weapons of death and destruction in Syria testify to
the amnesiac state of the country and the moral coma which has settled like a dense fog on so many of its inhabitants. As historical memory is erased, public spheres and cultural spaces are saturated with violence and the endless spectacles of civic illiteracy.
...

The supine response of the mainstream press and the general public to ongoing acts of state and corporate violence is a flagrant and horrifying indication of the extent to which the United States government has merged the corporate state with the military state to create a regime of brutality, sadism, aggression, and cruelty. State sovereignty has been replaced by corporate sovereignty. All the while, militarized ignorance expands a culture awash in public stupidity and views critical thought as both a liability and a threat making it all the more difficult to recognizes how authoritarianism appears in new forms.

The established political parties and politicians are nothing more than crude lobbyists and shock troops for the financial elite who believe everything is for sale. The boundaries of humanity are now inscribed and defined exclusively through the metrics of the twin logic of commercial transactions and the politics of disposability. The horrors unfolding under the Trump administration are not only abetted by white supremacists, religious evangelicals, but also by liberals who still believe that capitalism and democracy are synonymous, and who appear to delight and rush to support any military intervention or act of aggression the United States wages against a foreign power. Liberals are affronted over alleged charges of Russian spying but say nothing about their own country which does far more than spy on other countries it disagrees with, it overthrows them through either illegal means or military force.

Trump’s brand of authoritarianism is a combination of the savagery of neoliberalism and civic illiteracy on steroids. This legacy of neo-fascism represents more than a crisis of civic literacy and courage, it is a crisis of civic culture, if not politics itself. As civic culture wanes, a market based ideology increases its grip on the American public. This militant ideology of sadism and cruelty is all too familiar and is marked by unbridled individualism, a disdain for the welfare state, the elevation of unchecked self-interest to an organizing principle of society, the glorification of militarism, and a systemic erosion of any viable notion of citizenship.

This ideology has produced over the last forty years an agency killing form of depoliticization that paved the way for the election of Donald Trump and an updated version of American authoritarianism. This homegrown and new edition of neo-fascism cannot be abstracted from the cultural spectacles that now dominate American society and extend from the trivializing influence of celebrity culture and the militarism of video game culture to the spectacles of violence that dominate Hollywood and the mainstream media.

 ...

Clearly, resistance to this impending and ongoing reality of neo-fascism is more urgent than ever and necessitates challenging not only the commanding structures of economic power but also those powerful cultural apparatus that trade in the currency of ideas. A formidable resistance movement must work hard to create a formative culture that empowers and brings together the most vulnerable along with those who inhabit single issues movement.

The power of such a broad-based movement could draw inspiration from the historically relevant anti-war, anti-racist, and civil rights movements of the sixties and the ACT UP movement of the late eighties. At the same time, current social movements such as Podemos in Spain also offer the possibility of creating new political formations that are anti-fascist and fiercely determined to both challenge authoritarian regimes such as the Trump regime and dismantle the economic, ideological, and cultural structures that produce them. What all of these movements revealed was that diverse issues ranging from the war abroad to the racist and homophobic wars at home were symptomatic of a more profound illness and deeper malady that demanded a new understanding of theory, politics, and oppression.
...

A moral political coma now drives an authoritarian society that embraces greed, racism, hatred, inequality, stupidity, disposability, and lawlessness, all of which are celebrated as national virtues. The dark present is now the endpoint of a history of violence and barbarism that can no longer be camouflaged, in part, because it is unapologetic about the viciousness of its practices and the savagery of its effects. I want to hope that this moment of unmitigated violence, this period of punitiveness, and era of unimaginable cruelty will provoke people to wake up from the nightmare that has befallen the American public. Hopefully, in that wakefulness, in a resurgent act of witnessing and moral outrage will grow and provide the basis for a new kind of politics, a fierce wind of resistance, and a struggle too powerful to be defeated.








Can Crime Go Green?


Your mother probably told you there's some good in everybody. She might have been right.

A study finds that, in the UK, crime has gone green and in a big way. In fact, the transformation of Britain's criminal enterprise is believed responsible for cutting the nation's overall greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 10%.

How do the scofflaws, reprobates, blackguards and villains do it? Easy.

According to a study published in the British Journal of Criminology, the carbon cost of acquisitive and violent crime in 1995,was estimated at around 7 million tonnes, but was down to 3 million tonnes in 2015 — a drop of 62%.

It means that, in the course of two decades, the UK’s criminals have spared the atmosphere an estimated 54 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent that would otherwise have contributed to global warming. And that is roughly 10% of the nation’s annual emissions.

As the scientists point out, crime levels have been falling, and the nature of crime has also changed.

The ram-raids on jewellers’ shops with a stolen vehicle, the squeal of tyres in police chases, the sudden calls for an ambulance, the stakeouts and hijackings and all the associated street theatre of crime have diminished. Many of yesterday’s armed robbers have switched to lucrative and less overtly destructive online fraud.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

All the Money in the World. No Class. None, Zero, Nada.


Why can't Donald Trump just hire somebody to keep his foot out of his damned mouth? Why does he have to constantly remind us that he's someone you wouldn't have to dinner or, for that matter, leave unattended in a room with your daughter.

I watched a clip of the Cheeto Benito, his wife in tow, visiting a military hospital in Washington. There, on a stage, was Trump, some wounded veteran in a wheelchair, and Melania. Trump was there to present the vet with America's Purple Heart.

Trump strolled over toward the soldier and announced that he was, on behalf of the president (that would be him) and Melania, extending their congratulations on winning the Purple Heart.



Imagine, getting struck by shrapnel or catching a bullet, maybe even a ricochet, and then getting congratulated for winning as though you've just hit the winning homerun. Only the stage prop didn't hit a homerun. He lost a leg.

Afterward Trump got in close to the vet for the photo op. I suppose he hasn't mastered the selfie.

That's how this deviant's mind works. Soldiers receive the Purple Heart for only one thing, being wounded. It's an expression of respect and gratitude for presumed sacrifice, not the triumph of being pierced by flying metal objects.

Now you would think the Commander in Chief would make the effort to understand the meaning of something as historic as the Purple Heart just to show a trace of respect for the soldiers who receive it. Not the Great Orange Bloat. Not the guy who scored deferment upon deferment to keep his own ass Purple Heart free when other men his age went to serve in Vietnam.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Happy Earth Day




Happy Earth Day, from the International Space Station.

Here's something to think about. This video is taken from a spaceship, the ISS. The astronauts aboard have to carefully regulate their environment to keep it habitable, safe for human life.

Now, here's the thing. You're on a spaceship too, Spaceship Earth, our one and only biosphere. The International Space Station orbits Earth at around 15,000 miles an hour. Earth's rotational speed is around 1,000 miles an hour but Earth, in its orbit around the Sun, travels at nearly 67,000 miles an hour. And our galaxy itself travels through space at 490,000 miles an hour. In other words you are moving through the universe at over half a million miles each and every hour.

Yep, we're all passengers aboard a spaceship and, like those astronauts, we too have to carefully regulate Earth's environment to keep it habitable, safe for human life. Don't you think we've got a bit of catching up to do?

Friday, April 21, 2017

That's Not How It's Supposed to Work. The Great Trump Giveaway.


Republican stalwart, Kevin Phillips, in his 2005 book, "American Theocracy," explores the dynamics of how a globally dominant empire essentially empowers its successor's ascendancy.  Phillips notes that, at each succession in recent centuries, the dominant power reaches a point where it gives up the engine of its greatness, industry, and shifts to a FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) economy, while it invests its wealth and transfers its industrial base to its successor. He describes it as a country using its wealth to grow its rival's economy.

Enter Donald Trump. The Bloat had no sooner parked his backside behind the Resolute desk when he took pen in hand and cancelled the controversial, Trans Pacific Partnership. Most people were either wildly in favour of the move or at least partially pleased. A few weren't at all pleased. That's because the TPP was a globalized trade deal but it was also a geopolitical pact to anchor American hegemony in Asia Pacific. It can be said that killing off the TPP was the greatest gift an American president ever handed China.


The TPP was envisioned by former U.S. President Barack Obama as the primary tool with which the Washington would retain the strategic initiative to lead in the Pacific region. In many ways, it was more than a trade deal; it was a key strategic maneuver. Clyde Prestowitz, founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute, said that the essence of the TPP is “‘geopolitics’: that many of our friends in Asia were feeling neglected in America, and that it was being pushed aside in the region by China. Without a sign of American strength in the area, China might step into the vacuum.” Indeed, Obama often spoke of the TPP as a tool that will prevent China from writing the rules of trade in the near future. However, Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the TPP on his first day in the White House, effectively creating a leadership vacuum in the Pacific region — including Latin America.

The Pacific Alliance, a free-trading group comprising of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, lost no time in replacing the TPP. In mid-March, ministers and high-level representatives from nations that have signed on to the TPP, as well as China, Colombia, and South Korea, met for the first time since the United States’ withdrawal from the trade accord. According to Heraldo Muñoz, Chile’s foreign Minister, the signal from Viña del Mar, where the meeting took place, was clear: with or without the U.S., “multilateral trade and Pacific integration [is] alive and kicking.”

So as the United States withdraws from Pacific trade leadership, countries are turning to China. Peru’s president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, made his first foreign trip last year to China, not Washington. This is hardly surprising since China is now Peru’s number one trading partner. It is also not surprising, then, that on March 23, Peru was admitted as one of 13 new members of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Whatever the United States intentions, countries like Peru are drifting further into China’s orbit.
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Chinese companies are busy embarking on new projects in South America. Shandong Gold, a state-backed Chinese company, recently agreed to pay almost $1 billion for half of Barrick Gold’s Veladero mine in Argentina. The Veladero mine is expected to produce as much as 830,000 ounces of gold this year, making this a major victory for China’s economy.

Even politically, the United States seems to flirt with avoiding leadership, an alarming development from the putative leader of the free world. The Trump administration informed the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Human Rights Commission that it would not participate in three hearings on March 21 about Trump’s executive orders on immigration, as part of a review of human rights cases in countries across the hemisphere. The highly unusual step of boycotting several sessions was a bad mistake that will weaken U.S. efforts to condemn Cuba, Ecuador, and other systematic human rights abusers.

The ground that Trump has given away, the influence and hegemony thrown out with the garbage, probably won't be coming back. What incentive would China possibly have to give back Trump's gifts? Asia, Africa, even America's back yard, South America, have gone or are going over to China's side. Aircraft carriers won't woo them back.

History in the Making - Britain Goes Coal Free



Britain and coal have gone hand in hand since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Coal powered Britain's factories and fueled her ships. Coal brought Britain enormous prosperity and world domination.

Now, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, Britain is expecting to go coal-free.

The UK is set to have its first ever working day without coal power generation since the Industrial Revolution, according to the National Grid.

The control room tweeted the predicted milestone on Friday, adding that it is also set to be the first 24-hour coal-free period in Britain.

Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, said: “The first day without coal in Britain since the Industrial Revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition. A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years’ time our energy system will have radically transformed again.

“The direction of travel is that both in the UK and globally we are already moving towards a low carbon economy."



Jeebus! A Couple of Weeks Ago They Were All At the Beach.


Back in March the Brit papers were all proclaiming "heatwave." Plenty of photos of Brits flocking to the beaches for a bit of early sunbathing.

Now, a month later, one month closer to summer, they're bracing for freezing gales out of the Arctic. Even Coventry is expecting snow.

And that, kids, is what they call "global weirding," what you get when stuff doesn't happen when it should or, for that matter, when it shouldn't.

I spoke with my brother a week or so back. He lives near Port Dover/Simcoe. On Thursday they had snowplows clearing the roads. That Sunday the temps were in the 70s. Global weirding, that's it.


ULCCs. WTF?



A couple of days back I watched a few YouTube videos of my favourite Canadian airline, the legendary Wardair. Max Ward brought us the pinnacle of Canadian air travel and it's all been downhill ever since. Spacious, comfortable seats. Meals served on china with stainless cutlery and wine served in something called crystal. Even back then it felt like Heaven.

Those days are gone. Wardair is gone, bought out in the late 80s by Pacific Western Airlines, bought out in turn by Canadian Pacific Airlines, and ultimately consumed after a dog eat dog death match by Air Canada.

The people's airline introduced the unwashed horde to a new level of service often called "cattle class" in honour of feedlots across the country. If you want to be treated somewhat decently you up the ante and pay for business class or, if you're mentioned in the will, first class. Anything to avoid the humiliation and debasement of economy.

It was about that time that I parted company with commercial aviation. I'd pretty much been where I wanted to go. I'd seen what I wanted to see. I had my share of air travel and plenty of it.

Yet I was still struck today when I read the teaser on the CBC web site, "Are Canadians ready for no-frills flying?" WTF? They've been living with no-frills flying for the past 20 or so years, or so I thought. Guess I was wrong. Apparently the airlines have put their furious minds to how they can make the ordeal of modern air travel even more unpleasant.

Passengers pay extra for food and luggage; we're all used to that. There's a fee for carry-on baggage as well, in most cases. You want to get on early, so that you can stow that bag in the overhead compartment? There's a fee for that. Can't print your boarding pass at home. That'll cost you. The innovation is limitless. Uzbekistan Airways and Samoan Air charge passengers by weight. Just saying.

Most Canadians have flirted with ULCCs in Europe or the U.S., or even here in Canada with NewLeaf in the past year, but the no-frills airline is going mainstream now with WestJet's entry into the market.

Well, if ultra-low cost carriers are your thing, be my guest. At least there are some things they won't be able to charge extra for, luxuries such as elbows in your ribs, the noise and, of course, the smell.









Just Because They're Hopelessly Corrupt That Doesn't Make Them Real Liberals


We've got an election campaign underway out here on the Left Coast and John Horgan's New Democrats are in hot pursuit of Christy Clark's B.C. Liberal government.

Something about Horgan seems to have crawled up the ass of the guy I think of as the Liberal Loudmouth. He does not like the cut of Horgan's jib and he's racing to the defence of Christy Clark. Perhaps he imagines Crusty as a Liberal. It says as much right on the party's letterhead yet there are damned few B.C. Liberals who harbour any instincts remotely liberal. No, in every way and every day, they show that their roots are deeply conservative.

Now you would have thought that LL, being steeped in all things Liberal, would have realized there is no liberal party in British Columbia. And, besides, just because you're utterly corrupt, that doesn't necessarily mean that you're Liberal although I can understand the confusion.

I'll not defend Horgan for some unfortunate remark that somehow sent LL spinning. In this race I'm not backing either Clark or Horgan. I'm a Green living in the bastion of the Green Party, Vancouver Island. The Greens are polling quite well on the island something that inevitably pisses off the B.C. Libs and the NDP with their grinding crap about vote splitting.

So, just a heads up to all you out-of-province Liberals who may imagine that Christy Clark is one of you. Don't be fooled. Just because her government is mired in corruption, that doesn't make them real Liberals.


Weekend Reading - NYT Magazine, Climate Change Edition



You can read it right here. The New York Times Magazine this weekend tackles the urgent problem of climate change. On offer, an item on how mosquito-born diseases including zika are set to worsen; how the island city state of Singapore is coping with sea level rise; a cautionary look at geo-engineering measures; sea level rise and America's east coast.

Then there's a piece from John Mooallem, "Our Climate Future Is Actually Our Climate Present," in which the author asks "How do we live that the world we knew is going and, in some cases, already gone?"

The future we’ve been warned about is beginning to saturate the present. We tend to imagine climate change as a destroyer. But it also traffics in disruption, disarray: increasingly frequent and more powerful storms and droughts; heightened flooding; expanded ranges of pests turning forests into fuel for wildfires; stretches of inhospitable heat. So many facets of our existence — agriculture, transportation, cities and the architecture they spawned — were designed to suit specific environments. Now they are being slowly transplanted into different, more volatile ones, without ever actually moving.

Some communities will face new problems and varieties of weather; in others, existing ones will intensify. Already-vulnerable societies — the poor, the poorly governed — may be stressed to grim breaking points. Consider the mass starvation in South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia, where a total of nearly a million and a half children are predicted to die this year — and that climate change is projected to worsen the kind of droughts that caused it. Consider, too, a 2015 Department of Defense report, which framed climate change as a geopolitical “threat multiplier” that will “threaten domestic stability in a number of countries,” and cited a study showing how a five-year drought in Syria contributed to the outbreak of the current conflict there. Nonetheless, denial is coming back in fashion among the most powerful. We have a president who dismisses climate change as a hoax, and a budget director who belittles government programs to study and adapt to our new reality as a “waste of your money.”
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We seem able to normalize catastrophes as we absorb them, a phenomenon that points to what Peter Kahn, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, calls “environmental generational amnesia.” Each generation, Kahn argues, can recognize only the ecological changes its members witness during their lifetimes. ...In Houston, Kahn found that two-thirds of the children he interviewed understood that air and water pollution were environmental issues. But only one-third believed their neighborhood was polluted. “People are born into this life,” Kahn told me, “and they think it’s normal.”
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On the most fundamental level, Kahn argues, we are already adapting to climate change through a kind of tacit acquiescence, the way people in a city like Beijing accept that simply breathing the air outside can make them sick. “People are aware — they’re coughing and wheezing,” he told me, “but they’re not staging political revolutions.” Neither are we. And, Kahn went on, we risk imprisoning ourselves, through gradual adaptation, into a condition of “unfulfilled flourishing.” A wolf becomes a dog, genetically; it wants to fetch tennis balls and sleep at the foot of your bed. But imagine a dog that isn’t yet a dog, that still wants to be a wolf.

Does "environmental generational amnesia" explain how, in a world where climate change casualties will soon mount at rates of a million or millions a year, our own prime minister remains so bitumen-friendly. Justin doesn't care, not enough anyway. Certainly not enough to keep his promises, the solemn pledges that carried him to power. He looks around and sees the Canadian public asleep and he knows he can do as he likes while we're napping. And when your eyes do open, he'll shoot you that winning smile and offer to pose with you for a selfie.

Trudeau can sit there with his thumb up your ass but events are overtaking him and us. There's also been a wave of recent articles scraping away our indifference to expose what's really happening, what we're causing in places conveniently out of sight, out of mind.

Michael Klare writes of climate change as genocide. Meanwhile a study commissioned by the German Foreign Office finds that climate change will fuel the next wave of terrorism.



In the drought-ravaged region around Lake Chad in central Africa, food and water shortages, near-economic collapse, and weak governments are providing a ripe recruiting ground for Islamist fundamentalist group Boko Haram.

“In north-eastern Nigeria, the region closest to Lake Chad and where Boko Haram is strongest, 71.5% of the population live in poverty and more than 50% are malnourished … This kind of economic deprivation provides an ideal breeding ground for recruitment by Boko Haram.”
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The Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change has warned the impact of global warming will drive massive refugee movements of an “unimaginable scale”, and that climate represents “the greatest security threat of the 21st century”.

Really, doesn't it make you wonder, when there is so much change happening, much of it out of control, how our government can dare to conduct itself as though it sees none of the danger, none of the suffering and death, directly attributable in no small part by fossil energy? I've heard what they said going back to 2015, even earlier. They understand what's happening. They know what's going to happen. 

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