Saturday, August 30, 2014

NATO's New Legion - Is Canada In?

NATO is organizing a 10,000 strong "expeditionary force" with an eye clearly on the Ukraine.

The aim is to create a fully functioning, division-sized force for rapid deployment and regular, frequent exercises. Officials involved in the planning say it will have the capacity to increase significantly in size.

The force will incorporate air and naval units as well as ground troops and will be led by British commanders, with other participating nations contributing a range of specialist troops and units. Countries involved at present include Denmark, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Norway and the Netherlands. Canada has also expressed an interest in taking part.

The Financial Times also reports that Sweden and Finland may soon enter the NATO alliance.


Banging the War Drum - Washington Post



It was earlier this month that the German financial newspaper, Handelsblatt, warned of the dangerous spread of war fever throughout Europe.  The paper found that Europeans were being "mentally mobilized" for war.

Something eerily similar is happening in America.  In today's Washington Post, columnist Anne Applebaum questions whether the European people today are all that different from the complacent, care free Polish population in the summer of 1939.

Instead of celebrating weddings, they [the Poles] should have dropped everything, mobilized, prepared for total war while it was still possible. And now I have to ask: Should Ukrainians, in the summer of 2014, do the same? Should central Europeans join them?

I realize that this question sounds hysterical, and foolishly apocalyptic, to U.S. or Western European readers. But hear me out, if only because this is a conversation many people in the eastern half of Europe are having right now. In the past few days, Russian troops bearing the flag of a previously unknown country, Novorossiya, have marched across the border of southeastern Ukraine. The Russian Academy of Sciences recently announced it will publish a history of Novorossiya this autumn, presumably tracing its origins back to Catherine the Great. Various maps of Novorossiya are said to be circulating in Moscow. Some include Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk, cities that are still hundreds of miles away from the fighting. Some place Novorossiya along the coast, so that it connects Russia to Crimea and eventually to Transnistria, the Russian-occupied province of Moldova. Even if it starts out as an unrecognized rump state — Abkhazia and South Ossetia, “states” that Russia carved out of Georgia, are the models here — Novorossiya can grow larger over time.

Applebaum foresees not merely a Russian invasion and conquest of Ukraine but outright genocide of the sort visited on Jews by the Nazis.

Russian soldiers will have to create this state — how many of them depends upon how hard Ukraine fights, and who helps them — but eventually Russia will need more than soldiers to hold this territory. Novorossiya will not be stable as long as it is inhabited by Ukrainians who want it to stay Ukrainian. There is a familiar solution to this, too. A few days ago, Alexander Dugin, an extreme nationalist whose views have helped shape those of the Russian president, issued an extraordinarystatement. “Ukraine must be cleansed of idiots,” he wrote — and then called for the “genocide” of the “race of bastards.”

Applebaum even warns of a sinister plot whereby Putin will rain nuclear weapons on Eastern Europe.

...the dissident Russian analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, has recently published an article arguing, along lines that echo Zhirinovsky’s threats, that Putin really is weighing the possibility of limited nuclear strikes — perhaps against one of the Baltic capitals, perhaps a Polish city — to prove that NATO is a hollow, meaningless entity that won’t dare strike back for fear of a greater catastrophe. Indeed, in military exercises in 2009 and 2013, the Russian army openly “practiced” a nuclear attack on Warsaw.
Is all of this nothing more than the raving of lunatics? Maybe. And maybe Putin is too weak to do any of this, and maybe it’s just scare tactics, and maybe his oligarchs will stop him. But “Mein Kampf” also seemed hysterical to Western and German audiences in 1933. Stalin’s orders to “liquidate” whole classes and social groups within the Soviet Union would have seemed equally insane to us at the time, if we had been able to hear them.
But Stalin kept to his word and carried out the threats, not because he was crazy but because he followed his own logic to its ultimate conclusions with such intense dedication — and because nobody stopped him. Right now, nobody is able to stop Putin, either. So is it hysterical to prepare for total war? Or is it naive not to do so?
Wow from conquest to genocide to nuclear war, Applebaum beats that war drum to death.  Hers is a self-fulfilling prophesy.


Friday, August 29, 2014

And a Happy Labour Day Weekend to You, Mr. Harper

The Times Colonist got the Labour Day weekend off to an early start with two op-eds this morning.  Both of them concerned our prime minister, Stephen J. Harper.

Mike Robinson provided a piece exploring Harper's performance as Canada's CEO.  Robinson, who has spent 28-years as CEO of various science and cultural NGOs, concludes that Harper's executive tenure has been a flop.

...in Canada, say the last eight years, corporate dominance has so overshadowed our federal political scene that many question the independence of thought in the Conservative party, and especially the Prime Minister’s Office.
On economic policy and foreign affairs files, Canada now speaks increasingly with the voice of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers — the industry’s lobby group — and seems to draw its economic policy from the Fraser Institute, both western organizations with great empathy for profit, small government and tax breaks for corporations.
...What becomes problematic is advancing these causes as the primary purpose of democratic government in a civil society. A majority government, even a plurality majority, has the duty to govern in the best interests of all the citizens and to promote the public good.
These duties require leadership that is comfortable with nuances, that listens and reflects, and has a searching eye for the middle ground. It is not well served by a leader in the thrall of dogmatism, who bases decisions on how they will serve his corporate base. To paraphrase former prime minister Jean Chr├ętien, Canada’s PM cannot be headwaiter to the oil patch.
Robinson goes on to evaluate Harper on several CEO criteria before concluding:L
Overall, our CEO PM has never looked comfortable in the position. If the economy stays flat and the pipelines fizzle; if the PM stays out of the gym; if more stupid mistakes occur; if the vision remains more of the same — this CEO is cruising towards a deserved involuntary dismissal.
Next up is a tale of triumphalism misplaced by our prime ministerial Chicken Hawk by Charlotte Gray, author of nine, non-fiction best sellers and former chairwoman of Canada's History Society.  Without mentioning Harper by name, Gray excoriates those who want to "celebrate" Canada's role in WWI.
Am I the only person feeling increasingly uncomfortable in the tidal wave of articles, ceremonies, television programs and speeches triggered by the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War?
Obviously there is a lot to remember. The extraordinary myopia of kings, emperors and prime ministers who let their countries roll inexorably toward conflict. The helplessness of those caught up in events beyond their control — both the troops and the families they left behind. The terrifying new weapons that ensured that this war would be slaughter on an industrial scale, rather than a limited engagement between professional armies.
And most of all, the bravery of those young men who endured the nightmare of mud, poison gas, rats, disease, hunger, lice, cold, fear and homesickness in the trenches.
Gray writes that there was precious little to celebrate in the outcome of WWI.
As early as October 1914, Maclean’s magazine called the bloody conflict in Europe “the Great War.” But it wasn’t a great war, let alone “the war to end all wars,” as British writer H.G. Wells suggested. It was a failed war. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles was supposed to ensure that the major European powers would never go to war again.
In fact, the Versailles Treaty turned out to be the peace to end all peace. Within 20 years of the treaty being signed, brutal conflict had erupted again in Europe.
The boundaries that the victorious powers slapped onto their maps of the Middle East reflected their own self-interest, rather than the religious and ethnic realities on the ground. The current turmoil in the Arab world can be traced back, in part, to decisions taken in the Hall of Mirrors and subsequent diplomatic get-togethers.
The second reason for my increasing unease is a disturbing thread in some of the First World War commemorations. Military battles are being presented to Canadians as significant moments in our coming of age as a country.
But you only have to read about the 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge (see historian Tim Cook’s wonderful Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1917-1918) to know that this coming of age was the result of poor military planning by British generals, and involved hundreds of needless deaths.
Among those Canadians who returned, there was an undercurrent of resentment that they had been embroiled in a British imperial crusade.
This is a funny place to start the national mythology.
How much is our past being manipulated for nationalist reasons? Many of the citizens in today’s multicultural Canada have their roots in countries that were either defeated in 1918 or played no part in the conflict. What should the killing fields of Europe mean to them?
Gray has little time for people like Harper who appropriate to themselves the sacrifice made by so many and sully that sacrifice by transforming it into mythical narratives to suit their own purposes.
So, happy Labour Day weekend to you, Mr. Harper, and thank you, Times Colonist, for giving us so much to mull over this holiday.

With Climate Change Sometimes There are Winners and Losers.



Washington State has a water problem.  It's a warm water problem.  A report in The Seattle Times says warmer Pacific waters off Washington are diverting salmon runs to Canada.

Unusually warm water off the Washington coast is sending the vast majority of the sockeye-salmon run to Canadian waters, leaving Puget Sound fishermen with nearly empty nets.
According to data from the Pacific Salmon Commission, nearly 2.9 million sockeye have been caught in Canadian waters, while only about 98,000 have been netted in Washington through Aug. 19.
That means 99 percent of sockeye have gone through the Johnstone Strait around the northern part of Vancouver Island into Canadian waters.
During a typical sockeye-salmon run, about 50 percent of the run goes around the south end of Vancouver Island through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, putting them in U.S. waters, The Bellingham Herald reported.
This year's Fraser River run has been spectacular for B.C. commercial and sports fisherman.

Oh, Crap! Sorry, I Meant the Ukraine.



Vlad Putin, it seems, has a response to the hectoring recently from the likes of Sideshow Steve Harper and John Baird and others - "meet me in the Arctic."

The Guardian reports that Putin has had enough of Western criticism of Russian involvement in the Ukraine whose government he likens to Nazis.

Hours after Barack Obama accused Russia of sending troops into Ukraine and fuelling and upsurge in the separatist war, Putin retorted that the Ukrainian army was the villain of peace, targeting residential areas of towns and cities like German troops did in the former Soviet Union.

...And he made a pointed reference to the Arctic, which with its bounteous energy reserves and thawing waterways is emerging as a new potential conflict between Russia and its western rivals.  "Our interests are concentrated in the Arctic.  And of course we should pay moire attention to issues of development of the Arctic and the strengthening of our position," Putin told a youth camp outside Moscow.

Ukraine's prime minister, Arseny Yetseniuk, meanwhile says he'll try to bring Ukraine into NATO.  Oh no you won't, Arseny.  The "run to NATO" gambit was already tried by Georgia and it failed.  We're not going to fight your war.  Obama has already said America won't be going to war with Russia over Ukraine. Harper/Baird, both classic chicken hawks, love to talk tough but have so defunded Canada's armed forces that we won't be much help beyond hot air.  Besides, we just got put on notice that our problems with Putin aren't in Ukraine.  They're in our own backyard, the Arctic.

How the Right-Wing Media Machine Slimed Michael Brown

Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter - not an ounce, not one ounce of integrity among them.

In the wake of the execution of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, America's right-wing slime machine struggled to get control of the story.

It's hard to know whether it came from Drudge's brain or Hannity's ass or Coulter's mouth - who can tell them apart - but a couple of weeks after the shooting they came up with another story, this one in which the young black man viciously attacked the cop and tried to get the officer's gun.

This was proven, Fox News reported with an unnamed source, because “the officer had sustained a fractured eye socket in the incident.” Ann Coulter even suggested, incorrectly,that she’d seen X-rays of the fracture. Fox went on to claim “solid proof” of a battle between Wilson and Brown for the officer’s handgun.
It was not long, of course, before CNN and others disproved such bogus claims. But how did such fiction make it all the way to an outlet as major, if intellectually challenged, as Fox News?
It was obviously a total fabrication.  Had anything remotely like a struggle, much less a vicious attack on an officer, occurred that would have been the first thing out of the Ferguson police department chief's mouth at his initial press conferences.

Floods Come and Go But Drought Likes to Climb Onto Your Back and Stay There



We hear lots about California and it's three-year-running drought that has left the State in severe water stress.  Wells are running dry, emergency bottled water has to be brought in to help the poor survive, orchards are being bulldozed as the trees die off, Nestle keeps plundering the state to bottle water for other places, municipalities are finally preparing to recycle waste water, etc., etc.


The "exceptional" drought zone is spreading ever northward, nearing the Oregon border.  Officials from Humboldt County say the Eel River levels are at unprecedented lows and people along the coast are not ready for what's coming.

Coastal areas of Humboldt County have not see the impacts of the drought as directly as inland portions, leading many residents to be unaware of the critical situation, said Dan Ehresman, director of the North Coast Environmental Center.
"People are disconnected from where our water comes from," Ehresman said. "It is easy not to think about the conditions in the rest of the county."
In the wine country, growers have cut back on drip irrigation but still hope their vines will make it through the summer.  It's next year that's on their mind.  They need relief in the form of rainfall over the winter.

Bad as a 3-year drought may be, a report from Cornell University, the University of Arizona and the U.S. Geological Survey concludes that America's southwest is at risk of a 10-year drought this century.

The researchers found that when accounting for climate change, there is a 20-50 percent chance of a 35-year long megadrought in the next century, depending on the region. There is a 5-10 percent chance of a 50-year megadrought, they reported.
The computer models also found that California, Arizona and New Mexico will be at increased risk for drought, but that the risk could decrease for parts of Washington, Montana and Idaho.
Apparel companies are looking for alternatives to replace cotton.
VF Corp. (NYSE:VFC), which makes Lee and Wrangler jeans, Timberland shoes and The North Face fleece jackets, said it started looking to diversify its raw materials several years ago, after bad weather events in China and Pakistan -- two of the world’s largest cotton growers -- hit the company’s cotton supply. While the crop grows especially well in hot climates, it is extremely sensitive to water. Not enough H20, and cotton chokes at the vine; too much, and its roots rot.
In the coming decades, water scarcity spurred by climate change will likely hit cotton the most in China's Xinjian county, Pakistan, Australia and the western United States, according to the International Trade Center, a joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. Extreme heat waves could also harm cotton crops, as will an abundance of insects, which are expected to adapt and thrive in new environmental conditions.
It's hard to imagine how a modern society like the American southwest could endure a 10-year drought.  A 35 or a 50-year drought would likely render the area uninhabitable.








World's Largest Private Bank, UBS, Says Fossil Energy is Toast



The Swiss banking giant, UBS, says renewable energy is the hands down winner and conventional power generation is finished.

In a briefing paper sent to clients and investors this week, the Zurich-based UBS bank argues that large-scale centralized power stations will soon become extinct because they are too big and inflexible and are "not relevant" for future electricity generation.  Instead the authors expect it to be cheAper and more efficient for households and businesses to generate their own energy to power their cars and to store any surplus energy in their own buildings even without subsidies.

"Solar is at the edge of being a competitive power generation technology.  The biggest drawback has been its intermittency.  This is where batteries and electric vehicles (EVs) come into play.  Battery costs have declined rapidly, and we expect a further decline of more than 50% by 2020. By then a mass [produced] electric vehicle will have almost the same price as a combustion engine car.  But it will save up to 2,000 euros a year on fuel cost, hence, it will begin to pay off almost immediately without any meaningful upfront "investment." This is why we expect a rapidly growing penetration with EVs, in particular in countries with high fossil fuel prices.

The expected 50% reduction in the cost of batteries by 2020 will not just spur electric car sales, but could also lead to exponential growth in demand for stationary batteries to store excess power in buildings, says UBS. "Battery storage should become financially attractive for family homes when combined with a solar system and an electric vehicle.  As a consequence, we expect transformational changes in the utility and auto sectors.  By 2020 investing in a home solar system with a 20-year life span, plus some small-scale home battery technology and an electric car, will pay for itself in six to eight years for the average consumer in Germany, Italy, Spain and much of the rest of Europe."

Australia is already going through something like this.  There, widespread adoption of rooftop solar power systems in residential and commercial properties, is savaging the bottom line of conventional power utilities.   With fossil fuel prices rising and solar costs dropping rapidly along with price breakthroughs in battery technology, the writing could be on the wall especially for high cost/high carbon fossil fuels.  Sorry, Athabasca, but you really should have seen this coming.

Performance Art - High Voltage

Photographer Patrick Hall reveals human emotion at 300,000 volts

Is This the Ultimate Zero-Emissions Urban Transporter?

They can move you along at speeds upwards of 20-miles an hour for distances up to 30-miles at a stretch.  They're computer controlled and host features too numerous to list.  They're e-bikes, electrical power assist bicycles.  You still do the peddling but when the going gets harder on hills, for example, the electric motor kicks in to carry the extra load.

A recent U.S. competition was won by Seattle's Teague "Denny":



But the Denny is just one of a horde of contenders.  Motors by Yamaha, automatic gear boxes by Shimano, designs by Audi, there seems to be no limit to innovation and creativity.



So many terrific designs, so many brilliant ideas.  Now, if someone can just incorporate as many of the greatest features in one bike, we might all be lining up to get it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Remember, It's the IPCC and It Can Never Tell the Whole Truth


The oft-maligned Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change is, admittedly, something of a strange bird.  It doesn't conduct climate change research.  It merely collects the research undertaken by universities, government agencies and NGOs, digests the important stuff and then issues advisory reports to governments.

The IPCC reports are usually off-mark.  They sometimes, albeit rarely, overstate conclusions.  Far more often they understate projections of the arrival, severity and duration of climate change impacts.

Contrary to what denialists claim, the IPCC is, if anything, unduly optimistic. For example, until recently the IPCC was predicting that the Arctic Ocean would be seasonally ice-free by the end of this century, about 85-years from now.  The US Navy now predicts a seasonally ice-free Arctic by 2019 at the outside, perhaps as early as 2016.  The Navy's research has the IPCC about 80-years off the mark.

The IPCC reports are the products of a team of "lead authors."  They come to their findings by consensus.  Everybody has to agree and so hold outs can extract compromises on the authors' conclusions.

It's this consensus factor that means it can be important to carefully consider the language that does find its way into the reports.  When the IPCC reports there is an "increasing likelihood" that global warming has already become "irreversible" it's using loaded words.  It's not talking about vague possibilities.  It's speaking of probabilities and it's speaking of probabilities that are increasing, approaching certainty.

When the report speaks of "irreversible" that's also a loaded word.  Irreversible means that global warming is already out of our control.  We can't turn off the tap. We have passed one or more tipping points that lead to runaway global warming, the triggering of natural feedback mechanisms of, as yet, unknown consequence.

So, if the IPCC is to be believed, it's at least somewhat probable and growing increasingly probable that we have triggered irreversible as in runaway global warming.  That's the consensus view.  That's the compromise opinion.

Does that mean we should throw in the towel?  Hardly.  There's much work to do. We need to explore what we can do to safely mitigate this warming, runaway or not.  We need to figure out how people on every corner of this world can live with each other, make common cause.  We need to work out adaptation strategies.

Above all else we need to understand that, while tackling climate change is going to be demanding, expensive and, well, hard, we can still make sure that it's worse for our kids and grandkids, much worse, and that, unfortunately, is easy - for us.

Remember, easy is what got us in this mess in the first place.  It's time to try a different strategy.

Big Summit Next Week - Maybe the Biggest in Years


NATO leaders gather in Wales next week for what could be the alliance's most important summit in years.  Instead of focusing on housekeeping issues to tidy up the not very successful adventure in Afghanistan, alliance members will find their plates full with developing approaches to the Ukrainian chaos and the rampaging Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe, writes that, around the world, all eyes will be on NATO and the alliance had better get it right.

...the alliance must embrace deeply uncomfortable truths. In its relationship with Russia, NATO is now in a confrontation with a country it deemed a partner (albeit a difficult one) until only a few months ago. Short-term crisis management passed off smoothly, with a surprising degree of unity among 28 member states that hold very different views on the situation’s security relevance. But now, alliance strategy must shift from crisis management to the long game.
NATO needs to achieve three goals. First, it must provide credible reassurance to those allies that feel threatened by Russia. Second, it should keep the door open for a possible improvement in diplomatic relations. Third, it must make clear that the alliance’s security guarantee does not apply to Ukrainian territory while supporting the government in Kiev in its daunting security sector reforms.
...With respect to IS, NATO’s position is both easier and more difficult at the same time. It is easier because the turmoil in Iraq and Syria does not fall into the alliance’s immediate remit. It is more difficult because the seemingly unstoppable expansion of the jihadists’ reach confronts Europeans and Americans with a daunting question: Will the West eventually have to go to war against IS? If the West’s indirect containment strategy—propping up the Kurdish Peshmerga as the group’s opponents—fails, and if the regional powers remain largely passive, Western troops on the ground may be unavoidable. 
...So far, the West fears the costs and the unintended consequences of intervening in a politically, ethnically, and religiously hypercharged part of the world more than it fears the jihadists’ further expansion. That may change. Don’t expect the Wales summit to tackle this head-on. But do expect this topic to hang over the meeting like a dark cloud.
...A larger-than-usual crowd will tune in when NATO leaders congregate in Wales. The summit will be followed closely not only in Europe but also around the world. It will be used as an indicator of whether the West is still alive. And it will tell audiences in Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, Tel Aviv, Damascus, Cairo, and elsewhere whether Europeans are still willing to play a military role and how loyal the United States is as an ally.

Driving Round Pegs Into Square Holes - Why We Keep Screwing Up in the Middle East

Since 1918 when the defeat of the Kaiser's Germany triggered the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the West has established a reputation for screwing up in the Middle East.  It can be said to have begun with the French and British carving up the place to suit their interests, drawing straight lines where none existed before, corralling often hostile ethnic groups into artificial countries with names like Iraq, Iran and Syria.

For all of that, we've never screwed up quite on the scale as our adventures in the Middle East/South Asia in the 21st century.

At the start of this business, almost a century ago, there was a fellow we didn't listen to, Colonel T.E. Lawrence, aka "Lawrence of Arabia."  We didn't listen to him then and that was a screw up.  We haven't listened to him ever since and that remains an ongoing screw up.

John Hulsman, president of a global political risk consultancy, writes that it's time we finally accepted the wisdom of Lawrence.

T E Lawrence, a man who through both theory and practice established himself as the regional Middle Eastern expert par excellence in the early twentieth century, followed a very simple but very different analytical route to wisdom: the actual study of others, rather than the narcissistic devotion to being only able to see the world through one’s own point of view.
As Lawrence put it, there is a seminal way to avoid these nasty surprises: “experience of them [local peoples], and knowledge of their prejudices will enable you to foresee their attitude and possible course of action in nearly every case.” In other words, true analysis is more about them, and less about us. US secretary of state John Kerry – a man seemingly perpetually surprised that the world does not operate like a Boston dinner club – would do well to take note.
In psychology, the capacity for taking others’ perspectives onboard is referred to as having a theory of mind, an understanding that others’ internal experiences are different from one’s own. In a common test for autism, a school-aged child is shown a bag of, say, sweets. Then, the child is shown that the sweets have been removed and replaced with pennies. The child is asked, “What would another person think is in the bag?” If the child answers “pennies,” that child has no theory of mind. This deficit can, in extreme forms, render a person almost unable to interact with others in a recognisably social way. The same problem writ large in Western policy has crippled strategy in the Middle East for over a century.
For example, in modern Iraq, failure to determine the true local unit of politics has been the original sin. That unit has remained the fiercely independent ethno-religious groupings of the Sunni, Shia, and the Kurds, rather than the Western preference for some sort of imposed, centralised, Iraqi construct. This analytical failure has unsurprisingly spawned the chaos of the past century.
For example, in modern Iraq, failure to determine the true local unit of politics has been the original sin. That unit has remained the fiercely independent ethno-religious groupings of the Sunni, Shia, and the Kurds, rather than the Western preference for some sort of imposed, centralised, Iraqi construct. This analytical failure has unsurprisingly spawned the chaos of the past century.
For as Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds is how the locals primarily see themselves, rather than as Iraqis, as Westerners desire. The long-time rulers of Mesopotamia, the Ottomans, had known better. They had divided the region up into three separate provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul, respectively dominated by the Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds. For in the end, reality will out.
Lawrence also said that “the beginning and ending of the secret of handling Arabs is unremitting study of them”, at least in part to develop a theory of mind – their mind, to be exact. Until we learn to stand in the shoes of the people of the region and analytically look at the world the way they do, we cannot hope to guess the decisions they will make, the help they will accept, the reforms they will adopt, the deals they will uphold – and the fears to which they will fall prey. Until we demonstrate a theory of mind, Lawrence’s lessons will have to be learned again and again.
Isn't it time we stopped screwing up?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New York Times Claims Putin has Opened "Third Front" Invasion of Ukraine. Nobody Else Biting Yet.

A bulletin from The New York Times claims that Russian military units including infantry, tanks and artillery, have poured over the border into eastern Ukraine, "attacking Ukrainian forces and causing panic and wholesale retreat...in what Western and Ukrainian military officials described on Wednesday as a stealth invasion."

True or False?  It's worthwhile to recall how the NYT swallowed, wholesale, its government's lies about Saddam's WMDs and his intrigue with al Qaeda.

McClatchey newspapers, in its former guise Knight-Ridder, did not fall for the Bush/Cheney propaganda mill and it has nothing akin to the Times' saga.  Nor do BBC or The Guardian.  According to The Globe, the "stealth invasion" consisted of five, Russian armoured personnel carriers and a truck that entered a small Ukrainian town.  Hardly sounds like the Battle of the Bulge depicted in the Times.


Dumbass of the Week Award Goes to: Charles Vacca, Firearms Instructor

It's called the "Last Stop" and, for 39-year old Arizonan, Charles Vacca, it lived up to its name.  For Charles Vacca, the Last Stop was a shooting range where he was a firearms instructor.

Charlie Vacca's Last Stop began when he handed a 9-year old girl, a ripfire Uzi submachine gun that fires 1,200 rounds a minute, 20-rounds a second.  Charlie first had the girl fire a single round before he went into life-ending mode and switched the weapon to fully automatic.

As the first rounds came out of the Uzi the girl lost control of the weapon, the recoil sending it up and to the left, right where Charlie's head came in the line of fire.  And that was the Last Stop for Charles Vacca, firearms instructor.

Folks, putting  a rapid-fire automatic pistol into the hands of an inexperienced, 9-year old is probably not going to end well.  I feel very badly for the girl and angry at her parents.  What kind of father or mother allows their child to be put in that position?  As for Charlie, well I feel sad for his family but not for him.  He went full-bore dumbass and he left that girl in the condition she'll live with for the rest of her life.

The Politics of Lying, An Essay by Henry Giroux



When it comes to politics and lying the two seem to go hand in glove.  We've always considered politicians a bit shady, willing to bend the truth to suit their purposes.  Yet it can be difficult to distinguish outright lying from differences of opinion, selective perception, variances in grasp and understanding.  If I have no grounding in a topic and someone who does makes a claim that I find hard to swallow, I may suspect them of fiddling with the truth.  Historically, our best political leaders have used fibbing to build consensus or at least acceptance of their chosen policies. Those were the good old days.

Today we have become inured to a much different, even malignant form of political lying.  American intellectual and McMaster prof, Henry Giroux, discusses this in his essay, "The Politics of Lying and the Culture of Deceit in Obama's America," taken from his book, "Zombie Politics and the Culture of Cruelty."

Here are some excerpts from Giroux's essay:

In the age of public relations managers and talk show experts, we are witnessing the demise of public life.  At a time when education is reduced to training workers and stripped of any civic ideals and critical practices, it becomes unfashionable for the public to think critically.  Rather than intelligence uniting us, a collective ignorance of politics, culture, the arts, history, and important social issues, as Mark Slouka points out, "gives us a sense of community, it confers citizenship."  Our political passivity is underscored by a paucity of intellectual engagement, just as the need for discrete judgment and informed analysis falls prey to a culture of watching, a culture of illusion and circus tricks...

The widespread acceptance of lying and deceit is not merely suggestive of a commodified and ubiquitous corporate-driven electronic culture that displays an utter contempt for morality and social needs; it also registers the existence of a troubling form of infantilization and depoliticization.  Lying as common sense and deceit as politics-as-usual join the embrace of provocation in a coupling that empties politics and Agency of any substance and feeds into a corporate state And militarized culture in which matters of judgment, thoughtfulness, morality, and compassion seem to disappear from public view. What is the social cost of such flight from reality, if not the death of democratic politics, critical thought, and civic agency?  

When a society loses sight of the distinction between fact and fiction, truth-telling and lying, what happens is that truth, critical thought, and fact-finding as conditions of democracy are rendered trivial and reduced to a collection of mere platitudes, which in turn reinforces moral indifference and political impotence.   Under such circumstances, language actually becomes the mechanism for promoting political powerlessness.  Lying and deceit are no longer limited to merely substituting falsehoods for the truth; they now performatively constitute their own truth, promoting celebrity culture, right-wing paranoia, and modes of government and corporate power freed from any sense of accountability...

When lying and deceit become normalized in a culture, they serve as an index of how low we have fallen as a literate and civilized society.  Such practices also tied to corporate and political power, and sabotaged by rigid ideologies as part of a growing authoritarianism that uses the educational force of the culture, the means of communication, and the sites in which information circulate to mobilize ignorance among a misinformed citizenry, all the while supporting reactionary policies....

Beyond disinformation and disguise, the politics of lying and the culture of deceit trade in and abet the rhetoric of fear in order to manipulate the public into a state of servile political dependency and unquestioning ideological support. Fear (and its attendant use of moral panics) not only creates a rhetorical umbrella to promote right-wing ideological agendas (increased military spending, tax relief for the rich, privatization, market-driven reforms, and religious intolerance) but also contributes to a sense of helplessness and cynicism throughout the body politic...

The politics of lying and the culture of deceit are wrapped in the logic of absolute certainty, an ominous harbinger of a kind of illiteracy in which one no longer has to be accountable for justifying opinions, claims, or alleged arguments. Stripped of accountability, language finds its final resting place in a culture of deceit and arrogance in which lying either is accepted as a political strategy or is viewed as simply another normalized aspect of every day life...

How we define ourselves as a nation cannot be separated from the language we value, inhabit, and use to shape our understanding of others and the world in which we want to live.  As the language of critique, civic responsibility, political courage, and democracy disappears along with sustained investment in schools, media, and other elements of a formative culture that keeps an aspiring democracy alive, we lose the spaces and capacities to imagine a future in which language, literacy, and hope are on the side of justice, rather than on the side of hate, willful ignorance, and widespread injustice.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ooooh! Bad Talk, More Stark.


Another report from the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. The Associated Press has managed to thumb through the latest report, a synthesis report based on the previous three.  AP says there's nothing much new in the report except, "the language is more stark and the report attempts to connect the different scientific disciplines studying problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas."

It's apparently the usual, "cut that out, dammit, or we're so screwed" sort of report.  It notes that "currently observed impacts might already be considered dangerous."  Well, duh! Except for the observation by the Panel that it is increasingly likely that global warming could already be irreversible.  In other words, it's "increasingly likely" that we have already set in motion irreversible, as in "runaway", global warming.  We may have already passed one or more tipping points to trigger natural feedback mechanisms driving uncontrollable global warming. 

Given that the IPCC has been consistent on just one thing, continuously underestimating the pace and extent of anthropogenic global warming, it's safe to assume the Panel's dire warnings come from the optimistic end of the spectrum. For our kids and grandchildren, that's decidedly not a good thing.  It's a very bad thing.

It'll be interesting to see how the report deals with Canada's fossil fuel of choice, high cost/high carbon bitumen.  

What kicks me in the cojones is that our government has never made the slightest effort to keep Canadians informed about the state of climate change and our options for dealing with it.  To the contrary they have kept our climate scientists gagged.  That's a calculated policy to keep the Canadian people in the dark, leaving them vulnerable to the impacts already here and the worse consequences to come. This is abjectly treasonous, exposing the nation and our people to unwarranted dangers and loss in furtherance of this deviant government's private agenda.  That makes this prime minister, and those in his service, very dangerous enemies of Canada.

Plain and Simple - Dahiyeh Is a War Crime

This is Dahiyeh, Lebanon, before and after Israel devastated it and its civilian population.


The reduction of this Beiruit suburb marked the introduction of an Israeli strategy to rain destruction and death on civilians and their neighbourhoods in deliberate contravention of the laws of war and human rights.  Civilian infrastructure, especially water pumping plants and sewage systems are destroyed after which the Israelis turn on hospitals, schools and residential neighbourhoods.  No matter how you look at it, this is wanton, mass butchery.

It was WikiLeaks that unveiled this Israeli strategy.  Particulars of it came via leaked cables from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.

 Israeli army officers mentioned the “Dahiya Doctrine”. One of them, General Eisenkot, said that, in relation to the doctrine, “Israel will use disproportionate force upon any village that fires upon Israel ... causing great damage and destruction." 
Eisenkot was very clear that it was not a recommendation, but an already approved plan 
From the embassy cable:
6. (8) Eisenkot labelled any Israeli response to resumed conflict the "Dahiya Doctrine" in reference to the leveled Dahiya quarter in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.  He said Israel will use disproportionate force against any village that fires on Israel, "causing great damage and destruction." Eisenkot made very clear: this is not a recommendation, but an already approved plan.
WikiLeaks legal counsel and President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, Michel Ratner,  argues that Israel is deliberately committing war crimes and must be brought before the International Criminal Court.  Ratner also holds the U.S. government responsible for, while knowing full well of the Dahiya Doctrine, still funding and providing munitions to the Israelis.

How Norway Dodged "The Curse of Oil"



When it comes to petro-statehood, Canada is a lot closer to Nigeria than to Norway and more's the pity.  The Tyee's Andrew Nikiforuk has done a terrific job chronicling how Ottawa and Alberta have squandered that province's energy wealth.

Now the BBC takes a look at Norway's oil city, Bergen.

As one of the centres of Norway's booming oil and gas industries, it is also a very wealthy place.
Yet there are few displays of ostentatious spending - there are no supercars with tinted windows, no designer handbag shops, and no queues of people outside exclusive nightclubs.
For while other countries have struck oil and then binged on the revenues, by contrast Norway is continuing to invest its oil and gas money in a giant sovereign wealth fund.

Start Quote

We trust the government, we believe our tax money will be spent wisely”
Prof Alexander CappelenNHH Norwegian School of Economics
The fund, worth about $800bn (£483bn), owns 1% of the entire world's stocks, and is big enough to make every citizen a millionaire in the country's currency, the kroner. In effect, it is a giant savings account.
What's critical and what no Albertan since Peter Lougheed has had the mental capacity to grasp is that flooding the local economy with oil wealth is ultimately destructive.  It creates inflationary boom cycles in which wealth literally evaporates.  And, of course, those boom cycles lead to terrible bust cycles whenever world oil prices plummet.  Which is when you'll see a load of Wild Rose pickups sporting bumper stickers like this:

Inching Ever Closer to a Shooting War with Russia

Foggy Rasmussen


Why do I get the feeling that there are some in the West who would welcome a conflict with Russia?

I watched a documentary last night on the final two years of the Soviet Union, the Gorbachev-George H.W. Bush years.  Some great commentary came from Bush Sr.'s Soviet-affairs expert, a Princeton prof, Stephen F. Cohen.

Cohen described attending a mini-summit between Bush and Gorbachev to deal with the sudden collapse of east Germany and the prospect of German reunification.  Bush rattled Gorbachev when he suggested that, as a unified state, the eastern sector of Germany should also become a part of NATO.  Gorbachev held out until Bush agreed that Germany would be it, NATO would not thereafter expand further eastward.  Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary would remain buffer states.


Gorbachev's fatal mistake, said Dr. Cohen, was in believing America would keep its word.  Instead, once Germany was safely in the bag, NATO proceeded to rapidly swallow up every country in Eastern Europe it could admit to the alliance.

As NATO, at the insistence of Bush/Cheney, spread right up to Russia's doorstep, we taught the Russians the utter folly of believing anything we said, even when it came in the form of a promise.

It is in this context that we need to consider how Vladimir Putin perceives our quite deliberate and calculated meddling in the Ukraine.  In an act of raw aggression, we facilitated the coup by pro-Western dissidents that toppled the admittedly corrupt but nonetheless democratically elected pro-Russian government.

Now that shoot-from-the-lip warhawk, NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh (Foggy) Rasmussen, has announced NATO is to deploy permanent combat forces at new bases in Eastern Europe to counter supposed Russian designs on the Baltic states.

Said Rasmussen, "We have to face the reality that Russia does not consider NATO a partner."

Lest you think this notion of a major war between Russia and the West is fear-mongering, the same Dr. Cohen who advised GHW Bush in his dealings with Gorbachev to end the Cold War is warning that a nuclear war is indeed possible and he's even calling for "Patriotic Heresy."

Excerpts from Cohen's address to the US-Russia Forum held in Washington in mid-June:

We meet today during the worst and potentially most dangerous American-Russian confrontation in many decades, probably since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. The Ukrainian civil war, precipitated by the unlawful change of government in Kiev in February, is already growing into a proxy US-Russian war. The seemingly unthinkable is becoming imaginable: an actual war between NATO, led by the United States, and post-Soviet Russia.
Certainly, we are already in a new cold war, which escalating sanctions will only deepen and institutionalize, one potentially more dangerous than its US-Soviet predecessor the world barely survived. This is so for several reasons:
—The epicenter of the new cold war is not in Berlin but on Russia’s borders, in Ukraine, a region absolutely essential in Moscow’s view to its national security and even to its civilization. This means that the kinds of miscalculations, mishaps and provocations the world witnessed decades ago will be even more fraught with danger. (The mysterious shoot down of a Malaysian jetliner over eastern Ukraine in July was an ominous example.)
—An even graver risk is that the new cold war may tempt the use of nuclear weapons in a way the US-Soviet one did not. I have in mind the argument made by some Moscow military strategists that if directly threatened by NATO’s superior conventional forces, Russia may resort to its much larger arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons. (The ongoing US-NATO encirclement of Russia with bases, as well as land and sea-based missile defense, only increases this possibility.)
—Yet another risk factor is that the new cold war lacks the mutually restraining rules that developed during the forty-year cold war, especially after the Cuban missile crisis. Indeed, highly charged suspicions, resentments, misconceptions and misinformation both in Washington and Moscow may make such mutual restraints even more difficult. The same is true of the surreal demonization of Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin—a kind of personal vilification without any real precedent in the past, at least after Stalin’s death. (Henry Kissinger has pointed out that the “demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.” I think it is worse: an abdication of real analysis and rational policy-making.)
—Finally, the new cold war may be more perilous because, also unlike during its forty-year predecessor, there is no effective American opposition—not in the administration, Congress, establishment media, universities, think tanks, or in society.
Cohen goes on to lament how the voice of reason is no longer heard in the United States where, he contends, a new form of McCarthyism has taken hold.
...in our democracy, where the cost of dissent is relatively little, silence is no longer a patriotic option. (Personally, as an American, I have come to feel this more strongly, even moral indignation, as I watch the US-backed regime in Kiev inflict needless devastation, a humanitarian disaster and possibly war crimes on its own citizens in eastern Ukraine.)
...I turn now, in my capacity as a historian, to that orthodoxy. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts.” The new cold war orthodoxy rests almost entirely on fallacious opinions. Five of those fallacies are particularly important today:
Fallacy No. 1: Ever since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Washington has treated post-Communist Russia generously as a desired friend and partner, making every effort to help it become a democratic, prosperous member of the Western system of international security. Unwilling or unable, Russia rejected this American altruism, emphatically under Putin.
Fact: Beginning in the 1990s, again with the Clinton administration, every American president and congress has treated post-Soviet Russia as a defeated nation with inferior legitimate rights at home and abroad. This triumphalist, winner-take-all approach has been spearheaded by the expansion of NATO—accompanied by non-reciprocal negotiations and now missile defense—into Russia’s traditional zones of national security, while in reality excluding it from Europe’s security system. Early on, Ukraine, and to a lesser extent Georgia, were the ultimate goals. As an influential Washington Post columnist explained in 2004, “The West wants to finish the job begun with the fall of the Berlin Wall and continue Europe’s march to the east.… The great prize is Ukraine.”
Fallacy No. 2: There exists a nation called “Ukraine” and a “Ukrainian people” who yearn to escape centuries of Russian influence and to join the West.
Fact: As every informed person knows, Ukraine is a country long divided by ethnic, linguistic, religious, cultural, economic and political differences—particularly its western and eastern regions, but not only. When the current crisis began in 2013, Ukraine had one state, but it was not a single people or a united nation. Some of these divisions were made worse after 1991 by corrupt elite, but most of them had developed over centuries.
Fallacy No. 3: In November 2013, the European Union, backed by Washington, offered Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych a benign association with European democracy prosperity. Yanukovych was prepared to sign the agreement, but Putin bullied and bribed him into rejecting it. Thus began Kiev’s Maidan protests and all that has since followed.
Fact: The EU proposal was a reckless provocation compelling the democratically elected president of a deeply divided country to choose between Russia and the West. So too was the EU’s rejection of Putin’s counter-proposal of a Russian-European-American plan to save Ukraine from financial collapse. On its own, the EU proposal was not economically feasible. Offering little financial assistance, it required the Ukrainian government to enact harsh austerity measures and to sharply curtail is longstanding economic relations with Russia. Nor was the EU proposal entirely benign. It included protocols requiring Ukraine to adhere to Europe’s “military and security” policies, which meant in effect, without mentioning the alliance, NATO. In short, it was not Putin’s alleged “aggression” that initiated today’s crisis but instead a kind of velvet aggression by Brussels and Washington to bring all of Ukraine into the West, including (in the fine print) into NATO.
Fallacy No. 4: Today’s unfolding civil war in Ukraine was caused by Putin’s aggressive response to Maidan’s peaceful protests against Yanukovych’s decision.
Fact: In February 2014, radicalized Maidan protests, strongly influenced by extreme nationalist and even semi-fascist street forces, turned violent. Hoping for a peaceful resolution, European foreign ministers brokered a compromise between Maidan’s parliamentary representatives and Yanukovych. It would have left him as president of a coalition, reconciliation government until new elections in December 2014. Within hours, violent street fighters aborted the agreement. Europe and Washington did not defend their own diplomatic accord. Yanukovych fled to Russia. Minority parliamentary parties representing Maidan and predominantly western Ukraine, among them Svoboda, an ultra-nationalist movement previously anathematized by the European Parliament as incompatible with European values, formed a new government. They also nullified the existing constitution. Washington and Brussels endorsed the coup, and have supported the outcome ever since. Everything that followed, from Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the spread of rebellion in southeastern Ukraine to the civil war and Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation,” was triggered by the February coup. Putin’s actions have been mostly reactive.
Fallacy No. 5: The only way out of the crisis is for Putin to end his “aggression” and call off his agents in southeastern Ukraine.
Fact: The underlying causes of the crisis are Ukraine’s own internal divisions, not primarily Putin’s actions. The primary factor escalating the crisis since May has been Kiev’s “anti-terrorist” military campaign against its own citizens, now mainly in the Donbass cities of Luhansk and Donetsk. Putin influences and no doubt aids the Donbass “self-defenders.” Considering the pressure on him in Moscow, he is likely to continue to do so, perhaps even more, but he does not control them. If Kiev’s assault ends, Putin probably can compel the rebels to negotiate. But only the Obama administration can compel Kiev to stop, and it has not done so.
Cohen's insights are a warning to us all.  We're being fed a load of lies pouring from some very bellicose mouths that could be steering us on a course that leads to war, perhaps even nuclear war, between Russia and the West.  As the German financial newspaper, Handelsblatt, warned earlier this month, we are all being "mentally mobilized" for war.


The Faces of Climate Science

Here's another way of looking at climate science.  Photographer Nick Bowers has produced a black and white photo essay entitled, "Scared Scientists," that you can preview at HuffPo.


Bowers accompanies the photographs with comments from each subject summing up their views on climate change.

I posted this because of a couple of one-on-ones I've had with climate scientists who, for public consumption, say the assuring "we can do this" stuff but, over a couple of beers in a private setting, default to "we're so screwed."