Saturday, May 23, 2015

Just Stopped By to Say "Hi"


I haven't posted anything lately and it's been a welcome respite one that may continue save for the occasional interruption.  I'd like to explain what this is about.

Not much has changed, save for the suspension of these posts.  I still devour the online newspapers, my favourite magazines, think tank web sites and so on.  I'm still churning through online courses - war studies, global food security, over-consumption and population challenges, foreign policy, environmental decline, stuff like that.

I just don't know what there is to say about a world coming apart at the seams; societies and governments increasingly detached from reality.

When I joined Dark Mountain a while ago I was drawn to this collective of artists, writers and thinkers who have "stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself."  We feed ourselves nonsense and fairy tales because it's the only way we can keep this delusion of a civilization going.

I instinctively recoil from the word "manifesto" yet I encourage you to read the Dark Mountain Manifesto, which serves as the group's statement of purpose. While there is no end of research and literature and commentary about the myriad of challenges that will befall our civilization through this century, scant attention is paid to our resilience to meet them and almost none to our utter fragility.  Here are a few paragraphs from the opening of the Manifesto:

Those who witness extreme social collapse at first hand seldom describe any deep revelation about the truths of human existence. What they do mention, if asked, is their surprise at how easy it is to die.

The pattern of ordinary life, in which so much stays the same from one day to the next, disguises the fragility of its fabric. How many of our activities are made possible by the impression of stability that pattern gives? So long as it repeats, or varies steadily enough, we are able to plan for tomorrow as if all the things we rely on and don’t think about too carefully will still be there. When the pattern is broken, by civil war or natural disaster or the smaller-scale tragedies that tear at its fabric, many of those activities become impossible or meaningless, while simply meeting needs we once took for granted may occupy much of our lives.

What war correspondents and relief workers report is not only the fragility of the fabric, but the speed with which it can unravel. As we write this, no one can say with certainty where the unravelling of the financial and commercial fabric of our economies will end. Meanwhile, beyond the cities, unchecked industrial exploitation frays the material basis of life in many parts of the world, and pulls at the ecological systems which sustain it.

Precarious as this moment may be, however, an awareness of the fragility of what we call civilisation is nothing new.

‘Few men realise,’ wrote Joseph Conrad in 1896, ‘that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings.’


...It is, it seems, our civilisation’s turn to experience the inrush of the savage and the unseen; our turn to be brought up short by contact with untamed reality. There is a fall coming. We live in an age in which familiar restraints are being kicked away, and foundations snatched from under us. After a quarter century of complacency, in which we were invited to believe in bubbles that would never burst, prices that would never fall, the end of history, the crude repackaging of the triumphalism of Conrad’s Victorian twilight — Hubris has been introduced to Nemesis. Now a familiar human story is being played out. It is the story of an empire corroding from within. It is the story of a people who believed, for a long time, that their actions did not have consequences. It is the story of how that people will cope with the crumbling of their own myth. It is our story.

As a species organized into a civilization of sorts, beneath the surface we're chaotic and rudderless.  The failure of our leadership and our institutions allows this fragility to surface and become our reality.

Canadians can and should see the signs of this decline in the rise of our increasingly illiberal democracy.  If you put your faith in Tom Mulcair or Justin Trudeau, you've largely written the place off even if you can't grasp it.

I don't know what I can contribute to a group who appear to believe that simply electing a different flavour of neoliberal government can do any significant good for our people and our country in a moment of such great need and looming danger.  It's like we're reading from different and irreconcilable texts.

----

The photograph is of Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk who set himself ablaze on a Saigon street in June, 1963 in protest of the persecution of his order by the South Vietnamese government.  It was an act of futility that was followed by a dozen more self-immolations before the Diem government fell to a coup engineered in collaboration with Washington.  While this photograph shocked the world, we became inured to this sort of thing.  During the American war, 13-monks burned themselves to death in a single week and it went largely unnoticed.


Friday, May 15, 2015

As Expected, Harper's Canada is Number Last

Stevie-Joe Harper's lame target for greenhouse gas emissions cuts - 30% from 2005 levels by 2030 - secures Canada's hold on dead last place among the developed nations.  Last, and by a good measure.  Dead last.

That is a far weaker target than the European Union or the US. The European Union pledged to reduce emissions by at least 40% from 1990 levels, and the US committed to cut emissions to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

The target is also less ambitious than the one Canada set in 2009 – and which it is unlikely to meet because of the vast expansion of Alberta tar sands production under the prime minister, Stephen Harper.

The environment minister, Leona Aglukkaq, who made the announcement in Winnipeg, said the new goals were in keeping with Canada’s economic conditions.

...Keith Stewart, climate campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, said the weak target made Canada an outlier in the international climate negotiations.

“The Harper government has not only ignored its existing reduction target, but the pro-tar sands policies it has adopted are taking us in the opposite direction,” he said.


But, hey, let's not get worked up. Sure they're meager targets, the worst of what's actually a bad lot, but let's not go overboard. Harper has no intention of meeting those targets anyway. If the premiers want to do it then good for them. By now we should all be used to classic Harper bait & switch - say anything that you figure people want to hear, do nothing. Even his old pal and mentor, Tom Flanagan, doesn't hesitate to label Harper an opportunistic and chronic liar. 


30 By 30 - Rachel, You've Got Some Catching Up To Do.

It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry but the feds have finally proclaimed Canada's target for greenhouse gas emissions cuts.  The figure is a 30% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030.

Harper & Co. are playing this true to form.  They're trying to take credit from the provinces that have taken action with precious little help from Ottawa.

As for Harper's pet, the Tar Sands, the feds are introducing regulations on methane emissions but have fallen strangely silent on CO2 emissions.  Did I say "strangely"?  I meant "predictably."

Yes, Yes! Scottish Independence, Round Two. Maybe Cameron Won't Bring Them to Kneel, Too.

It won't be the first time the Scots have saved the Brits from themselves.

David Cameron may be enjoying his fiendish (minority vote/majority seat) majority only to preside over the end - yes, the end - of the United Kingdom.

The arrogant bastard (Jeebus, there's no one as arrogant as a Tory with a majority) has not even given his supporters time to reflect and repent for what they have done before he launched a "Pearl Harbour" on his nation's Human Rights Act and set in motion, via his cabinet appointments, the machinery to shred Britain's social safety net.  This guy may be out to make Margaret Thatcher look like a pussy.

Yeah, well - there's one bunch of people who may not be "on" for this, the same bunch who regularly kicked English backsides and made possible this country into which I, my parents and ancestors going back several generations, my kids and theirs were (will be) born.

The Scottish National Party, in terms of raw numbers the biggest winner of them all in the latest elections, says they won't feel bound to get Cameron's consent to another independence referendum.  Nor bloody well should they.

If Cameron loses - or essentially forfeits - the Union in the early pursuit of his radical ideology, it could wipe out crippling conservatism going back to Thatcher.  The Scots could hand him a double defeat, a legacy twice besmirched.

A very sizeable percentage of Scots expressed 'buyers' remorse' after having defeated the first sovereignty referendum.  In the months afterward an enormous majority of Scots wanted another vote - for independence.





No, No - No. The King is Dead. B.B. Riley King, Dead at 89.

When he announced last week that he was out of hospital but in hospice care at home it was fair warning that the life of Riley B. King had come down to a matter of weeks, maybe a few months.  12 days later this legendary bluesman is gone.  That's a void that will take some time and some amazing talent to fill.

Yet that's the thing about blues.  It builds, legend upon legend.  Here's one for Mr. King, from 1964, Howlin' Wolf and Smokestack Lightning.


 


In case you didn't notice, the Wolf is about 6 feet wide and just over 9 feet tall and those hands?  They're the size of catchers' mitts.

Here, from The Telegraph about six years back, B.B. King, the last of the legendary bluesmen.

And this:



Last of the great bluesmen?  No, I don't believe it.  There'll be new talent, it's already there, and it will build on everything before it.  Just about every form of pop/rock can evaporate to nothingness but whatever lasts longest is what's closest to real blues.

This stuff goes straight to the slave south.  It was introduced to white culture during my adolescence by Brit bands, especially the Stones.  They got a generation of young people "discovering" Delta and Chicago blues.  Hell, we'd been brought up on Pat Boone and what was whitebread copies of "race music." Then, quite abruptly, we heard this music from The Beatles, the Stones (especially Richards/Jagger) and saw this whole new musical path that took us so far past but also forward.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

No They Didn't. Oh Yes They Did.

The clown car that is today's NATO just upstaged itself.   After US State Secretary John Kerry had left the NATO ministers' meeting in Turkey for talks with Vlad Putin, the remaining ministers were left with nothing particularly useful to do so they instead broke into song - their rendition of "We Are the World."

Brace yourselves.



In High German there's a word for this - Gerfukt!

Groovy.


Beijing Benny Hill

Supposedly this is legit.  Chinese police stop a 6-person mini-van only to find there are 50-people riding in it.  I sure wish there was video of the other side of the van.

Sure, It's Satire, Yet It Sounds So Familiar

From the pen of The New Yorker's Andy Borowitz:



Scientists have discovered a powerful new strain of fact-resistant humans who are threatening the ability of Earth to sustain life, a sobering new study reports.

The research, conducted by the University of Minnesota, identifies a virulent strain of humans who are virtually immune to any form of verifiable knowledge, leaving scientists at a loss as to how to combat them.
“These humans appear to have all the faculties necessary to receive and process information,” Davis Logsdon, one of the scientists who contributed to the study, said. “And yet, somehow, they have developed defenses that, for all intents and purposes, have rendered those faculties totally inactive.”

More worryingly, Logsdon said, “As facts have multiplied, their defenses against those facts have only grown more powerful.”

While scientists have no clear understanding of the mechanisms that prevent the fact-resistant humans from absorbing data, they theorize that the strain may have developed the ability to intercept and discard information en route from the auditory nerve to the brain. “The normal functions of human consciousness have been completely nullified,” Logsdon said.

While reaffirming the gloomy assessments of the study, Logsdon held out hope that the threat of fact-resistant humans could be mitigated in the future. “Our research is very preliminary, but it’s possible that they will become more receptive to facts once they are in an environment without food, water, or oxygen,” he said.


What'll He Do Next, Bring Back the Work House?



You could say that Britain's newly minted Conservative majority prime minister, Dapper Dave Cameron, is on a rampage.  With his axing of Britain's Human Rights Act, Cameron seems ready and willing to purge the Kingdom of the untidy vestiges of liberal democracy.  In its place he seems intent on building a decidedly illiberal democracy, one that harkens back to the dark days captured in Dickens' novels.

Take new Cameron cabinet minister Justin Tomlinson.  He's the government's new 'disabilities minister.'  It's a job that's mainly focused on slashing 12-billion pounds from benefits spending.

Mr Tomlinson has a record of voting against provisions that would see more support directed to the disabled and sick.

In parliamentary votes he has supported letting contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance expire for those undergoing cancer treatment.

In a separate vote regarding the new universal credit system he voted against a minimum floor on the amount of money that could be given to disabled children.

According to the department’s website Mr Tomlinson will have responsibility for child poverty and other cross government disability issues.


Scotland, be brave.  This might be the time to take the cross of St. Andrew back out of the Union Jack.  Besides, there are indications that the good folk of northern England would like to join Scotland.

Did I say "rampage"?  Well, here are 7-laws Cameron was unable to enact before when he was dependent on coaltion partner, the Liberal Dems.

And, in case you still haven't had enough of all things Cameron, take a quick peek at some of the other gems in his cabinet. It's enough to make Harper damp with envy.


Channeling Robin Williams

Stevie-Joe Harper's pursuit of Omar Khadr is getting positively obsessive.  Now the feds are off to the Supreme Court of Canada over Khadr - yet again - this time to have him declared an adult offender for the supposed crimes he committed as a 15-year old.

The late Robin Williams put it best.

Update: I'm sure they used different words or even danced around Harper's affliction entirely but the Supreme Court of Canada once again kicked his sorry Tory ass right to the curb.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Did He Really Just Say This? Calling George Orwell. Come In Please.

'Screw the Plebs'

“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'.”

That warning from Britain's newly minted Conservative majority prime minister, David Cameron, in announcing his government's plan to ditch Britain's Human Rights Act.

And why not?  If you're planning on reducing the law abiding, civilian population to a state of political servility, why not come out and shove it straight in their faces?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Nikiforuk on Notley and the Alberta Spring



The Tyee's Andrew Nikiforuk weighs in on the new premier of the Wild Rose state (sic), Rachel Notley, the Alberta Spring and what she'll have to do to reform the broken petrostate.

Notley's merry band of fresh-faced democrats have inherited a government that, despite its much-lauded oil wealth, couldn't balance a budget, let alone run an accountable health care system.

In fact, the Alberta government suffers every ailment a petrostate can muster: a crippling addiction to hydrocarbon revenue, an eroded tax system, appalling statecraft and policy atrophy, binge spending, and minimal transparency.

The New Democrats must approach the task ahead systemically. To restore democracy, rebuild accountability, and put the province on a more Scandinavian path, Notley will have to decisively address these following issues.

Behave like an owner: Alberta's oil and gas resources belong to Albertans. The Tories' ''strip it and ship it'' approach was not only wasteful, but also environmentally destructive. Real owners determine the pace of development, and on that front, Farouk al Kasim, one of the architects of Norway's oil experience, offers the best advice: ''Go slow and save the money.''

End the government's addiction to oil revenue:The Alberta government currently gets about 30 per cent of its revenue from oil and gas extraction, and that's not sustainable. Volatile oil and gas prices invariably kill government budgets and fiscal accountability -- not only in Alberta, but in Russia, Nigeria, Texas, Alaska and Louisiana. Given its finite nature, no revenue from non-renewable fossil fuels should be used to pave roads, operate schools or buy votes with the promises of low taxes.

Restore representative taxation: Alberta's Tories, just like their copy-cats in the Harper government, have long argued that low taxes for the rich are an advantage, but they are merely a way to take advantage of average Albertans. Smart governments not only run on sustainable revenue from their populations, but also redistribute wealth because inequality erodes democracy and breeds social unrest.

Review the energy regulator: Industry has had a long, deep hand in energy regulation in Alberta. The Alberta Energy Regulator is run by former energy lobbyist and former Encana executive, Gerard Protti. Even though Protti chairs the regulator, he still sits on the board of Calgary-based Petromanas, which wants to fracture oil and gas formations in Australia and parts of Europe.

Restore transparency: Alberta's Tories, just like Harper's government, cultivated secrecy. As the journalist Sean Holman has repeatedly noted, Alberta has one of the worst freedom of information laws in the country.

Depoliticize the civil service: The Tories operated as though the government was an extension of a Soviet-minded party. The government's Public Affairs Bureau, for example, didn't inform Albertans about government affairs but routinely attacked critics. Restoring integrity, honesty and the notion of public service to the province's civil service may well be one of Notley's most challenging tasks.

Everything Nikiforuk advocates is as essential as it is sensible.  They're in keeping with NDP philosophy, they're very doable and they'll benefit rank and file Albertans and, indirectly, the entire country.  It's even possible that she can provide a template for how we need to clean up Ottawa and all three of its dominant political parties.

Go Rachel, go.

Seymour Hersh on the War on Terror and the Killing of Osama bin Laden



Veteran investigative journo, Seymour Hersh, is a virtual lightning rod for government denialism and he has been ever since he broke the story of the My Lai massacre of March, 1968.

His latest bombshell, claiming that the official narrative of the execution of Osama bin Laden is laced with lies, has provoked the expected reaction.  As before, the truth will out, eventually.

Hersh's account is that Pakistan military brass not only knew where bin Laden was hiding, his compound in Abbottabad, but they had him under house arrest waiting for an opportune moment where they could extract some quid pro quo for giving him up to the Americans.

Hersh has an excellent look at the dance that American and Pakistani intelligence operatives have been embracing for decades.  It's definitely worth a read.

Coming soon, Hersh will be releasing an alternate history of the War on Terror.


America's Racist Revolution



Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

Those thoughts from the US president who launched postwar America on the path to building the greatest middle class the world has ever known, the same president whose parting words were a chilling warning about the ascendancy of a malignant threat to democracy, the "military-industrial complex," Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Who could have foreseen back then that the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower would, under Ronald Reagan, begin a turn to the dark side transforming America into a corporatist, illiberal democracy and leaving the once vaunted middle class a pile of bleached bones?

Salon.com's Conor Lynch writes that, along with the dismemberment of American democracy, the Republicans also ushered in a revolution of racism.

1964 was a pivotal year for the rise of modern conservatism. This was, of course, when the Civil Rights Act passed, and outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and ended the racial segregation that had existed for so long in the South. To southerners, this was an enormous betrayal by the Democratic party, especially from President Lyndon Johnson, who was himself a Southern Democrat. The federal government had overstepped in many minds, and this was an opening for the small government conservatives to once again capture the minds of common working class people.

In a truly opportunistic fashion, the Republican Party decided to exploit the racial fears and prejudices of much of the populace, and the Southern Strategy was born. State’s rights had been trampled on by the federal government, so the thinking went, and in 1964, Barry Goldwater ran an election based on anti-New Deal and states’ rights policies. His coded racism was successful, and it earned the votes from five southern states and his own, though he lost every other state to Johnson. Though not as aggressively conservative as Goldwater, Richard Nixon pursued a similar strategy 1968, and won all of the former confederate states, turning the south into the solid Republican territory that it remains today.

Reagan followed similar dog-whistle strategies when he ran, preaching states’ rights at the Neshoba County Fair, just miles from where three civil rights activists had been murdered in 1964, and declaring a rhetorical war on the safety net, adding “welfare queen” to the American lexicon. Today, many benefactors of social welfare programs protest those same programs, some unaware of the racial dynamic that has influenced the current animosity.

Of course, this racial force is more unconscious today than it was when the Southern Strategy began, just as the language has changed over the years. In a candid and originally anonymous interview, Reagan’s 1984 campaign director Lee Atwater described how racial language became more coded over the years:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “n***er, n***er, n***er,” Said Atwater, “[But] by 1968 you can’t say ‘n***er’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.”


The Southern Strategy lives on as never before.  It has lost none of its utility as it continues to serve the interests of the plutocracy, who benefit enormously from a deeply divided, distrustful and powerless society - the precariat - and, of course, today's military-industrial-neoconservative-evangelical-commercial warfighting complex.

As a kid of the 60s, the blatant expression of racism even in America's media is jarring.  It's hard to imagine what's left except to reinstate slavery although they'll probably find a better name for it next time.

And then there's this.  The head of America's Federal Election Commission has all but thrown in the towel on regulating the 2016 elections.

You need to know this. The person in charge of our Federal Election Commission (FEC) says she has pretty much given up hope of regulating the 2016 election. That agency has been unable to reach a conclusion on any key vote, because they are perpetually locked in a 3-to-3 tie along party lines. In an interview with the New York Times, FEC Chairwoman Ann M. Ravel said, "The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim." She's not even talking about dealing with new rules to address the massive level of corruption in our political system. She's saying that they can't even hold anyone accountable for violating the inadequate rules that are already on the books. According to that recent piece in the Times, "Some commissioners are barely on speaking terms, cross-aisle negotiations are infrequent, and with no consensus on which rules to enforce, the caseload against violators has plummeted.

So, with the US Supreme Court in the bag to corporatism with the Citizens United decision and American mega billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers intent on buying the election, supported by state administrations working tirelessly to suppress minority voting, and the election regulator, the Federal Election Commission gridlocked, 2016 is shaping up to be the year America's oligarchs cement their control over the nation and the American people.




John Bull In a China Shop



What good is a majority if it lands you in a minefield?  Conservative prime minister David Cameron finds himself in that predicament after last week's elections handed him a very slim majority.

He's looking to slash about 12-billion quid from his country's welfare budget. His "red meat" backbench are spoiling for a tussle with the European Union.  And the other big winner, Scotland's SNP, will pose a constant threat of stripping the "United" from United Kingdom.

From the Washington Post:

After unexpected political charisma and cunning propelled him to another term as Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron will now need every ounce of those skills to avoid going down in history with an altogether different title: founding father of Little England.

A result that maintained the status quo at 10 Downing Street masked the dramatic transformations roiling Britain, ones that threaten to leave this country more isolated than at any time in its modern history.

Thursday’s election may become just the first in a trilogy of rapid-fire votes that set this island adrift from Europe, divide it in half along ancient lines of national identity and ultimately leave behind a rump state of ever-diminishing value to its American allies.

“Yesterday was V-E Day, when the United Kingdom was celebrating its finest hour. Seventy years later, it could be contemplating the beginning of its end in its current form,” said David Torrance, a British political analyst and author. “The next five years will be a twin debate about two unions — the European Union and the United Kingdom.”

The questions of whether Britain stays whole and whether it remains in Europe are deeply entangled, with the outcome of one expected to heavily influence the other.

Cameron has landed in a situation where it is going to be ridiculously easy to overplay his hand with disastrous results if he does.  If Britain divorces from Europe the Scots may tell Cameron he's going it alone.

The Final Chapter for Bashar Assad



Things are not looking up for Syrian strongman, Bashar Assad.

His first problem is the Sunni Muslim coalition of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia (ordinarily not the best of friends) that has materialized for the sole purpose of running Assad out of Damascus.

The advances are not only a sign of the Assad regime's weakness, said Mario Abou Zeid, a research analyst with the Carnegie Middle East Centre, but also indicative of the strength of the new alliance between the three Sunni power brokers.

Their desire to force a shift in the balance on the ground in Syria before further negotiations about the country's future are held to have finally over-ridden long-held regional differences, he said.

"This regional group has forced those opposition groups and various factions fighting on the ground to fight under one umbrella," he said.

"By creating this 'Army of Conquest' and by supporting it, having the Nusra Front as its main pillar and surrounded by the remnants of the Free Syrian Army as well as groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam and others, this type of cooperation … has been a tremendous success."

The model is now being copied in areas such as the Qalamoun – the mountain ranges between Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and Syria – where opposition forces this week began a fierce battle against the Islamic State, Syrian regime forces and the Hezbollah militants fighting alongside them. This is a three-sided conflict - on one side are the Nusra Front and its allies backed by Qatar,Turkey and Saudi Arabia, on the second side are Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and Iran and on the third side is the so-called Islamic State.

Assad also faces the threat of a coup.  The president has already arrested his spy chief, Ali Mamlouk.

Mr Assad is struggling to keep together the regime's "inner circle", who are increasingly turning on each other, sources inside the presidential palace said.

Even before Mr Mamlouk's arrest, the web of intelligence agencies with which the regime has enforced its authority for four decades was in turmoil, with two other leaders killed or removed.

Last month, Rustum Ghazaleh, the head of the political security directorate, died in hospital after he was attacked by men loyal to General Rafiq Shehadeh, his opposite number in military intelligence, who was in turn sacked.

Worst of all, Der Spiegal reports that Assad is running out of troops and has been forced to recruit mercenaries, now mainly from Afghanistan.

In order to prevent the collapse of Syrian government forces, experienced units from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah began fighting for Assad as early as 2012. Later, they were joined by Iranians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Yemenis -- Shiites from all over, on which the regime is increasingly dependent. But the longer the war continues without victory, the more difficult it has become for Assad's allies to justify the growing body count. In 2013, for example, Hezbollah lost 130 fighters as it captured the city of Qusair and has lost many more than that trying to hold on to it. Indeed, Hezbollah has begun writing "traffic accident" as the cause of death on death certificates of its fighters who fall in Syria.

The Iraqis have almost all returned home. Rather than fighting themselves, they largely control the operations from the background. The Iraqi militia Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, for example, organizes the deployment of Pakistani volunteers in Syria. But no ethnic group is represented on all of the regime's fronts to the degree that the Afghan Hazara are. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but some 700 of them are thought to have lost their lives in Aleppo and Daraa alone. What's worse, most of them don't come completely on their own free will.


It's hard to ever count a guy like Assad out but his regime does appear to be unraveling even as his opposition coalesces into something far more effective. Will this coalition dissolve once Syria is sorted out or will they continue to reduce ISIS in the field?

History's Biggest White Elephant



The United States and her allies are poised to commit one of the biggest and potentially most consequential military blunders of all time.  That blunder is also known as the Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Lightning II.

...former armed forces minister Sir Nick Harvey said there was “not a cat in hell’s chance” the F-35 would be combat-ready by 2018. “I don’t recall ... having heard anyone suggesting that these things could be used in combat before 2020,” he said. Asked if the fighter had become a white elephant, he replied: “You could argue it was already one of the biggest white elephants in history a long time ago.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon CBE, who was Chief of the Air Staff when the F-35 was first discussed in the 1990s, branded the small number ordered by Britain as “a joke” and accused MoD officials of being “in denial” over the ability of Britain to run a “serious air force”.

Britain’s ageing Tornados will be out of service in three years, leaving the UK with a maximum “offensive capability” of 60 aircraft, he said. “The Saudis [were] using up to 100 aircraft in their campaign in Yemen. We couldn’t put 100 aircraft into the air to save our lives.”

On cost, he added, the jets were now close to “unaffordable” and “it will be token numbers we will be able to afford unless there is a radical change in thinking by the Government”.

John Marshall, of the Defence Synergia think-tank, said: “This aircraft is massively expensive, technically and operationally flawed and unlikely to enter full and proper operational service for several more years.”


The F-35 epitomizes the gross mismanagement of military capability on the part of Western military and political leaders.  While they revel in talking tough and lobbing bombs into clusters of little brown people, the West generally and especially the United States gets very little bang for their defence bucks.  Factor in austerity budgeting and the dilemma is compounded enormously.  The result is a Western military alliance with gaping holes in capabilities and serious declines in readiness.

Britain, for example, no longer operates a fleet of conventional subs for defence of home waters and it has long since retired the last of its anti-submarine warfare patrol aircraft.  In the result, when Russian subs come to visit the Royal Navy submarine base in Faslane, Scotland, Britain has to get on the phone to drum up help from NATO allies.

In Canada with our three-ocean coastline, the longest in the world, our navy's readiness has fallen into such neglect that we can't even dispatch one task force to sea.  Harper has committed our armed forces to costly overseas combat missions while quietly cutting Canada's defence budget to under 1% of GDP, half the level of funding during Pierre Trudeau's days.

We have all fallen into this NATO trap of "power projection," reshaping our military forces for endless skirmishes overseas at the expense of their ability to actually defend the homeland.  The F-35 exemplifies this focus on foreign adventurism.


Why, I Could Be Every Bit as Big A War Criminal as My Brother, George.



And they say Jeb's the bright one.

The presumed Republican presidential nomination candidate, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, said if he'd been in George w's boots, he'd have also ordered the invasion of Iraq.

“I would have [authorised the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody,” Bush told Fox News television in an interview to be aired late on Monday. “And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

Of course Jeb conveniently overlooks that the "intelligence" was a compendium of fiction ginned up by his brother's administration.  He also seems to have forgotten that the teams of UN weapons inspectors under Hans Blix scoured every potential WMD site the Americans could think of and reported there was nothing to be found.

Jeb also seems to have left out the part about how he's surrounding himself with many of the same advisers who so ably assisted George w. Bush to build a phony casus belli against Iraq.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Harvard Youth Poll Results Out - Brace Yourselves

Twice a year the Harvard Public Opinion Project surveys America's youth on everything ranging from climate change to foreign wars.  The latest numbers show American young people turning anti-science, becoming indifferent or distrustful of climate change, and supporting American military interventionism abroad.

Growing distrust of science, here.

Losing interest in fighting climate change, here.

Increasing support for more U.S. military interventionism, here.

If the Harvard numbers are right, American youth seem to be turning very rightwing.

But What Did They Expect?

David Cameron is wasting no time hammering rightwing nails in Britain's coffin. He has served notice he'll be making the most of his slim majority win last week and the first thing to go will be Britain's Human Rights Act.

Just as Harper has Poillevre to do his slime work, Cameron has his own poindexter to axe the Human Rights Act, this guy, Michael Gove:

Backpheifengesicht anyone?

Cameron is also preparing his ransom note to the European Union.  His win has unleashed a backbench clamoring for a new deal with the EU whereby Britain could opt out of EU legislation as it saw fit.

It remains to be seen how far Cameron can go before he again ignites the fuze of Scottish independence.


And So It Begins



It's an idea that's been kicked around for quite a while - the use of military force to thwart climate change migration.  To some it's a matter of doing what's necessary to keep the barbarian horde at bay.  Underlying it is this element of self-defence, self-preservation - necessity.

The European Union is now at this point.

The European Union has drawn up plans for military attacks in Libya to try to curb the influx of migrants across the Mediterranean by targeting the trafficking networks. It is to launch a bid on Monday to secure a UN mandate for armed action in Libya’s territorial waters.
Britain is drafting the UN security council resolution that would authorise the mission, said senior officials in Brussels. It would come under Italian command, have the participation of around 10 EU countries, including Britain, France, Spain, and Italy, and could also drag in Nato although there are no plans for initial alliance involvement.
...This would entail having EU vessels in Libyan territorial waters, including the Royal Navy flagship HMS Bulwark – currently in Malta – and deploying helicopter gunships to “neutralise” identified traffickers’ ships used to send tens of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East on the short but highly risky voyage from the Libyan coast to the shores of southern Italy.
Libyan militias, jihadi groups, and Islamic State affiliates believed to be in cahoots with the trafficking networks are said to have heavy artillery and anti-aircraft batteries deployed close to the coast. Attacks on EU vessels and aircraft could trigger an escalation and force Nato to get involved, said policymakers in Brussels.
Oh great, we can get into another war in Libya.  That'll show those damned Muslims.  We'll kick hell out of them.  They'll start sending zealots over here to retaliate.  Just like ping-pong only with bombs and guns.
Closer to home, the Pentagon is looking at its own options to seal off America's southern borders to climate refugees out of Mexico and Central America.  In his book, "Climate Wars," Gwynne Dyer discusses some of the ideas being considered including the establishment of robotic weapons systems to make the American border an automated killing zone.  That sounds inconceivable except to the people who are conceiving it.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Connecting the Dots on Climate Change

One of the biggest failures in climate change reporting is the tendency to focus on particular aspects without considering the bigger picture.  What does sea level rise have to do with droughts or floods?  What is the role of changing ocean circulation patterns?  How do these impacts all factor into our rapidly changing jet stream?

When we look at individual aspects we usually wind up with charts that reveal a linear pattern.  Sure, there may be dramatic increases on the curve, but nothing that appears wild or unpredictable.

Yet we're nearing the point where climate change impacts will be wild and unpredictable, totally non-linear.  A big part of this results from the "cascade effect" in which a number of seemingly unrelated impacts begin operating together, even harnessing man-made change with natural feedback mechanisms that will be much harder to control and nearly impossible to reverse.  We can expect to be overtaken by fast-developing events and very possibly without adaptation strategies or preparations.  In the scope of climate change, it's like we've all but given up.

An online course being presented by Germany's prestigious Potsdam Institute provides the missing link.  It begins to connect all the dots to reveal how changes already underway that will continue to accelerate and worsen even if we miraculously decarbonize today to make our world a far more difficult place for almost all forms of life.

One example is the Greenland ice sheet.  As it melts, the cold freshwater released to the sea has a direct impact on the thermohalene circulation (Gulf Stream) which, in turn, speeds up the decline in the Arctic sea ice and the thawing of high latitude permafrost and the loss of Alpine glaciers.

As the Arctic warms the temperature differential between the Arctic and temperate latitudes narrows,  weakening the jet stream and giving rise to Rossby waves, blocking events that can stall weather fronts in a particular location for upwards of four weeks.  These Rossby waves are responsible for Atlanta, Georgia falling into a February deep freeze while a village in Alaska hits temps. in the 60s.  These Rossby waves created the conditions for the Calgary flood and triggered the recent drought in Russia that ruined the wheat harvest there.

The Amazon rainforest governs precipitation patterns in much of South America. A warming beyond 2C carries the risk of transforming the Amazon into savannah grasslands, upending essential rainfall needed for many millions of Brazilians and their neighbours.

The hydrologic cycle is the climate change cycle.  Our civilization is utterly dependent on the steady and predictable supply of precipitation for human needs (drinking, cooking, sanitation), for agricultural production and for industry. When precipitation falters and becomes unreliable or sporadic, there goes your economy and, with it, your civilization.   This is nothing new.  We have a rich history of this sort of societal collapse.

Already billions lack adequate access to safe water.  Billions do not have access to basic sanitation.  Even as we experience growing water scarcity many of the most vulnerable countries also heavily contaminate their freshwater resources. This is compounded by deteriorating ecosystems and by failing infrastructure and lack of investment.  Water is something we're all too ready to fight over when scarcity sets in and there are few coherent international policies to deal with conflict.

Two areas expected to be among the hardest hit are Africa and Asia.  They're also experiencing explosive population growth.  They're going to be especially vulnerable to droughts, floods and sea level rise.  It's estimated the world will need to up food production by 50-70% by 2050 to keep up with the growing population yet these climate change impacts, taken cumulatively, will cause a sharp decline in food production in the most needy areas.  Draw your own conclusions as to how that will play out especially in the Hindu Kush.

Our ecosystems are in a migratory transition.  Plants and animals alike are responding to climate change by steadily moving away from the equator. Although you may think otherwise in central and eastern Canada, Spring is now arriving two weeks earlier globally.  Pests and disease are also migrating.  West Nile virus is one example.  Above 2C be prepared for a spread of malaria and a sharp increase in infections.  As it warms the incubation period for malaria plummets and mosquitoes bite a lot more.  Water-related diseases from cholera to typhus to dysentery also increase.

It's critical to consider the effect this warming already underway will have on biodiversity.  Many species are incapable of evolving to survive the current, early onset, rate of change.  If we fail to arrest global warming at 2C (now considered highly unlikely) and instead allow it to reach 4C, the number of species lost will skyrocket. 2C simply gives many species a window to survive through adaptation, evolution migration.

This week it was announced that, in March, we set another record when every part of the planet experienced GHG concentrations about 400 ppm. Everywhere. To put that in perspective, our coral reefs cannot survive long beyond 350 ppm. of atmospheric CO2.  It's calculated that 1.5C of warming will kill off all but 10% of the world's corals.  Here's the thing.  It was recently reported that our existing emissions, what we've already put into the atmosphere, will "lock in" 1.5C of warming by 2100.  We've already pulled the Celsius trigger.  Now we've pulled the acidification trigger.  Sea level rise stresses corals.  So do severe storm events such as the cyclones savaging the central western Pacific.

As I went through the lectures from these top world scientists, leaders in their own disciplines, in looking to what awaits in a 4C world each said the same thing - "all bets are off."  Each of them described their field in the context of a climate change impacts "cascade" but noted that these combined impacts and they synergies are beyond anything in the experience of human and other life forms. Most also pointed out that, by the time we get to understand the cascade fallout, it'll be too late to do anything about it.

To sum up, we've got two choices - just the two.  Either decarbonize now, just as quickly as humanly possible, or "don't worry, be happy."