Sunday, January 22, 2017

He's Right. Yanis Varoufakis on Why Liberal Democracy Must Jettison Neoliberalism.

He's the most interesting fellow that the Greek Syriza movement produced, its former finance minister until his resignation in July, 2015.

Now, Yanis Varoufakis is warning of two insurgencies underway.

A clash of two insurgencies is now shaping the west. Progressives on both sides of the Atlantic are on the sidelines, unable to comprehend what they are observing. Donald Trump’s inauguration marks its pinnacle.

One of the two insurgencies shaping our world today has been analysed ad nauseum. Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and the broad Nationalist International that they are loosely connected to have received much attention, as has their success at impressing upon the multitudes that nation-states, borders, citizens and communities matter.

However, the other insurgency that caused the rise of this Nationalist International has remained in the shadows: an insurrection by the global establishment’s technocracy whose purpose is to retain control at all cost. (See here and here) Project Fear in the UK, the troika in continental Europe and the unholy alliance of Wall Street, Silicon Valley and the surveillance apparatus in the United States are its manifestations.

The era of neoliberalism ended in the autumn of 2008 with the bonfire of financialisation’s illusions. The fetishisation of unfettered markets that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan brought to the fore in the late 1970s had been the necessary ideological cover for the unleashing of financiers to enable the capital flows essential to a new phase of globalisation in which the United States deficits provided the aggregate demand for the world’s factories (whose profits flowed back to Wall Street closing the loop nicely).


Thatcher’s and Reagan’s neoliberalism had sought to persuade that privatisation of everything would produce a fair and efficient society unimpeded by vested interests or bureaucratic fiat. That narrative, of course, hid from public view what was really happening: a tremendous buildup of super-state bureaucracies, unaccountable supra-state institutions (World Trade Organisation, Nafta, the European Central Bank), behemoth corporations, and a global financial sector heading for the rocks.

After the events of 2008 something remarkable happened. For the first time in modern times the establishment no longer cared to persuade the masses that its way was socially optimal. Overwhelmed by the collapsing financial pyramids, the inexorable buildup of unsustainable debt, a eurozone in an advanced state of disintegration and a China increasingly relying on an impossible credit boom, the establishment’s functionaries set aside the aspiration to persuade or to represent. Instead, they concentrated on clamping down.


The only weapon we have to defend liberal democracy against the nationalist and technocratic insurgencies is a restoration of progressivism, progressive democracy.

It was against this insurgency of a cornered establishment that had given up on persuasion that Donald Trump and his European allies rose up with their own populist insurgency. They proved that it is possible to go against the establishment and win. Alas, theirs will be a pyrrhic victory which will, eventually, harm those whom they inspired. The answer to neoliberalism’s Waterloo cannot be the retreat to a barricaded nation-state and the pitting of “our” people against “others” fenced off by tall walls and electrified fences.

The answer can only be a Progressive Internationalism that works in practice on both sides of the Atlantic. To bring it about we need more than fine principles unblemished by power. We need to aim for power on the basis of a pragmatic narrative imparting hope throughout Europe and America for jobs paying living wages to anyone who wants them, for social housing, for health and education.

Only a third insurgency promoting a New Deal that works equally for Americans and Europeans can restore to a billion people living in the west sovereignty over their lives and communities.

Trump's New War to Subdue the Press

America's newly minted president or, as Scotian calls him, TrumpleThinSkin, has unleashed some remarkably mangy dogs on the White House press corps. The most parasite riddled of the lot, press secretary, Sean Spicer, and Trump aide, Kellyanne Conway.

Spicer summoned the press to the White House yesterday to attack them for their scandalous coverage of the Trump inauguration. True to the standard set by his commander in chief, he attacked them with lies. He made shit up and then blamed them for it.

Then Trump's Kellyanne Conway defended Spicer, telling NBC's Chuck Todd that the press secretary was simply presenting "alternative facts."

And notice that Conway began with a threat that, if the press is going to do its job and point out deliberate falsehoods, "we're going to have to rethink our relationship."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

And So It Begins

Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, bitchslaps the White House press corps.  Listen to this loon rattle on.

Then again, maybe the inauguration turnout was greater than the press corps understood. Only the crowds weren't all there to welcome their new pres.

"Ve told you ve drew ze largest inaugural crowd, EVER. Zis you veel report, Schwein."

Hmm, One of these Is Not Like the Other.

One photo was taken in 2009. The other in 2017. Can you guess which?

Trump Pledges to Restore American Wealth. I Know Where He Can Find It.

El Presidente Trump has made a vow to restore America's wealth. Of course that's not what he intends to do at all. It's the Big Lie, Day One.

What he actually intends to do is to take a page out of the playbook of Roman emperors and extract "tribute" from other nations. Think of it as a global shakedown. It's the sort of thing that history shows doesn't work out that well for long.

The fact is that he doesn't have to restore America's wealth. It's still right there under his nose. He just has to look for it and, once he finds it, decide what should be done with it.

America's wealth has shifted. It's gone from the Rust Belt. It's been lost by the nation's blue and white collar working classes. It has been moved, quietly shifted. It's a few blocks away from Trump Tower. It has "trickled up" to Wall Street and the 1%.

Big Lie 2, Day One. He says he wants to restore American manufacturing, its former industrial powerhouse. You can't do that where the money sits at the moment.

Manufacturing, even in good times, produces stable but modest returns in the range of a respectable 3 to 4% per annum. Manufacturing revenue is dispersed into many places - wages and salaries, communities, suppliers, all levels of government.

Manufacturing grade revenue is of no interest to Wall Street. There they focus on far greater returns not for making things but for moving paper. And it works in places where the government embraces Taliban-grade laissez faire capitalism which rules out any notion of direct or indirect wealth redistribution. It's the sort of dog eat dog world only in which the really big dogs eat all the little dogs. Lovely.

Trump promises to restore America's manufacturing sector. Can't do that without capital. America has lots of capital but it wants nothing to do with manufacturing. Gotta change that. It's easy enough to do. Tax the rich. Impose punitive taxes on "dead" money that sits idle. Use taxation to redirect that money into investment in preferred targets - employment-intensive industries such as, why of course, manufacturing.

Only that's not going to happen. It's a low-wage world now and Trump is not going to mess with that. He can't risk it. And so he'll continue what he knows his gullibilly base already believes. He'll stay with the xenophobic notion that others, foreigners have stolen American wealth. Trump's addled base love that idea.

We know those outsourced, offshored jobs aren't coming back. It's cheaper to build robotic factories that don't need those redundant American workers and their First World wage scales.

Trump isn't out for restoration. Kim Jong Don's game is extortion and a great many, grievance-fueled Americans are all for that.

Tuning Up the Proles

You can't have a totalitarian state without a suitably "tuned up" population. North Korea is a perfect example.  Germany or Italy in the 30s were fine examples. The Soviet Union, ditto.

Today it's America's turn. A segment of the American population, a sufficient fraction, has been conditioned to accept utter nonsense, the stuff their new president force fed them and they so willingly swallowed. Many of them don't care that it's shit, it's an acquired taste.

But what about the shining city on the hill that Reagan spoke of,  American democracy? Matthew 5:14 -  "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden." Well, that's pretty much over, for the near future anyway.

Trump left no doubt yesterday that, from here on in, it's Amerika Uber Alles. I've been criticized for saying as much in recent months but, this time, I wasn't the one saying that. That came straight from the mouth of the first Amerikan  president. You don't like it, take it up with him.

American essayist, Marilynne Robinson, wrote in The Guardian:

We have inaugurated a president whose mental life is a thing of television ratings, beauty pageants and egoistical make-believe, who threatens and gloats and holds grudges and wants everyone to know it, whose impulses are alarming and alarmingly incoherent. He lacks the kind of knowledge of history and civic life and decent manners most adults have acquired by paying at least glancing attention.

Populism isn't a means to serve a nation's people. It's a vehicle to control them and to suppress those who see through it and dare to dissent.

Trump's inaugural speech utterly ignored the fact that a majority of the voting public supported his opponent. It ignored the fact that his inaugural approval rating was the lowest by an order of magnitude in the history of inaugural polling. It was the speech of a man who considers his power absolute, who will treat his nation as he alone sees fit. It was the speech of a thug, a despot.

The headlines for the Washington Post's "most read" list -

- A Most Dreadful Inaugural Address
- Is This What We've Come To, America?
- Donald Trump Has Assembled the Worst Cabinet In American History
- Donald Trump's Inauguration Was a Gothic Nightmare
- Trump's Inaugural Speech Was Strikingly Radical

Hmm, I wonder what that's all about. Oh yeah, it's about Amerika's new leader, its commander in chief. Perhaps he's not even a president for that implies an acceptance of constitutional restraint and basic human decency. High moral attributes hold no currency for this serial sexual deviant.

I didn't watch the inauguration, not a minute of it. What I know of it is what I've read, the written record of Trump's tirade. 

Tomorrow I'll make a point to catch Fareed Zakaria's 360 programme on CNN. India-borne Zakaria, a practising Muslim, educated at Harvard and Yale, has been the keenest observer of the rise of illiberal democracy around the world and, in particular, within the United States.

Twenty years ago, in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs, Zakaria foretold America's descent into illiberal democracy. He's been warning about it ever since and, now, it has become America's governmental default operating system.

The American diplomat Richard Holbrooke pondered a problem on the eve of the September 1996 elections in Bosnia, which were meant to restore civic life to that ravaged country. "Suppose the election was declared free and fair," he said, and those elected are "racists, fascists, separatists, who are publicly opposed to [peace and reintegration]. That is the dilemma.

My, my, my.

It's impossible to know, in particulars, what lies ahead as Trump ploughs through the global china shop but we know we're all in for a wild and periodically dangerous ride. The era of the Big Lie has descended on Washington and most Americans will either support it or look the other way. They've been well and truly tuned up for this day.

What was that line? Something about Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein... something or other.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Trudeau Has Dug a Grave for the Paris Climate Accord. Thanks, Justin.

Trudeau has put paid to any notion of restraining global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Tyee's Andrew Nikiforuk writes that a new study by Oil Change International shines a hard light on Trudeau's approval of new pipelines, the key to Tar Sands expansion. This prime minister has single-handedly put the Paris targets out of reach.

Canada can’t increase tar sands production or build more pipelines if the world is to achieve the targets on global carbon emissions set by the Paris Agreement on climate.

That’s the central conclusion of a new report by Oil Change International(OCI), a U.S. research and advocacy group dedicated to exposing the full costs of fossil fuel extraction.

“There is no scenario in which tar sands production increases and the world achieves the Paris goals,” says the report.


The majority of Canada’s oil exports consist of raw bitumen, a cheap refinery feedstock, which is then upgraded at U.S. refineries for local consumption or export.

“Eighty per cent of the climate impact of tar sands oil,” says the report, “comes from releasing carbon wherever the fuel is burned — thus the most important impact of tar sands expansion is global.”

But the unrestricted approval of pipeline projects such as Trans Mountain and Line 3 could drive the expansion of bitumen production by nearly two million barrels a day over the next two decades, says the report. Current oil sands production is 2.5 million barrels a day and accounts for 60 per cent of Canada’s oil production.

That means that Canada could be adding more new oil production to global markets than Brazil and Libya combined.

As a result, emissions from Canadian oil could eventually gobble up 16 per cent of the world’s total carbon budget if it is to keep global temperature increases below 1.5 degree Celsius, or seven per cent of the two degree Celsius global carbon budget, the report found.

“Without action, Canada could become one of the fastest growing extractors of new carbon pollution over the next 20 years through the expansion of long-lived tar sands production,” adds the report.

It's been awhile since I placed much stock in anything Trudeau promises. We heard enough of his empty promises out here to know that much. However he did pledge that his government would be guided by science. The government has a raft of capable scientists on its payroll. Presumably Trudeau must have sought their scientific assessment of the Trans Canada and Energy East pipeline impacts on global warming and climate change. Why doesn't he show us that professional advice that he must have sought? I'm guessing that's not in the cards.

Figures Don't Lie But Liars Figure

As of today it's best you remember that phrase and keep it in mind. You'll find that, over the next four years, you may need it daily.

Around the time of the Carter presidency, pollsters began logging incoming presidents' popularity numbers. How does the citizenry perceive their new boss when he takes up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

Even George "hanging chad" Bush showed up for work with a 61% rating. Obama had a powerful 84%. Some polls have the Great Orange Bloat at a record 32% approval rating. This is before he puts presidential pen to paper.

Here's the thing. That "fresh out of the box" popularity wanes pretty quickly. The honeymoon period passes. The bloom is off the rose.

Presidents do as much as possible to preserve that opening day popularity but they don't succeed. How hard is Trump going to have to work to shore up his 32%?

This is not to say that Trump doesn't have loyal followers. Of course he does. They were the tailgate barbeque and beer gang that were foolish enough to believe his magical promises. Hillary was heading to jail. A 30 foot wall would spring up stretching from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. Factories just full of $30 an hour jobs would spring up everywhere. And the swamp - that swamp - well that was in for a draining. They're why I coined the term "gullibillies."

There was a study done recently that found a significant percentage of Trump supporters want Obamacare gone. However they don't want the axe to fall on their Affordable Care Act privileges. Somehow, it never reached the depths of their minds, that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is Obamacare.

The original Republican idea was to replace Obamacare with something "better." The public would simply transition from Plan A to Plan B. Trump, however, wants Obamacare rescinded, 20 million Americans denied health insurance, and then, if they're in the mood, the Republican Congress can maybe come up with something to replace it, provided the new president approves.

20 million. Those are the sort of numbers that guarantee mayhem and horror stories and there'll be plenty of front page space for that.

The coal mines? Oh yeah. Let's see how Trump gets that going again without massive government handouts.

Unlike any president before him, there'll be no honeymoon for Mr. Trump. No, he's starting off with his numbers in the crapper and he lacks anything approaching a coherent policy to guide his administration and his nation.

As Richard Wolffe writes, the future doesn't look rosy for Trump.

[Poll numbers] are the white blood cells of the circulatory system that flows through Washington. Good poll numbers can inoculate a president when Congress opposes him. Bad numbers reveal a president vulnerable to outside attacks and embolden his many rivals both inside and outside his own party.

Those numbers are about to get a lot worse. In his first year in office, Obama lost more than 15 points on his job approval. If Trump follows the same track, he will be polling in the mid-20s by this time next year. To put that into context, Richard Nixon’s job approval on the day he quit the Oval Office was 24%.

And no Mr President, these aren’t rigged polls.

The polls just reflect what people think of you, and they all rate you poorly both on a personal and professional basis. Here’s what’s rigged: an election you can win after losing the popular vote by more than 2 oints, as the polls correctly forecast. 

What could drive Trump’s poll numbers so low? Unlike Obama, who inherited the worst economy in two generations, the incoming president cannot blame external forces. The greatest threat, both to his presidency and the republic, comes from Trump himself.

Wolffe offers a catalogue of the scandals that are moving into the White House today with its new resident. The Great Orange Bloat hasn't been able to break free of them. No, not the Christopher Steele "dossier." This isn't about hookers taking a pee break in fancy Moscow hotel rooms. This is about the other scandals. A couple involve the Kremlin to be sure. Others involve the apparent corruption and manipulation of the US government's most trusted agencies, the FBI and possibly the CIA. Couple that with a new president beginning his term with one foot in the political grave, weak beyond belief, and you've got the formula for an exciting first term.

Such is life when a minority of voters and a majority of the Electoral College hand the brass ring to a narcissistic deviant with significant psychological problems.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Harper Humps Trump

Beijing Butt-Kisser Extraordinaire, Sideshow Steve Harper, has slithered back into public view to praise what he predicts will be Donald Trump's hostility to China.

Harper says Trump will erase the past 70 years of American foreign policy and, to him, that's a good thing.

"Trump is going to reverse the cornerstone of American foreign policy," Harper said. "He is going to reject and reverse the idea that the U.S. has an overreaching responsibility for global affairs. The U.S. will cease to view the rise of China as essentially benign."

The former prime minister also said he thinks large, multilateral trade deals are "dead."

He said Trump's position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership makes it a "certainty" that the 12 country trade pact — which his government negotiated — will not see the light of day.

"You may be surprised to know I'm not entirely unsympathetic to Mr. Trump's view on this. I'm not entirely sure where he's going, but … what I share in common with Mr. Trump is I've actually negotiated deals."

Oh, Steve, spare us the false modesty. You have much, much more in common with Donald Trump than you let on.

Sam Bee on Kellyanne Conway

This time tomorrow the wildly unpopular Donald Trump will be president of the United States of America.

Sam Bee takes a look at the woman who put him there:

Monbiot - But, Hey, Does This Sound Familiar?

Guardian enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, lambastes America's incoming president. Here's the gist of it. Now I want you to take away "Trump" and replace it with another leader's name, our own.

Trump is the president that corporate luddites have dreamed of: the man who will let them squeeze every last cent from their oil and coal reserves before they become worthless. They need him because science, technology and people’s demands for a safe and stable world have left them stranded. There is no fair fight that they can win, so their last hope lies with a government that will rig the competition.

The climatic disruption of crucial agricultural zones – in North and Central America, the Middle East, Africa and much of Asia – presents a security threat that could dwarf all others. The civil war in Syria, unless resolute policies are adopted, looks like a glimpse of a possible global future.

These are not, if the risks materialise, shifts to which we can adapt. These crises will be bigger than our capacity to respond to them. They could lead to the rapid and radical simplification of society, which means, to put it brutally, the end of civilisations and many of the people they support. If this happens, it will amount to the greatest crime ever committed. And members of Trump’s proposed cabinet are among the leading perpetrators.

You don't have to like it. You don't get a say in that. You do have a choice. Do we pursue the expanded and ongoing exploitation of fossil fuels or not? It's either we rapidly transition off fossil fuels or we stay with them, the latter being the choice of our federal government and the provincial governments of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

The thing with Trump is that he's open about it. Trudeau yammers on about "phasing out" bitumen production even as he greenlights new pipelines that have a 40 year lifespan, perhaps longer. Even the CBC is calling bullshit on Trudeau's empty phase out promise.

Trudeau's comments last week caused a political tempest in Alberta, but not much of a ripple in the business community. That's because even the idea of phasing out the oilsands seems, if not impossible, then unlikely enough that it requires no serious consideration.

"To phase it out would take many, many decades," said Martin King, director of institutional research at GMP FirstEnergy. King described Trudeau's comments as a blip in the media.

The companies that invested in Canada went through an arduous and expensive review process and spent billions of dollars because oilsands projects last for 30 years or more and there is time to recoup their investment. Canada's reputation as a place to invest would be destroyed if the rug was to be pulled out from those companies.

Trudeau, with a remarkably straight face, says we cannot choose between the environment and the economy. That's a shameless lie. We do choose and always on the side of the fossil energy economy. He chooses and then stands fact, logic and reason on its head to claim that he doesn't. 
Each of us has to choose. You and me. We've got all the arguments in front of us. As Schellnhuber warned at the Paris climate summit in 2015, if we want a future for the next generations there's only one route - an "induced implosion" of the fossil fuel industry.

I agree with Monbiot. We are perpetrating "the greatest crime ever committed." A crime against humanity. Sure it will come as an economic blow to Canada to do the right thing. But the price that will be paid for not doing the right thing won't be measured in GDP but in lives.

The Real Trump Scandal

Forget the story about hookers peeing on hotel beds. That's the story that was seized on by the media, the idea that Putin has recordings of Trump perversions.

The real story, is the one they didn't focus on. It's how Russian money poured into the American election and how the government's most trusted agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was corrupted. It's a story of voter suppression, voter manipulation, and how a man who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots will become president.

America may not have a surplus of credible news services but one of the exceptions is McClatchey, formerly Knight-Ridder, the sole outfit that declared the Bush-Blair WMD casus belli for waging aggressive war on Iran utter bullshit. That set them head and shoulders above the pack including the major nets and newspapers.

McClatchey reports that five US government agencies are investigating how the Kremlin covertly interfered to hand the presidency to Trump.

The informal, inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from a former British spy hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the inquiry.

The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.

U.S. intelligence agencies not only have been unanimous in blaming Russia for the hacking of Democrats’ computers but also have concluded that the leaking and dissemination of thousands of emails of top Democrats, some of which caused headaches for the Clinton campaign, were done to help Trump win.

Trump and Republican members of Congress have said they believe Russia meddled in the U.S. election but that those actions didn’t change the outcome. However, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she believes that Russia’s tactics did alter the election result.


The BBC reported last week that the joint inquiry was launched when the CIA learned last spring, through a Baltic ally, of a recording indicating the Russian government was planning to funnel funds aimed at influencing the U.S. election.

Adding to the intrigue, once Trump swears his oath of office at noon on Friday, his newly appointed intelligence and security chiefs will have ultimate control of the inter-agency group.

The agencies are said to be examining the activities of several Americans linked to the Trump campaign and corporation and a bigger group of Russians and citizens of other ex-Soviet republics who are based in the US who may be linked to Trump.

One of these "several Americans" is none other than Trump fixer, Rudy Giuliani. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

...just three weeks before the presidential election and Trump's stunning victory, a third, further-refined application was successful.

The court's (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) authorisation to investigate funds moving between Russia and the US reportedly does not name Trump or his associates, but a lawyer familiar with the case, told the BBC that the investigation was focusing on three Trump associates and "it's clear this is about Trump".

Huffington Post, meanwhile, has a compelling exploration of how certain Trump insiders may have corrupted the FBI and its director, James Comey.

Information presently public and available confirms that Erik Prince, Rudy Giuliani, and Donald Trump conspired to intimidate FBI Director James Comey into interfering in, and thus directly affecting, the 2016 presidential election. This conspiracy was made possible with the assistance of officers in the New York Police Department and agents within the New York field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. All of the major actors in the conspiracy have already confessed to its particulars either in word or in deed; moreover, all of the major actors have publicly exhibited consciousness of guilt after the fact. This assessment has already been the subject of articles in news outlets on both sides of the political spectrum, but has not yet received substantial investigation by major media.

In case you're wondering,  yes, it's that Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial Iraq War contractor, Blackwater.

The Huffington Post "dossier" is more to the point than the documents assembled by Brit spy, Christopher Steele. This business smells as bad as a week old fish on a Baghdad sidewalk. Let's see how fast Trump moves to put a blanket over the investigation.

Read more here:

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Demographic Fairy Tales

Never has mankind's future been so uncertain. There are powerful forces at work today and we have only the vaguest notion of how they'll play out individually much less collectively in either the short-range or medium-range.

One is the combined effect of global warming and climate change. That's the big nasty. There are also two related phenomenon, tightly interwoven with global warming and climate change - overpopulation and over-consumption. Each of the three has a wide range of permutations. Combined, as they inevitably are, they manifest in a powerful synergy that is much greater than the sum of their parts.

One of the great failures of climate change advocates is the persistent refusal to address the companion challenges of overpopulation and over-consumption in formulating recommended responses. That's a self-defeating omission. There is no effective response to global warming and climate change that does not incorporate measures to address overpopulation and over-consumption. Focusing our attention, our efforts and our resources on one while ignoring the others is to work at cross purposes. To me it's akin to fighting a house fire in the kitchen but ignoring the blaze spreading through the livingroom and into the sleeping quarters.

A recent article in Foreign Policy seeks to explore the changes in global demographics the world will see by 2050.

First problem, 2050. The further ahead you seek to look the greater the chance you're casting bones and reading entrails. It's the difference between a wild-assed guess and a silly wild-assed guess. Here's why. A decade ago we were warned that, unless we kept global warming under 2 degrees Celsius, the Arctic could just possibly be ice free by the turn of the century. It seems we got that wrong by a staggering 80 years out of what was a 90-year projection. If only we knew then what we know now... you get the idea. That is the peril inherent in navigating uncharted waters.

Nothing better exemplifies "uncharted waters" than human population growth. To get a sense of how surreal this is consider this line from the article: "In the 35 years from 2015 to 2050, the world’s population is expected to rise by only 32 percent. During the 20th century, it nearly quadrupled."

"Only 32 percent" over the course of just 35 years. A global population that "nearly quadrupled" in just one century.

Now, consider this:

This means that in 2050 there will be around 3.5 times more Africans (2.5 billion) than Europeans (707 million). In 1950, there were nearly twice as many Europeans as Africans. Demography is a drama in slow motion. But tick by tock, it transforms the world.
The staggering reversal of population fortunes is largely the result of the huge continental differences in birthrates — 1.6 children per woman in Europe today versus 4.7 children per woman in Africa.

Reading the article it's hard to tell if the author simply made a bad choice of words, i.e. population fortunes, or if he believes that the figures he projects for 2050 are a good thing.

The article goes on to discuss how we're lifting people out of poverty, a billion since 2000. Nowhere is it mentioned how the impact of adding these people to what's now being called the "consumer class" is increasing their carbon footprint and adding to our looming resource crisis.

The article pays no heed, none at all, to "overshoot," the steadily increasing rate by which one species, our own, is depleting the Earth's resources faster than they can be replenished. We're already exceeding our planet's carrying capacity by a factor of 1.7. That's not a made up number. It's verifiable, measurable, tangible. It can be seen by the naked eye from the International Space Station viewing cupola. It is an inescapable truth, hard as granite.

The article explores at length how Islam will outgrow Christianity by 2050. The author, however, ignores the fact that it's the Muslim world that will bear the most severe impacts of global warming and climate change.

Time and again this article presents a projection that rests atop a foundation of omissions. That should be anything but persuasive and yet it's an approach that has become commonplace today. It's not just annoying, it's dangerous.

This Might Go a Long Way to Explaining Trump

Donald Trump behaves just like a person in the throes of severe sleep deprivation.

No, this isn't just casting bones and reading entrails. During the nomination and election campaigns Trump repeatedly alluded to how he gets by with just a few hours of sleep every night.

The good news is that this is a well researched problem. Doctors know how it impacts the afflicted. The bad news is that the medical community know how it impacts the afflicted and what that might mean for a president of the United States.

President-elect Donald J. Trump regularly boasts he’s the biggest winner, makes the biggest deals, and appoints the best people, and recently he claimed he’ll be the biggest job creator god ever created. He also brags that he does all these amazing things on next to no sleep. This 70-year-old pre-adolescent made numerous boasts on the campaign trail last year about his sleeping habits, saying he sometimes gets as little as an hour’s sleep a night. Most nights, Trump says he gets by on just three or four hours of sleep, which is half of the amount sleep experts recommend. “I have a great temperament for success,” he told the Chicago Tribune at an event in Illinois last November. “You know, I’m not a big sleeper, I like three hours, four hours, I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep, I want to find out what’s going on.” 

Some evidence of the rare truth of this particular brag is evident in the tweets he churns out, many with time signatures in the wee hours. In one case, after a GOP election debate moderated by Megyn Kelly, he tweeted out 30 messages between 2:30 and 4:30am, according to the Washington Post. Daniel Barron, a Yale University neurologist, even gives Trump’s nocturnal habit a name: Trump syndrome. The symptoms are, “a ravenous late-night craving for stimulation that results in a sometimes sporadic, often slender sleep schedule.”

How does this sort of sleep deprivation manifest in others?

Sleep-deprived individuals, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, are impulsive, have difficulty adapting to new situations, are snappish, exhibit poor judgment, have trouble listening to and processing information, experience a lack of concentration and focus, are prone to imagining things, and get distracted easily. The sleep-deprived’s ability to learn new information can drop by up to 40 percent. Moreover, the lack of sufficient REM sleep can lead to the inability to recognize happiness or sadness in others—in other words, a lack of empathy. Sound familiar? 

The article goes on to list six major disasters where lack of sleep played a significant role: the Exxon Valdez grounding; Three Mile Island nuclear accident; Chernobyl; the Challenger disaster; Air France 447; and Britain's Great Heck rail crash.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Ball is in Your Court Now, Assange

Chelsea Manning has received clemency from Barack Obama. Now it's time for Julian Assange to turn himself in to American authorities.

"If Obama grants Manning clemency," the WikiLeaks tweet read, "Assange will agree to U.S. extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case." Assange was referencing the case where — well, it's not exactly clear what case he's referring to. The Department of Justice has been investigating Assange and Wikileaks since 2010, but there's no evidence of charges having been filed.

Assange is currently living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to evade extradition to Sweden for sexual assault charges, so the U.S. isn't Assange's biggest problem. But in the U.S., Assange could face other challenges, like potential espionage charges for aiding a variety of U.S. government whistleblowers over the past decade.

Assange tweeted, without commenting on his offer: "Thank you to everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning's clemency. Your courage & determination made the impossible possible."

And Then He Proved Us Right

Justin Trudeau was right when he said, "One of the things we inherited from the previous government was a high degree of mistrust by Canadians,” on pipelines.

It apparently hasn't dawned on Trudeau that he wasted no time proving how much that mistrust was justified.

It's like that farcical line he delivered with a straight face in Calgary when he said, "you can't chose between the environment and the economy." Of course he can choose. He chose the fossil fuelers when he approved the Site C dam. He chose the fossil fuelers when he approved BC's LNG fiasco. He chose the fossil fuelers when he approved the Kinder Morgan and Energy East pipelines.

It's unclear whether Trudeau can't think straight or he imagines that we can't. He plainly takes the Canadian people for fools. He's not man enough to accept responsibility for what he's chosen to do. He can't admit that he broke his word both to our First Nations and the greater community, especially the people of British Columbia.

But, wait, what about the Northern Gateway? He said no to that, right? Of course he did. With the Keystone XL going ahead and the Energy East line and Kinder Morgan flooding Vancouver's inner harbour with prime Athabasca dilbit, Northern Gateway was pointless.

Will Artificial Intelligence Target Women?

Think of a robotic Trump - racist, sexist, misogynistic. Some think those are the attributes we can expect to seep into artificial intelligence. The age of automation is not going to be kind to women.

Women are projected to take the biggest hits to jobs in the near future, according to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report predicting that 5.1 million positions worldwide will be lost by 2020. “Developments in previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and genetics and biotechnology are all building on and amplifying one another,” the WEF report states. “Smart systems — homes, factories, farms, grids or entire cities — will help tackle problems ranging from supply chain management to climate change.” These technological changes will create new kinds of jobs while displacing others. And women will lose roles in workforces where they make up high percentages — think office and administrative jobs — and in sectors where there are already gender imbalances, such as architecture, engineering, computers, math, and manufacturing. Men will see nearly 4 million job losses and 1.4 million gains (approximately one new job created for every three lost). In comparison, women will face 3 million job losses and only 0.55 million gains (more than five jobs lost for every one gained).

Forecasts like one from the consultancy McKinsey & Co. suggest that women’s weakening position will only be exacerbated by automation in jobs often held by women, such as bookkeepers, clerks, accountants, sales and customer service, and data input. The WEF report predicts that persistent gender gaps in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields over the next 15 years would also diminish women’s professional presence.

The article looks at an AI bot named Tay that Microsoft launched on the internet, a cyber millennial female. The pitch was that "The more you talk, the smarter Tay gets!" Enter the Trolls.

Tay’s designers built her to be a creature of the web, reliant on artificial intelligence (AI) to learn and engage in human conversations and get better at it by interacting with people over social media. As the day went on, Tay gained followers. She also quickly fell prey to Twitter users targeting her vulnerabilities. For those internet antagonists looking to manipulate Tay, it didn’t take much effort; they engaged the bot in ugly conversations, tricking the technology into mimicking their racist and sexist behavior. Within a few hours, Tay had endorsed Adolf Hitler and referred to U.S. President Barack Obama as “the monkey.” She sex-chatted with one user, tweeting, “DADDY I’M SUCH A BAD NAUGHTY ROBOT.”

By early evening, she was firing off sexist tweets:

“gamergate is good and women are inferior”

“Zoe Quinn is a Stupid Whore.”

“I fucking hate feminists and they should all die and burn in hell.”


Artificial intelligence may soon look and sound far more sophisticated than Tay — machines are expected to become as smart as people — and become dangerously more sexist as biases seep into programs, algorithms, and designs. If thoughtful and careful changes to these technologies don’t begin now — and under the equal guidance of women — artificial intelligence will proliferate under man’s most base cultural norms. The current trends in machine learning augment historical misperceptions of women (meek, mild, in need of protection). Unchecked, they will regurgitate the worst female stereotypes. Sexism will become even more infused within societies as they increasingly — and willingly — rely on advanced technology.

Obama to Free Chelsea Manning

The New York Times is reporting that Barack Obama will commute the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning. She is expected to be released in May.

No word yet on anything along the same lines for Edward Snowden.

German Opposition Leader Follows Trump's Lead

Sarah Wagenknecht, her name probably doesn't ring any bells. However she leads Germany's largest opposition party, the Left Party, and she seems to like what she's hearing from the Great Orange Bloat.

Wagenknecht wants two things. She wants NATO dissolved, broken up, dispersed. She also wants Germany to enter a "security union" with Russia.

"NATO must be dissolved and replaced by a collective security system including Russia," Wagenknecht told Germany's "Funke" media group.

Wagenknecht, who leads the opposition Left Party in parliament, added that comments made by the future US president "mercilessly reveal the mistakes and failures of the [German] federal government."

This is how complicated it could soon become. Wagenknecht doesn't like Trump, not one bit, but she likes his "wrecking ball" mentality.

In a Way, It's Kind of Fitting.

Somebody had to be first. Turns out it's America.

A new study finds that parts of the United States will reach the dreaded 2 degree Celsius climate change threshold faster than the rest of the planet.

The sad news it's the U.S. northeast where the early warming is expected to hit, not the climate change denyin', knuckle draggin' southern states.

Many of us want to know what’s going to happen to the climate where we live. How will my life be affected in the future?

This type of question is answered in a very recent study published by scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The team, which includes Dr. Raymond Bradley and researcher Dr. Ambarish Karmalkar looked specifically at the Northeastern United States. They found that this area will warm much more rapidly than the globe as a whole. In fact, it will warm faster than any other United States region. The authors expect the Northeast US will warm 50% faster than the planet as a whole. They also find that the United States will reach a 2 degree Celsius warming 10–20 years before the globe as a whole.

So why does this matter? Well first, it matters because some of the effects people will experience are directly tied to the temperature increase in their region. For instance, we know that warmer air leads to more intense precipitation. In fact, we are already observing increases in very heavy rainfall across the United States (especially in the Northeast). Based on this new research, that trend will only get worse. It means that winters in this region will get warmer and wetter – more winter precipitation will likely occur as rain rather than snow. This affects the availability of water into the spring months. It also means that summers will have more intense heat waves which will lead to more severe droughts.

The summer condition described - heatwaves and severe drought - recently picked up a new name in American meteorological parlance, "flash drought." It describes what was experienced across eastern Canada last summer. That has always been a very productive agricultural region but it got hammered last year. Is that, as this study suggests, going to become Canada's new normal?

Next Stop - Imbecility

Gene warfare.

Apparently humans have a tricky little gene deficiency that works to make us a slight bit dumber, generation by generation.

Geneticists in Reykjavik find that certain genes that predispose people to "hit the books" are in generational decline.

They've also found that those who are inclined toward education also have lower rates of reproduction.

Great, more proof that Idiocracy isn't a satire. It's a documentary.

Trump's Next Ratings War

Obama Inauguration, 2009

Donald Trump thinks of people in terms of ratings. He's fond of tweeting that this critic or that is "grossly overrated." He couldn't resist taking a swipe at Arnold Schwarzenegger for this modest ratings as host of The Apprentice.

On Friday Donald Trump will be facing his own ratings war - the inauguration. His competition? That'll be the last guy, Barack Hussein Obama. He set the bar by which Trump will stand or fall.

I suspect you can still recall that inauguration celebration for the last incoming president eight years ago. In common parlance you could say that Obama "rocked" Washington and every other American city on January 20, 2009.

But this is Trump's January 20th and it's shaping up to be a lot different. His staff spent weeks trying but failed to get any  A-list talent to perform. They finally settled for Toby Keith.

The 2009 concert "Obama's We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial" had a list of performers so star-studded I'm shocked anyone was able to watch it without going totally blind. Brace yourself, because the list of performers included Master Sgt. Caleb Green, Bruce Springsteen, Mary J. Blige, Jon Bon Jovi with Bettye Lavette, James Taylor with John Legend and Jennifer Nettle, John Mellencamp, Josh Groban and Heather Headley, with Herbie Hancock and Sheryl Crow, Renée Fleming, Garth Brooks, Stevie Wonder with Usher and Shakira, U2, Pete Seeger, and, of course, Beyoncé.

Who needs people like them when you've got Toby Keith? Garsh.

Trump is hyper-sensitive to appearances, especially his own. This one is going to burn.


Notice the photo above. In 2009 the crowd completely filled the National Mall all the way back to the Washington Monument. Standing room only. Packed like sardines.


Update: Speak of the devil.

Is Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd going to be bad or the worst in modern American history? He’s only been able to draw a handful of D.C.-area wedding DJs and a handful of county fair musical acts. A growing list of congressional representatives have pledged to boycott the event and a D.C. council member says they’ve only received 200 bus applications (versus 1,200 for the protest march the very next day.)

But, perhaps the most telling sign this is shaping up to be an embarrassing disaster for Team Trump is the fact that only six days out from the event, Donald himself took to Facebook to record a message begging offering free tickets to anyone who wanted to attend. If you make it through the ceremony, he’ll throw in a set of steak knives and you’ll be entered to win a complimentary trip for two to the luxurious Mar-A-Lago resort. (Okay, that last bit is not true, but it could be!)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Well, He Does Know a Thing or Two About Divorce.

Is the marriage over? For longer than I've drawn breath, Europe and America have been intertwined in a relationship that blossomed into a marriage in the aftermath of WWII.

Now, in a pattern that echoes his path from Ivana to Marla to Melania, Donald Trump seems intent on straining America's relationship with Europe, perhaps in favour of a new paramour, Russia.

Trump recently dissed both NATO and the European Union, dismissing America's oldest military alliance as "obsolete" while praising Brexit, predicting the departure of other member states from the E.U. and blasting Angela Merkel's migrant policy. These are not actions by which mutual confidence is sustained.

For a while the president-elect said he welcomed a nuclear arms race with Russia. Barely a week later he advocated a reduction in Russia's and America's nuclear arsenals, hinting that he might scrap U.S. sanctions against Russia in the bargain.

The Europeans know that Trump does not have the confidence of America's 17 national security/intelligence agencies. They know that because America's intelligence types have been telling their counterparts not to share anything they don't want Putin to know about. Again, not great for sustaining mutual confidence.

French president Francois Hollande made it clear today that he's heard enough from the Great Orange Bloat.

"Europe will be ready to pursue transatlantic cooperation, but it will based on its interests and values," Hollande said before awarding France's highest honour to outgoing US ambassador Jane Hartley. "It does not need outside advice to tell it what to do."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, two Chinese state newspapers have warned of trouble ahead.

China will "take off the gloves" and take strong action if US President-elect Donald Trump continues to provoke Beijing over Taiwan once he assumes office, two leading state-run newspapers said on Monday.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Friday, Trump said the "One China" policy was up for negotiation. China's foreign ministry, in response, said "One China" was the foundation of China-US ties and was non-negotiable.

"If Trump is determined to use this gambit in taking office, a period of fierce, damaging interactions will be unavoidable, as Beijing will have no choice but to take off the gloves," the English-language China Daily said.

One recent analysis concluded that in a major trade war, China's economy might sustain a 50% hit. America's economy could take an unrecoverable 75% blow. China, being more manufacturing focused, has the more resilient economy that would recover in short order. A trade war could leave America's FIRE economy (and the economies of America's dependents) mortally wounded.

In what Angela Merkel has termed Trump's "thought environment," the incoming president imagines America's strength as perhaps much greater than it would prove to be if strained. That would, of necessity, reset America's relationships with rivals, adversaries and one faithful allies alike.

The View From the Tanks

Think tanks are a wonderful and often overlooked source of garnering perspective on world events. Some, such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute or our own Fraser Institute are ideological hack factories posing as legitimate think tanks but there are others - Chatham House, Brookings, the Carnegie Endowment, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and more that are balanced and a rich source of insight into today's and tomorrow's events.

With seismic events now unfolding, particularly this week in Washington, it's a fine time for a stroll down Think Tank boulevard.

Let's begin with my favourite, the venerable Chatham House, more properly known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. A couple of items of interest. Chatham House director, Dr. Robin Niblett, writes of  "The Demise of Anglo-American Economic Leadership."

Niblett writes it may be game over for the era of neoliberalism ushered in by Reagan, Thatcher (and Mulroney), what he calls "the Anglo-Saxon model." Many of us will be open to that idea but it begs the question of just what will take its place and what sort of "place" will there be for us in that place? Uncertainty ensues.

More recently, Dr. Niblett wrote on "Liberalism in Retreat," exploring how, with democracy in decline, liberal democracies must find ways to co-exist with their ideological foes.

"In the past, as other political systems have crumbled, the liberal international order has risen to face its challenges. Yet so long as the economies of its leading members remain fragile and their political institutions divided, the order they have championed is unlikely to regain the political momentum that helped democracy spread across the globe. Instead, it will evolve into a less ambitious project: an international liberal economic order that encompasses states with diverse domestic political systems."

Over at the exquisitely American, Brookings Institute, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy pose the question "What makes Putin tick, and what the West should do."
They write of three camps - those who underestimate Putin and those who overestimate Putin and a good many who do both.

"...many in the West underestimated Putin’s willingness to fight, for as long and as hard (and as dirty) as he needs to, to achieve his goals. Vladimir Putin will use all methods available, and he will be ruthless. Second, Western observers misread his skill as a strategist. Putin is not, as some have said, a mere tactician. He thinks strategically, and he has great advantages over Western leaders in his ability to translate that thinking into action. What we often fail to appreciate, however, is how dangerously little Putin understands about us—our motives, our mentality, and, also, our values. Only by trying to appreciate how Putin sees us can we see the logic in his actions—the logic he follows—and therefore get some idea of what he wants, where he might be headed, in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe and Eurasia…."

"...Vladimir Putin needs to be taken seriously. He will make good on every promise or threat—if Putin says he will do something, then he is prepared to do it; and he will find a way of doing it, using every method at his disposal."

"In short, Vladimir Putin is a fighter and he is a survivalist. He won’t give up, and he will fight dirty if that’s what it takes to win. He didn’t give up as a kid in the Leningrad courtyards. He didn’t give up in Chechnya. He won’t give up in Ukraine or elsewhere in Russia’s neighborhood. Vladimir Putin’s rules for street fighting are essentially the same for his principles in domestic and foreign politics. Establish credibility and don’t back down until the advantage is yours and you’ve made your point. Once your opponent has capitulated and you have established your turf and terms, then you can patch things up and move on—until the next showdown comes along."

Doesn't that make you thank your lucky stars we've got Trump in the ring with Putin?

"In the domestic and foreign policy arenas, Putin constantly sizes up his opponents and probes for physical and psychological weaknesses. Putin’s adaptation of Nixon’s “Madman Theory” approach helps flush these weaknesses out—it helps gauge reactions: They think I’m dangerous, and unpredictable, how do they respond to this? Have I got them unbalanced and on the back foot as a result? Then Putin tests his opponents to see if they mean what they say—will they also be prepared to fight, and fight to the end? If they are not, then he will exploit their empty threats to show them up, intimidate, deter, and defeat them."

Over at Carnegie, Amr Hamzawy, examines the aftermath of the Arab Spring concluding the region has returned to square one. He argues the Arab world must forge a new social contract with its people.

Meanwhile, Carnegie senior fellow, Karim Sadjapour, explains why Trump is the favourite of fellow autocrats (and worse) everywhere.

"While Trump lacks bipartisan support at home, he has not only the support of the Shia Iran but the Sunni ISIS. In August, an article in Foreign Affairs noted that an ISIS spokesman wrote on an ISIS social media channel, “I ask Allah to deliver America to Trump.” ISIS’s logic is simple: It believes that Trump’s erratic leadership will weaken America, and his abrasive style will alienate the Muslim world, in turn bolstering its efforts to recruit jihadists worldwide. In the words of a recent ISIS defector, “We were happy when Trump said bad things about Muslims because he makes it very clear that there are two teams in this battle: The Islamic team and the anti-Islamic team.”

"Trump’s most well-documented foreign enthusiast is Vladimir Putin, whom he has implied is a stronger leader than Obama. Putin has reciprocated, calling Trump “lively” and “talented” and “the absolute leader in the presidential race.” Former CIA chief Mike Morell called Trump an “unwitting agent” of Putin, and 17 U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russian cyber hackers have attempted to tilt the election in Trump’s direction. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Americans hoped Russia could emerge as an economically prosperous, socially tolerant democracy. Putin not only helped thwart attempts to make Russia more like America, but he found in Trump an opportunity to make America more like Russia."

Sadjapour ends with this chilling observation:

"The 14th-century North African philosopher Ibn Khaldun famously observed that empires are built and destroyed over the course of three generations. The first-generation founders are hungry, determined, and vigilant. The second generation inherits and manages what they witnessed the first generation build. By the third generation, the ruling elite are self-entitled, palace-reared elites who had no reason to develop the grit necessary to maintain what their grandparents built.

"Donald Trump is a third-generation American who never experienced life without freedom and privilege, running on a campaign projecting power rather than principles."

At the Council on Foreign Relations, there's a reprint taken from The Diplomat arguing that Trump may drive Japan and China closer together.

"Tokyo has always wanted American support against North Korea, but even a “hawkish” cabinet such as Abe’s will think twice before supporting operations that could lead to a new war in Korea. Japan Inc. would be the first collateral damage of a U.S. trade war with China should Trump follow campaign promises. And, obviously, Tokyo does not relish American Japan-bashing in the auto industry.

"Beijing has almost as many reasons to be concerned as Tokyo. An America weakened by a tweeter-in-chief with no attachment to U.S. core alliances and the international liberal order built by previous American administrations is good news for Xi Jinping. But enormous tariffs on Chinese goods, a national security advisor (Michael Flynn) who thinks China supports the Islamic State, and a president who seems regret that nuclear bombs aren’t used is not what the Communist Party of China (CPC) wants. Even if on balance Trump is likely to undermine America’s relative power in the world, there’s a significant risk that in doing so he could seriously hurt the interests of the Party in a negative sum game."

"The Trump presidency could thus be bad for both Japan and China. One country would turn out to be marginally worse off. But it’s a good bet that neither Xi nor Abe would be too pleased if their country’s economy went down 50 percent, even if their adversary’s collapsed by 75 percent. Moreover, neither Xi nor Abe know which of them would end up the bigger loser. This provides an opportunity for some imaginative diplomacy for Beijing and Tokyo to agree to a sort of cease-fire in their undeclared hostilities."

At the IISS, Nigel Inkster, director of future conflict and cyber security, takes a look at what may develop in the weeks and months ahead.

As to the wider geopolitical implications of Trump’s relationship with Russia, it is still far too early to make any judgements. The Trump business empire may have significant interests in Russia. But it also has significant investments in China, where it owns over 70 patents and is in the process of filing for 40 more. It has been suggested that a Trump administration may be drawn to some kind of strategic alliance with Russia based on racial and cultural affinity, and aimed at China. It is certainly the case that some elements in the emerging Trump administration harbour white supremacist inclinations. But there is no indication that Trump has any such ideological leanings – or indeed any leanings at all beyond the pursuit of self-interest.

While Putin’s Russia may welcome the prospect of a less fraught relationship with the US, it is far from obvious that a deal can be reached. A bigger worry may be what happens if efforts to yet again ‘push the reset button’ with Russia come to naught, as they may well do.

Meanwhile Beijing, though concerned about Trump’s suggestion that the One China policy may be up for negotiation, is keeping its powder dry and waiting to see what Trump actually does. At the same time, China is adroitly seeking to position itself as the prime guarantor of free trade and global leadership, a message President Xi Jinping will be looking to promote during his forthcoming visit to Davos. It remains to be seen, however, whether Xi can transcend the default Chinese Communist Party language to present a vision that resonates and carries conviction with the wider world.

The long and the short of it? No one is sure what to make of Trump. Opinions vary widely, perhaps wildly. One point of consensus. If it comes to horsetrading between Trump and Putin, it won't be Putin who goes home with empty pockets. Trump may, however, be sent packing with the trappings of victory for domestic consumption.

Great, just great.

Simon Says

I don't want anyone to miss Montreal Simon's great take on what some consider the Twilight Zone's scariest and most memorable episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." Simon really nailed it, especially if you remember that episode.

An Inauspicious Start

Whether he lasts a full term in office, Donald Trump is sure to provide no end of firsts in the presidential history books.

Here's one. He will become the first incoming commander in chief utterly distrusted by his intelligence and security agencies. He doesn't trust them but far more importantly they don't trust him.

The Israeli news service, Ynet, reports that American intelligence types have warned their Israeli counterparts against telling the US anything they don't want Putin and Iran to know. It's "mum's the word" at least for the immediate future while Trump's and his cabinet's true relationships with the Kremlin are sorted out.

Donald Trump’s upcoming inauguration as the next president of the United States is causing Israeli intelligence officials to lose sleep as well. Discussions held in closed forums recently raised fears of a leakage of Israeli intelligence top-classified information, clandestine modus operandi and sources, which have been exposed to the American intelligence community over the past 15 years, to Russia – and from there to Iran.

The Americans implied that their Israeli colleagues should “be careful” as of January 20, Trump’s inauguration date, when transferring intelligence information to the White House and to the National Security Council (NSC), which is subject to the president. According to the Israelis who were present in the meeting, the Americans recommended that until it is made clear that Trump is not inappropriately connected to Russia and is not being extorted – Israel should avoid revealing sensitive sources to administration officials for fear the information would reach the Iranians.

If Israel’s secrets are indeed not kept confidential, this is a serious danger to the state’s national security: Since the early 2000s, the cooperation between the Israel and US intelligence communities has been intensified. It was led by the head of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate (AMAN) at the time, Aharon Ze’evi Farkash (who even received a citation from the NSA Chief General Michael Hayden), late Mossad chief Meir Dagan and his successor, Tamir Pardo, who served earlier as the commander of one of the secret operational units that cooperated with the Americans.

British intelligence reportedly considers itself in the same boat as the Israelis. If his own intelligence experts don't trust president Trump no one else will either - Vladimir Putin possibly excepted.