Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dammit, Do We Really Need Fareed Zakaria to Tell Us This?


Fareed Zakaria thinks Trump was played for a chump by the Saudis during his opening visit of the 2017 Boor Tour.

Even Canadians have to realize how Harper and now Trudeau are shamelessly supporting the very nation that empowers terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS while condemning Shiite Iran for "state sponsored terrorism." Ask yourself why is Justin Trudeau kowtowing to Riyadh and the House of Saud? Why is he making Canada complicit in this?

Here, Zakaria rehashes what we've long known about Saudi perfidy.

President Trump’s journey to the Middle East illustrated yet again how the country central to the spread of this terrorism, Saudi Arabia, has managed to evade and deflect any responsibility for it. In fact, Trump has given Saudi Arabia a free pass and a free hand in the region.

The facts are well-known. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has spread its narrow, puritanical and intolerant version of Islam — originally practiced almost nowhere else — across the Muslim world. Osama bin Laden was Saudi, as were 15 of the 19 terrorists of 9/11.
And we know, via a leaked email by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that in recent years the Saudi government, along with Qatar, has been “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to (the Islamic State) and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” Saudi nationals make up the second largest group of foreign fighters in ISIS and, by some accounts, the largest in the terrorist group’s Iraqi operations. The kingdom is in a tacit alliance with al-Qaida in Yemen.

ISIS draws its beliefs from Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi version of Islam. As the former imam of the kingdom’s Grand Mosque said last year, ISIS “exploited our own principles, that can be found in our books. ... We follow the same thought but apply it in a refined way.” Until ISIS could write its own textbooks for its schools, it adopted the Saudi curriculum as its own.

Saudi money is now transforming European Islam. Leaked German intelligence reports show that charities “closely connected with government offices” of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait are funding mosques, schools and imams to disseminate a fundamentalist, intolerant version of Islam throughout Germany.
In Kosovo, the New York Times’ Carlotta Gall describes the process by which a 500-year-old tradition of moderate Islam is being destroyed. “From their bases, the Saudi-trained imams propagated Wahhabism’s tenets: the supremacy of Shariah law as well as ideas of violent jihad and takfirism, which authorizes the killing of Muslims considered heretics for not following its interpretation of Islam. ... The charitable assistance often had conditions attached. Families were given monthly stipends on the condition that they attended sermons in the mosque and that women and girls wore the veil.”

Iran, the evil state sponsor of terrorism. It wasn't Shiites behind the embassy bombings. No that was the handiwork of Sunni Muslims, the Saudi's gang. The bombing of the USS Cole? Saudi, not Iranian Shiites. The first World Trade Center bombing (the parkade attack). Sunni radicals. The 9/11 attacks? Sunni terrorists. The Paris, London, Madrid, Libyan and Tunisian atrocities? Sunni. al Qaeda, al Nusra, ISIS? They're all Sunni, the Saudi's farm teams.

Yet Justin Trudeau supports the Saudis, calls them our allies. Just what is wrong with Trudeau and his Liberal government?



America First = America Alone and America Cannot Stand Alone


Donald Trump and the Gullibillies who installed him in the Oval Office have a childish grasp of America's place in the world. They don't understand what made America great and they dangerously overlook how dependent America is on its allies.

They don't realize that there are people who would undermine the United States or that Trump is playing straight into their hands.

Given the global contests for the affections of other nations, even the perception that the United States is preoccupied with only its own interests undermines its ability to attract nations to align with its priorities.

Candidate Trump placing conditions on NATO support and referring to it as obsolete fanned the flames of doubt that Putin lit. At the NATO summit this week, Trump did little to assuage those doubts.

As for Britain, America’s Western rook, the allure of significant commercial opportunities has drawn the U.K.’s interest in China’s One Belt, One Road infrastructure effort. Trump’s recent disclosure to Russia of intelligence obtained from allied sources has called the continuance of the “special relationship” into question.

As for Japan, America’s Eastern rook, the United States canceling the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe exhibited great political courage to join has strained the relationship. Not only does pulling out of the TPP undercut America’s Pacific alliances, but it paves the way for China to assemble an Asian trade alliance with America on the outside looking in, instead of a Pacific trade alliance with America at its center.

America’s global power rests on it remaining unchallenged in North America, giving it the freedom to pursue foreign challenges without worrying about its position at home. There are few things that would more undermine American foreign policy than genuine friction with either of its bishops: Canada or Mexico. Trump’s criticisms of the North American Free Trade Agreement and derogatory comments about Mexico seem oblivious to this reality.

As for those, who like knights in chess, could extend America’s reach, China’s economic gravitational pull, accentuated by its commercial might and massive infrastructure investments, is capturing the attention of South Korea, Turkey, and even Australia, although India remains skeptical.

An “America first” policy risks leaving America alone, as important allies question America’s commitment and carefully weigh the attractiveness of switching or splitting their allegiances.

Americans have chosen an utter buffoon as their commander in chief, a cheaply-gilded version of "Larry the Cable Guy."  He's barely been in office four months and he's already damaging the United States and its essential alliances. The pact, that has bound America and her allies together for the past 70 years is unraveling.  Europe is withdrawing into itself. Across Asia and the western Pacific, Chinese hegemony is largely unchecked. 

What's the Big Deal with Kushner?


So Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, sought to open a "back channel" line of communications with Russian officials. So, so what?

Trump's homeland security secretary, retired general John Kelly, dismissed the report as much ado about nothing. Kelly said these things happen all the time and even though they're "back channel" the information gathered is regularly circulated through the government. No harm, no foul.

Only that's not what Kushner was up to.  Former NSA and CIA director, Michael Hayden, says Kushner's channel was intended to conceal back channel communications from the United States government.

Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a top White House adviser, floated the possibility of setting up a secure line of communication between the Trump transition team and Russia when he met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak late last year, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Those talks would take place in Russian diplomatic facilities in the US, the Post said, creating a secure line that would essentially conceal the administration's interactions with Russian officials from US government scrutiny.

Kislyak reportedly passed along that request to Moscow, in a phone call that was promptly intercepted by US intelligence agencies during their routine eavesdropping of foreign agents on US soil.

It also would have raised a big red flag, Hayden said. He was unequivocal when asked if he would have sought to unmask the US person cited by Kislyak as having proposed a secret backchannel to Russia.

"Oh my, yes," Hayden told Business Insider on Saturday. "Anyone would have."

That intercepted communication could have led 
[former national security advisor Susan] Rice — who obtained reports containing summaries of monitored communications between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, according to Bloomberg — to try to identify who on Trump's transition team was trying to set up this kind of backchannel.

The names of the US persons mentioned in the conversations would have been redacted in those reports. But high-level government officials like Rice can request from the appropriate agency — in this case, the National Security Agency — that the US person's identity be revealed. 

Meanwhile, Foreign Policy's Emile Simpson, former British army officer and research fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows has dropped the "T" word. Simpson argues that treason is more than a legal term.

At any time in the Cold War, what Kushner did would certainly have attracted the stigma of treachery. Should the same standard apply today?

Let’s consider Kushner’s best defense. Backchannels are an accepted part of diplomatic relations. A relationship may be too controversial for public consumption, and it is useful to have fora where diplomats and those entrusted with the leadership of states can speak frankly, without the glare of the media.

But this appears to have been no ordinary proposal for a backchannel. First and foremost, the intent was to avoid monitoring by the United States’ own intelligence agencies. And second, Trump’s team weren’t in government yet (unless the intent was for the backchannel to continue, or to start, after the inauguration, and thus provide a means to avoid U.S. intelligence monitoring while in office, which would be even more dubious).
...

Let’s be clear. There would be nothing inherently illegitimate with the Trump transition team pursuing better relations between the United States and Russia. Indeed, it was a major part of the campaign platform Trump used to win the election. Foreign policy debate between Russia doves and hawks has been going back and forth since the deterioration of post-Cold War relations following the West’s intervention in Kosovo 1999, and those who want the West to have warmer relations with Russia have many reasonable arguments.

But it’s the very legitimacy of wanting better relations with Russia, given Trump’s democratic mandate to pursue such a course, that makes Kushner’s desire to hide the Trump transition team’s connections with the Kremlin from U.S. intelligence so dubious, especially if he did intend for the backchannel to continue, or to start, after the inauguration. That is the kernel of the illegitimacy here: not the effort to improve relations through a backchannel, but the extraordinary measures to keep it secret from one’s own side.

In the Cold War, Kushner’s actions would have attracted the stigma of treachery because Russia was an enemy of the United States. But his actions would not have gotten him indicted because there was no ongoing open war in accordance with the legal definition of treason (18 U.S. code § 2381): “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason”.

Similarly today, what we are talking about is not the legal offense of treason but the stigma of treachery — the broader social meaning of treason.
...

If Kushner’s actions should come to attract the stigma of treachery, it would be in the old Roman Republican sense of maiestas, when public values and their expression in state institutions still meant something. Thus, in the Roman Republic, maiestas was about punishing individuals for hijacking their state positions for their personal gain. It could be used, for example, to prosecute official maladministration, like corruption by provincial officials or military officers. An apt modern equivalent would be soliciting personal investments by selling political access or expedited visas to rich Chinese people, which Kushner’s family business has already independently been accused of.

We’ll have to wait for the facts to see what Kushner may have been trying to hide from U.S. intelligence. But my hunch is that far from the “Manchurian Candidate” theories, this will turn out to be a sorry case of operating in the grey areas of the law to enrich oneself whilst in office. Not as bad as aiding the enemy, but still rancid. It is exactly what treachery as maiestas meant in Republican Rome: An offense against the dignity of the state understood as a community bound by its public values.

In Rome, the punishment for maiestas was normally exile. Kushner’s fate is still to be determined. But the public response to it will tell us much about whether the American people, under their new monarch, still have the dignity to protect their ancient majesty.


Merkel Writes Off America, Britain as "Reliable Partners" for Europe


Angela Merkel, it seems, has had her fill of the America's fatuous president and Britain's cadaverous prime minister also.  Having endured Trump and May first at the NATO summit and then the G7, Merkel - a.k.a. new Leader of the Free World - said the U.S. and the U.K. can no longer be considered Europe's "reliable partners."

Merkel's comments came on the heels of what she called a "difficult" and "unsatisfactory" G7 summit. The summit included leaders of the US, UK, Germany, Japan, France, Canada, and Italy, and Merkel characterized the discussions as "six against one."

Trump's platform often runs counter to those endorsed by other G7 members, especially as it relates to issues like climate change, immigration, and trade.

At the end of the G7 summit on Saturday, Trump refused to endorse the Paris climate pact, saying he needed more time to decide.

However, Axios reported that Trump had already made his decision. Trump reportedly told multiple people, including Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, that he would be pulling out of the deal, according to three sources with knowledge of the conversations.
Trump really did make a first class ass of himself on his 2017 Boor Tour to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, the NATO heads of state meeting and the G7 Summit. Fortunately for Trump, many Americans are no longer capable of being embarrassed by their president.


Here, Merkel celebrates the return of a Trump-free Europe:



Saturday, May 27, 2017

"Six Against One"


Donald Trump is wrapping up his "Fabulous 2017 Boor Tour" at the G7 summit in Sicily.

The Cheeto Benito emerged to praise the G7 chin wag as "tremendously productive." Apparently the rest of the leaders had other thoughts.

Leaders of the G7 group of rich nations have failed to agree a statement on climate change.

Six world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris accord, the world's first comprehensive deal aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

However, the US has refused to recommit to the agreement, saying it will make a decision next week.

Mr Trump, who once dismissed global warming as a "hoax", has previously threatened to pull out of the accord.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the discussion on climate change had been "very unsatisfactory", adding "we have a situation of six against one".

Mr Trump tweeted: "I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!"

His economic adviser, Gary Cohn, said Mr Trump "came here to learn. He came here to get smart. His views are evolving... exactly as they should be."



Not Even Twenty Years



It was December, 1997, not that long ago yet, in many ways, an eternity. Bill Clinton was president. 9/11 was still years off. We hadn't invented "perma-war" that now holds us hostage in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other hell holes still to emerge in the public consciousness.

It was December, 1997, and The Atlantic published an essay on democracy written by Robert D. Kaplan.  It's a terrific piece, eerily prescient when read today. Friend Dana sent me the link and I'll extend his courtesy to you. Here are a few passages to pique your interest:


I submit that the democracy we are encouraging in many poor parts of the world is an integral part of a transformation toward new forms of authoritarianism; that democracy in the United States is at greater risk than ever before, and from obscure sources; and that many future regimes, ours especially, could resemble the oligarchies of ancient Athens and Sparta more than they do the current government in Washington.
...

HITLER and Mussolini each came to power through democracy. Democracies do not always make societies more civil—but they do always mercilessly expose the health of the societies in which they operate.
...

As an unemployed Tunisian student once told me, "In Tunisia we have a twenty-five percent unemployment rate. If you hold elections in such circumstances, the result will be a fundamentalist government and violence like in Algeria. First create an economy, then worry about elections." There are many differences between Tunisia and its neighbor Algeria, including the fact that Tunisia has been peaceful without democracy and Algeria erupted in violence in 1992 after its first election went awry and the military canceled the second. In Kurdistan and Afghanistan, two fragile tribal societies in which the United States encouraged versions of democracy in the 1990s, the security vacuums that followed the failed attempts at institutionalizing pluralism were filled by Saddam Hussein for a time in Kurdistan and by Islamic tyranny in much of Afghanistan. In Bosnia democracy legitimized the worst war crimes in Europe since the Nazi era. In sub-Saharan Africa democracy has weakened institutions and services in some states, and elections have been manipulated to restore dictatorship in others.

...

Because both a middle class and civil institutions are required for successful democracy, democratic Russia, which inherited neither from the Soviet regime, remains violent, unstable, and miserably poor despite its 99 percent literacy rate. Under its authoritarian system China has dramatically improved the quality of life for hundreds of millions of its people. My point, hard as it may be for Americans to accept, is that Russia may be failing in part because it is a democracy and China may be succeeding in part because it is not.
...

Look at Haiti, a small country only ninety minutes by air from Miami, where 22,000 American soldiers were dispatched in 1994 to restore "democracy." Five percent of eligible Haitian voters participated in an election last April, chronic instability continues, and famine threatens. Those who think that America can establish democracy the world over should heed the words of the late American theologian and political philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr:

'The same strength which has extended our power beyond a continent has also . . . brought us into a vast web of history in which other wills, running in oblique or contrasting directions to our own, inevitably hinder or contradict what we most fervently desire. We cannot simply have our way, not even when we believe our way to have the "happiness of mankind" as its promise.'
...

The demise of the Soviet Union was no reason for us to pressure Rwanda and other countries to form political parties—though that is what our post-Cold War foreign policy has been largely about, even in parts of the world that the Cold War barely touched. The Eastern European countries liberated in 1989 already had, in varying degrees, the historical and social preconditions for both democracy and advanced industrial life: bourgeois traditions, exposure to the Western Enlightenment, high literacy rates, low birth rates, and so on. The post-Cold War effort to bring democracy to those countries has been reasonable. What is less reasonable is to put a gun to the head of the peoples of the developing world and say, in effect, "Behave as if you had experienced the Western Enlightenment to the degree that Poland and the Czech Republic did. Behave as if 95 percent of your population were literate. Behave as if you had no bloody ethnic or regional disputes."
...

States have never been formed by elections. Geography, settlement patterns, the rise of literate bourgeoisie, and, tragically, ethnic cleansing have formed states. Greece, for instance, is a stable democracy partly because earlier in the century it carried out a relatively benign form of ethnic cleansing—in the form of refugee transfers—which created a monoethnic society. Nonetheless, it took several decades of economic development for Greece finally to put its coups behind it. Democracy often weakens states by necessitating ineffectual compromises and fragile coalition governments in societies where bureaucratic institutions never functioned well to begin with. Because democracy neither forms states nor strengthens them initially, multi-party systems are best suited to nations that already have efficient bureaucracies and a middle class that pays income tax, and where primary issues such as borders and power-sharing have already been resolved, leaving politicians free to bicker about the budget and other secondary matters.

Social stability results from the establishment of a middle class. Not democracies but authoritarian systems, including monarchies, create middle classes—which, having achieved a certain size and self-confidence, revolt against the very dictators who generated their prosperity.

...

AUTHORITARIAN or hybrid regimes, no matter how illiberal, will still be treated as legitimate if they can provide security for their subjects and spark economic growth. And they will easily find acceptance in a world driven increasingly by financial markets that know no borders.

For years idealists have dreamed of a "world government." Well, a world government has been emerging—quietly and organically, the way vast developments in history take place.
I do not refer to the United Nations, the power of which, almost by definition, affects only the poorest countries. After its peacekeeping failures in Bosnia and Somalia—and its $2 billion failure to make Cambodia democratic—the UN is on its way to becoming a supranational relief agency. Rather, I refer to the increasingly dense ganglia of international corporations and markets that are becoming the unseen arbiters of power in many countries. It is much more important nowadays for the leader of a developing country to get a hearing before corporate investors at the World Economic Forum than to speak before the UN General Assembly. Amnesty International now briefs corporations, just as it has always briefed national governments. Interpol officials have spoken about sharing certain kinds of intelligence with corporations.

...

Of the world's hundred largest economies, fifty-one are not countries but corporations. While the 200 largest corporations employ less than three fourths of one percent of the world's work force, they account for 28 percent of world economic activity. The 500 largest corporations account for 70 percent of world trade. Corporations are like the feudal domains that evolved into nation-states; they are nothing less than the vanguard of a new Darwinian organization of politics. Because they are in the forefront of real globalization while the overwhelming majority of the world's inhabitants are still rooted in local terrain, corporations will be free for a few decades to leave behind the social and environmental wreckage they create—abruptly closing a factory here in order to open an unsafe facility with a cheaper work force there. Ultimately, as technological innovations continue to accelerate and the world's middle classes come closer together, corporations may well become more responsible to the cohering global community and less amoral in the course of their evolution toward new political and cultural forms.
...

The level of social development required by democracy as it is known in the West has existed in only a minority of places—and even there only during certain periods of history. We are entering a troubling transition, and the irony is that while we preach our version of democracy abroad, it slips away from us at home.

...

Corporations, which are anchored neither to nations nor to communities, have created strip malls, edge cities, and Disneyesque tourist bubbles. Developments are not necessarily bad: they provide low prices, convenience, efficient work forces, and, in the case of tourist bubbles, safety. We need big corporations. Our society has reached a level of social and technological complexity at which goods and services must be produced for a price and to a standard that smaller businesses cannot manage. We should also recognize, though, that the architectural reconfiguration of our cities and towns has been an undemocratic event—with decisions in effect handed down from above by an assembly of corporate experts.


"The government of man will be replaced by the administration of things," the Enlightenment French philosopher Henri de Saint-Simon prophesied. We should worry that experts will channel our very instincts and thereby control them to some extent. For example, while the government fights drug abuse, often with pathetic results, pharmaceutical corporations have worked through the government and political parties to receive sanction for drugs such as stimulants and anti-depressants, whose consciousness-altering effects, it could be argued, are as great as those of outlawed drugs.

...

True, there are strong similarities between now and a century ago. In the 1880s and 1890s America experienced great social and economic upheaval. The combination of industrialization and urbanization shook the roots of religious and family life: sects sprouted, racist Populists ranted, and single women, like Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, went to work in filthy factories. Racial tensions hardened as the Jim Crow system took hold across the South. "Gadgets" like the light bulb and the automobile brought an array of new choices and stresses. "The city was so big, now, that people disappeared into it unnoticed," Booth Tarkington lamented in The Magnificent Ambersons.
...

THIS rise of corporate power occurs more readily as the masses become more indifferent and the elite less accountable. Material possessions not only focus people toward private and away from communal life but also encourage docility. The more possessions one has, the more compromises one will make to protect them. The ancient Greeks said that the slave is someone who is intent on filling his belly, which can also mean someone who is intent on safeguarding his possessions. Aristophanes and Euripides, the late-eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher Adam Ferguson, and Tocqueville in the nineteenth century all warned that material prosperity would breed servility and withdrawal, turning people into, in Tocqueville's words, "industrious sheep."

...

According to Aristotle, "Whether the few or the many rule is accidental to oligarchy and democracy—the rich are few everywhere, the poor many." The real difference, he wrote, is that "oligarchy is to the advantage of the rich, democracy to the advantage of the poor." By "poor" Aristotle meant laborers, landowning peasants, artisans, and so on—essentially, the middle class and below.

Is it not conceivable that corporations will, like the rulers of both Sparta and Athens, project power to the advantage of the well-off while satisfying the twenty-first-century servile populace with the equivalent of bread and circuses? In other words, the category of politics we live with may depend more on power relationships and the demeanor of our society than on whether we continue to hold elections. Just as Cambodia was never really democratic, despite what the State Department and the UN told us, in the future we may not be democratic, despite what the government and media increasingly dominated by corporations tell us.


There is great food for thought in this essay, the more so since we have the benefit of the past 20 years to assess it.  Democracy has been a central theme of this blog which is "dedicated to the restoration of progressive democracy." As you read Kaplan's thoughts consider them in the context of our own Canada, our new generations of the young and those to follow, and the incredible challenges those who succeed us will have to confront.  Perhaps as several have written, the 21st will truly be a "century of revolution."

Again, many thanks to Dana for the link.



Friday, May 26, 2017

Is Facebook a Threat To What Remains of Our Democracy?


Social media was credited with the toppling of Hosni Mubarak during Egypt's Arab Spring uprising.

New evidence suggests it could be a double-edged sword, one capable of ending liberal democracy.

The essence of liberal democracy is governance at the consent of the governed. For that to have any meaning that has to be "informed consent" freely given. If that consent can be manufactured then liberal democracy doesn't stand a chance.

I've written three posts about this: The Big Chill, Is This How Trump Rigged the Election, Really?, and We Need to Have This Figured Out by 2019. On It Rests Our Democracy.

These posts explore how Facebook and other social media can be mined. Here's one chilling passage:

“It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.”


Even Scientific American asked, "Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?"  Consider this:

One thing is clear: the way in which we organize the economy and society will change fundamentally. We are experiencing the largest transformation since the end of the Second World War; after the automation of production and the creation of self-driving cars the automation of society is next. With this, society is at a crossroads, which promises great opportunities, but also considerable risks. If we take the wrong decisions it could threaten our greatest historical achievements.

Surely the case is made for intervention, whipping Facebook and other social media into line, protecting the public from those who would use their own data to manipulate them.  Remember the Great Recession of 2007-2008 and the notion of banks "too big to fail"?  Compared to Facebook, those "too big to fail" banks are nothing.


A couple of years ago, Vladan Joler and his brainy friends in Belgrade began investigating the inner workings of one of the world's most powerful corporations.

The team, which includes experts in cyber-forensic analysis and data visualisation, had already looked into what he calls "different forms of invisible infrastructures" behind Serbia's internet service providers.

But Mr Joler and his friends, now working under a project called Share Lab, had their sights set on a bigger target.

"If Facebook were a country, it would be bigger than China," says Mr Joler, whose day job is as a professor at Serbia's Novi Sad University.

He reels off the familiar, but still staggering, numbers: the barely teenage Silicon Valley firm stores some 300 petabytes of data, boasts almost two billion users, and raked in almost $28bn (£22bn) in revenues in 2016 alone.

And yet, Mr Joler argues, we know next to nothing about what goes on under the bonnet - despite the fact that we, as users, are providing most of the fuel - for free.

"All of us, when we are uploading something, when we are tagging people, when we are commenting, we are basically working for Facebook," he says.




Credit Where It's Due. Kudos to Volkswagen.


The Boys from Wolfsburg will always be associated with the diesel emissions scandal. It began when VW was caught cheating. When undergoing tailpipe testing its "clean diesel" engine proved remarkably clean. When in ordinary use, however, the engines produced legendary fuel efficiency and impressive power only at settings that generated prohibited levels of toxic nitrous oxide emissions.

VW went into full bore damage control mode. It offered to buy back the cars from disgruntled owners along with a modest settlement for damages. Owners also have the option of having their cars "fixed" - i.e. the cheating software replaced - and just take the damages.

Here's the irony. A lot of automakers produce diesel cars or trucks and most of them are also cheating, some far worse than Volkswagen. Yet, perhaps because this is now a more or less universal problem, the others haven't been prosecuted or forced to institute buybacks or recalls.

This week it became General Motors' turn for its Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.

"This is a shocking discovery, and a really big deal because the [nitrous oxide] limits for these big trucks are four times what the limits were for the much smaller Volkswagen passenger cars and there are more of these trucks on the road," said Steve Berman.

An article in The Guardian last year reported that 97% of diesel vehicles exceeded the NOx emissions ceiling.  The exception? That would be Volkswagen.

Surprisingly, the tiny number of models that did not exceed the standard were mostly Volkswagens, the carmaker whose cheating of diesel emissions tests which emerged last year sparked the scandal. Experts said the new results show that clean diesel cars can be made but that virtually all manufacturers have failed to do so.

The EA analysis found that just one of the 201 Euro 5 diesels tested – a Skoda Octavia – did not exceed the official limit on the road. Over a quarter of the Euro 5s pumped out at least five times the official limit, including models from BMW, Range Rover, Mercedes, Nissan, Renault and Vauxhall.

Of the 62 Euro 6 models tested by EA, seven did not exceed the official limit in real-world driving: four Volkswagens, a BMW, an Audi and a Skoda. However, an Audi A8 and a Fiat 500X were found to emit more than 12 times the official limit, while a BMWX3, a Volvo S60 and a Vauxhall Zafira were among models emitting more than six times the official limit on the road.


Another report from today's Guardian warns our regulators are not making much progress.

Diesel cars that emit up to 18 times the official limit for toxic pollution when taken on to the road are still being sold, 20 months after the emissions scandal erupted and amid an ongoing air pollution crisis.

In real world conditions, the Nissan Qashqai produces 18 times more nitrogen oxides than the official lab-based test allows under EU directives, while Nissan’s Juke pumps out 16 times more NOx pollution than the limit, according to data from vehicle testing company Emissions Analytics seen by the Guardian.

Further data reveals Renault’s Mégane and Captur models both produce 16 times more NOx when on the road. Overall, the data shows that 80% of new diesels on the market in the last nine months fail to meet the official limit when on the road.

...software upgrades from manufacturers would quickly and significantly cut the emissions of many existing diesel cars: “What you can do is turn up the effectiveness of the emissions reduction technology – it’s almost like a volume knob – and that is a software change. If they turn up the volume, you have a clean car.” But apart from cars from VW, which was caught blatantly cheating, few vehicles in Europe have been recalled.




Justin - "The Political Equivalent of a YouTube Puppy Video."




He gave it a good run but the pundits are finally catching on to the fact that Justin Trudeau, the King of Selfies, is "all hat and no cattle."



The CBC took a swipe at political journalism in Canada with a report, "The media should know better but we keep falling for Trudeau's PR."  Trudeau, it seems, manufactures these "photo bombs" that the media, Canadian and foreign, then splash across their pages.



Today it's The Guardian's turn to call out the Dauphin.



He’s tackled quantum physics, photobombed a beach wedding, posed shirtless for selfies with a family hiking in the woods and, most recently, jogged past a group of Canadian teenagers heading to prom.

And each time, Justin Trudeau’s actions have earned lavish attention from media outlets in Canada and around the world.

But after it was pointed out that the shot of Trudeau breezing past the prom-bound teens was snapped by his official photographer, some Canadians have been asking why the media continues to fall for what seems to be a constant stream of PR stunts.

In politics, even the most spontaneous run-ins are carefully set up, noted Robyn Urback, a columnist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “And public photobombs by politicians in their Sunday sweats usually involve some sort of prior coordination,” she said.

In order to capture the moment that Trudeau jogged past the teens, the Maclean’s reporter Aaron Hutchins wrote this week, the staff photographer would have had to run ahead of a planned route, set up his equipment to carefully frame the desired shot and ensure he was ready to snap when Trudeau came by. “And what once appeared like a pleasant coincidence of timing for whomever gets to pose with the prime minister, it’s starting to feel even more like a staged exercise than it was before,” said Hutchins.





Trudeau is a social media savant, the Toronto writer Jesse Brown wrote in the Guardian last year, and he has used this to position himself as a sunny antidote to the turbulent news spilling out from other parts of the world. “Trudeau is the political equivalent of a YouTube puppy video,” he wrote. “Each week, Trudeau feeds the news cycle a new sharable moment, and our Facebook feeds are overwhelmed with shots of the adorable young statesman cuddling pandas and hugging refugees and getting accidentally photographed in the wild with his top off, twice.”

The result is a media frenzy that has at times overshadowed the crucial questions being asking about his government, such as how they can claim to fight climate change while throwing their support behind two pipelines in Canada and Keystone XL or why they signed off on a C$15bn deal to sell weaponised military vehicles to Saudi Arabia despite critics who worry the vehicles will be used by the House of Saud against its own citizens. Others wonder whether Trudeau’s self-described feminism will result in tangible change for the families of the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women or those who left behind in a country where the cost of childcare and the gender pay gap rank among the highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).


So kids, if you're having an event but just can't come up with a shameless celebrity whore for the occasion, contact the prime minister's office. Be sure to give at least two weeks notice.


Credit Where It's Due. Cathy Imposes Obama-Grade Methane Rules for Fossil Fuelers.


Trudeau enviromin, Cathy McKenna, has announced new rules for cracking down on methane leaks from oil and gas wells.

The government will publish proposed regulations May 27 that would cover “over 95 per cent” of emission sources for methane, which is 84 times as powerful as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period at warming the planet, according to officials from Environment and Climate Change Canada. The proposal will then be open for a 60-day public comment period.

The proposed rules will require companies to create and maintain a program to detect and repair gas leaks, upgrade automated equipment and mechanical devices, and limit the direct release of methane gas into the atmosphere, including during fracking operations. There will also be rules for air pollutants that contribute to smog, or so-called volatile organic compounds.

Officials said these rules, empowered under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, would help reduce nationwide emissions by 282 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or the same as taking almost 60 million cars off the road for a year. That is expected to save $13.4 billion from 2018 to 2035 in “avoided climate change damages.”


Well, it sounds as though she's off to a good start at least. Given the massive hole the Trudeau clan have dug for Canada by facilitating the expansion of Tar Sands production, it's about time they entered something on the other side of the ledger, if only for appearances.

Prohibiting methane discharges is one thing. Monitoring the often remote well sites where methane can be released - inadvertently or deliberately - is another matter altogether.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Ray of Sunshine

Via Stephen Colbert and Paul Simon

The Atrocity Known as TrumpCare

Trump's Health Care Victory Party

The Republican majority pushed it through the House of Representatives although many legislators admitted they hadn't even read it. They voted without waiting for the Congressional Budget Office appraisal and that was no accident.

However the CBO ran the numbers on TrumpCare and it's looking like the Great Orange Bloat's victory celebration was premature.

The American Health Care Act would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance over the next decade, and would disproportionally impact older, poorer Americans, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
...

The amended version of the bill — which would allow states to waive pre-existing condition protections as well as mandates on procedures and services insurance companies must cover — had not been scored by the CBO when the House passed it.

But the CBO has now scored the amended version, and the analysis is unlikely to make the bill any easier for the Senate to pass.

For example, a 64-year-old earning $26,500 a year in a state that took waivers would see their premium rise from $1,700 a year to $13,600, the CBO says of the amended AHCA. That's a 700% increase.

Even more, the CBO says the provision allowing states to waive pre-existing conditions would have sweeping negative consequences for those with existing health conditions.


Unless Trump starts kidnapping senators' grandchildren and holding them for ransom, his healthcare bill is not getting through the Senate.






The Queen of Political Cash Comes Up a Dollar Short


British Columbia's far from liberal premier, Christy Clark, appears to have come up short, finally, ending her party's majority rule over the province going back to 2001.

Give Christy her due. She made the most of her advantage while it lasted, extracting the fullest benefit for her party and herself usually at the expense of the province and our people. She ruled largely by fiat. Being a legislator was a part-time vocation at best. The legislature rarely sat except to push through the latest budget.

Christy doesn't deserve all of the credit for her Liberals' lengthy run. That has to be shared with the woefully mediocre and wholly uninspiring opposition New Democrats from Carole James to Adrian Dix to Jim Horgan.

Now it's all down to one riding, Courtenay-Comox. The NDP won it by a narrow, 9-vote margin. Then it was on to the absentee ballot count that many believed would hand the riding to the Liberals. As of last night, however, the NDP lead had grown to over 100 votes.  That's now grown to a 148 NDP margin with a few hours counting left to go.

This horse race hands the balance of power to the Green Party that has been much abused by the NDP in this and past elections.  Suffice to say the Dippers have done nothing to endear themselves to or earn the trust of the Greens.

I would prefer my Greens reject both parties until they extract ironclad concessions on a couple of major issues including electoral reform, Kinder Morgan and the Site C dam.  Of course the counting isn't finished yet and there's a longshot chance the Liberal fortunes could recover in Courtenay-Comox.

Update:

I just had a look at what might have been the outcome had proportional rep been in place.  The Liberals instead of 43 would have garnered around 36 seats. The NDP would have wound up with about 35 seats instead of 41. The Greens would have taken 14 seats instead of 3. Clearly then proportional representation represents nearly as great a threat to the NDP as it does to the Liberals because it gives seats to the grossly under-represented Green voters. Small wonder the Dippers went after the Green vote so aggressively in this campaign. All the more reason for the Greens to use their balance of power strategically to squeeze the parties for electoral reform.



At Last, An Intelligent Discussion About Overpopulation.


The May edition of Foreign Policy magazine is their climate change issue.

As a keen follower of climate science for the past 15 years or more, the shortcomings in the treatment of this potentially existential threat to human civilization has been the fractured and shallow coverage it has received. This has led some to see climate change as something to do with global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. That has encouraged many to see it as resolvable by measures such as geo-engineering. These are facile responses.

Even many climate scientists treat climate change as some stand alone issue that can be approached in isolation. It's a blinkered outlook that goes a long way to ensuring that answers will elude us.

Many years ago I began to assemble a list of the major problems confronting mankind this century. It was an extensive list. I no longer have it memorized but I'll do my best here:

Climate change and associated, largely anthropogenic or man-made challenges including severe storm events of increasing intensity, frequency and duration; a broken hydrological cycle contributing to severe flooding and drought, both cyclical and recurrent; a shift in jet stream circulation carrying warm air into the Arctic and cold polar air deep into southern regions; the heating of the Arctic manifesting in the loss of Arctic sea ice (the albedo), the thawing of Arctic permafrost, the drying out of the tundra leading to uncontrollable wild fires producing black soot; disease and pest migration; species (terrestrial, marine, plant and animal) extinction and migration; the loss of ice caps and glaciers; sea level rise, coastal flooding and the saltwater inundation of coastal freshwater resources; the rapidly spreading freshwater crisis; severe heat events including situations nearing "wet bulb 35" conditions; the collapse of global fisheries from rapacious overfishing; massive deforestation, particularly in South America and Asia Pacific; pollution and contamination of all forms including algae blooms from industrial and agricultural runoff, coastal dead zones; resource exhaustion and depletion; desertification and the rapid loss of arable farmland through soil degradation caused by excessively intensive agriculture; and a host of security challenges including overpopulation and population migration, famine, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, various regional arms races and the onset of resource wars.

I don't claim the list to be exhaustive, merely the best my memory can muster in the moment. I spent a few years looking at this list trying to discern whether and, if so, how these looming calamities were connected. Were there common threads that ran through them?

It turns out they are all, in varying degrees, connected. Each falls into one or more of three basic categories - anthropogenic global warming, overconsumption of resources and overpopulation.  Those common threads, all of them, run straight back to us, how we're constituted as societies and a global civilization, and how we're organized politically, socially, economically and industrially. It was then that I realized that Jared Diamond is right - we don't have much chance of solving any of them unless we're willing and able to solve them all.

I was pleased in skimming through the digital version of the latest Foreign Policy to discover a genuinely thoughtful, well-reasoned and in depth discussion of the overpopulation challenge from and center in their climate change edition. The article asks "Is there a case to be made against baby making?" before unpacking the social, cultural and environmental pros and cons that bedevil the issue.

FP editor, David Rothkopf, has an essay dealing with the scourge of denialism, "The Wages of Sin Is the Death of the World; the biggest threat to a fragile world is human frailty." He looks at how the most climate change hostile government, Trump's, came to power thanks to a deviant sexting a minor.

Rothkopf cites Nate Silverman's conclusion that Comey's decision, just days prior to the election, to announce a new investigation into Hillary's emails discovered on Anthony Weiner's laptop while the FBI pursued the sexting crime was enough to swing three states to Trump that gave him the Electoral College win.

The FBI was hunting down a perv. They seized his computer. On the hard drive were Huma Abedin emails. That caused the FBI to re-open the investigation. Comey made his announcement. Trump won the electoral college.  Now Trump is dismantling the EPA and threatening to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change accord.

It looks like a good issue. Mine's in the mailbox but you may want to check it out on a newsstand or in your library.









In Defence of the Deep State.




To some, conspiracy theorists and those with a feeble understanding of governance, the Deep State is a sinister group of powerful insiders manipulating the strings of government for devious ends.  If you insist on believing that, this would be a good time to go to another blog or web site.

To me, the Deep State is something else. It is the institutional memory of government, the muscle memory, without which government cannot function. It exists, at times defiantly, because it is indispensable. Today when elected representatives routinely put partisan and special interests ahead of the public interest and the good of the country, the Deep State can be the last redoubt of liberal democracy.

The Globe's Lawrence Martin writes that this dreaded Deep State may be America's only effective counter to its president.

We’ve been hearing that potent term, relatively new to the political lexicon, a lot lately. It has different shades of meaning but generally denotes an entrenched natural governing elite. Conservative governments in Canada, notably John Diefenbaker’s and Stephen Harper’s, feared they would be undermined, though the term wasn’t in use then, by a hostile deep state in the form of a liberalized bureaucracy, media and foreign service.

In Ottawa, you might find the deep state’s charter members in leafy Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood; in Washington, in the cozy conclave of Georgetown, where the establishment forever has been moored.

...

Georgetowners were predictably appalled by the onslaught of the rubes and the rabble. But much of the fear on these narrow stately streets has already lifted. Against the infidels, the long-rooted Washington establishment is holding strong. The deep state is winning.

The renegade Trump administration becomes more conventional by the week. Much of foreign policy has been given over to Foggy Bottom traditionalists. Threats against immigrants have been pared down. The Steve Bannons in the administration are losing their clout. Trade threats have diminished, meaning Canada need not panic. For the NAFTA renegotiation, Ottawa holds some good cards and has a foreign minister in Chrystia Freeland who knows what she is doing.

The Washington bureaucracy, liberalized under Barack Obama, has played a big role, especially through leaks, in the deep state resistance. But the most powerful element has been the bold resurgence, chiefly in the form of The New York Times and The Washington Post, of a traditional mainstream press thought to be in decline.


The Post and Times have hit this White House with one news jolt after another. It’s like they’re back in their heyday of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. Chiefly as a result of their work, a special counsellor is now probing the Trump administration’s Russia ties. Comparisons to Watergate are premature and overheated. But it is worth remembering how the deep-state institutions of the day brought down Richard Nixon who, like Mr. Trump’s political base, railed against eastern elites.

“Of course, the deep state exists,” former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich says. “There’s a permanent state of massive bureaucracies that do whatever they want and set up deliberate leaks to attack the president.”

Says Mr. Trump of the media: “No politician in history – and I say this with great surety – has been treated worse or more unfairly.” His cause would perhaps be helped if in his first 119 days he hadn’t, as the Post reports, made 586 false and misleading claims.

Coinciding with the newspaper muscle-flexing has been the fall of Fox, the President’s media enabler. Fox has been hit by scandal, the departure of top talking heads and the death of its architect, Roger Ailes, who pandered to prejudice like none other and polarized the country in so doing.

The Trump Republicans are not caving to establishment forces on all fronts. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency stands for environmental destruction. The Attorney-General is a lock-em-up lawmaker with a bigoted background. Obamacare is threatened by an appalling piece of House legislation.

But chiefly owing to a robust free press, this administration is being held to clear-eyed account, an account that is allowing the forces of normalization to make headway. If that’s what a deep state is about, the United States should be happy it has one.



Welcome to WaterWorld. No, Not the One With Costner.



Even Americans pay attention to this facet of climate change - sea level rise. And the news is bad and getting worse.

You probably remember the early 1990s well enough. Not that long ago really. Well, over the past 25 years, the rate of sea level rise has increased threefold. And it's still speeding up.

A study published in scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests the threat of rising sea levels has been drastically underestimated.

"The acceleration in global mean sea-level rise is much larger than previously thought," Sönke Dangendorf, the paper's lead author, told DW.

"It underlines that sea-level rise is a serious threat," he added.

Dangendorf, from the University of Siegen in Germany, worked with an international team of scientists from Spain, France, Norway and the Netherlands. They discovered that sea levels had risen relatively slowly - by about 1.1 millimeters, or 0.04 inches, annually - for much of the 20th century. But that changed in the early 1990s

...

This study isn't the first to highlight that the rate of sea-level rise is speeding up. But its findings suggest a significantly faster rate of increase than past research. One of the reasons for the recent acceleration, Dangendorf told DW, is the melting of ice sheets over recent decades.

"We have always had a great uncertainty over the contribution of the large ice sheets, which store 100 times more sea-level equivalents than glaciers," Dangendorf said.

The new research shows the impact of Greenland and Antarctica's ice sheets melting rapidly over the last 20 or 30 years has been greater than expected, and is likely to result in a larger future sea-level rise than previously predicted.

That spells trouble for coastal areas.


Over to you, America. Yes, we mean you, Louisiana. Brace yourselves.

The small floods that submerge roads and sometimes enter homes along Louisiana's coast could become more than an occasional headache. A new study suggests that the frequency of "nuisance flooding" around the Gulf of Mexico will double every decade thanks to small rises in sea level.

In lower latitudes, the flooding will be worse. The tropics, including South America and Africa, will experience a doubling of extreme flooding due to sea level rise, said Sean Vitousek, lead author of the study published in the Scientific Reports journal this week.

On the Louisiana coast, hurricanes, rather than sea level rise, will continue to pose the biggest flood danger. The same is true for the Caribbean Sea and the East Coast. "But the smaller floods are something to worry about, especially as they happen with more frequency," said Vitousek, a coastal hazards researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Nuisance flooding can degrade drainage and sewer systems, contaminate drinking water supplies, damage buildings and disrupt transportation and commerce. Decades ago, it was powerful storms that caused such problems.

"But due to sea level rise, more common (storm) events are now more impactful," wrote National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists in a 2015 report on nuisance flooding. The agency said small coastal floods have been happening two or three times more frequently than just 20 years ago.


"The takeaway is that it doesn't take much sea level rise - just 5 to 10 centimeters - to double the frequency of floods," Vitousek said. 

The latest reports indicate sea level rise is about 4 mm. per year, nearly 1.6 inches per decade.  To add a little perspective here's a handy chart showing sea level rise back to the start of the Christian era.




Is It Time We Chaperoned Our Politicians

Where Alberta Fossil Fuelers Go to Shop


Yes, Christy, this is about you - and the rest.

Christy Clark, Canada's  Queen of Cash has been known to be a grateful recipient of campaign contributions from those friendly funsters known as the Calgary Petroleum Club but, of course, that doesn't mean that her government's acceptance of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion had anything to do with cheque-stuffed envelopes.  Still, the skeptical might just wonder.

Hell, even the New York Times has taken notice of Grifty Clark and splashed her around on the pages of The Grey Lady.

It's fair to say that Canada is a nation of petro-pols. Our House of Commons is chock full of them save, perhaps, for that little lady way over there in the corner. And provincial legislatures from Newfoundland to British Columbia are also sinking under the weight of their own petro-pols.

It's timely help then from a friendly Deutscher,  Arne Jungjohann, an energy analyst from Germany.  His message - if Canada wants to make progress on climate change, if Canada's governments are remotely serious about that, they have to get fossil fuel money out of politics (and, I might add, government subsidies out of the fossil fuel industry).

There are no two ways about it, according to German political scientist Arne Jungjohann: if you want to make meaningful progress on climate change, you have to get big money out of politics.

“Then you get fossil fuel money out of politics,” said the author and energy analyst. “It’s very, very important to make this a non-partisan issue, otherwise you cannot create this stability and certainty that is needed for the investment people.”


Hold on a minute, Arnie. Fossil energy is already a non-partisan issue. Did you ever hear of the industry's latest Alberta champion, Rachel Notley? The Tories are in the fossil fuelers' bag.  So too is environmental hypocrite extraordinaire and Liberal prime minister, Justin Trudeau. This is already a non-partisan issue and that is the problem. 

Jungjohann offered “lessons" from the German clean energy story, also called the Energiewende. It’s the German word for the country’s clean energy transition, and Jungjohann co-wrote a book about it: Energy Democracy — Germany’s Energiewende to Renewables.

If Canada has anything to learn from Germany's Energiewende, he said, it's that corporate money must exit the equation, citizens must be involved early on, and clean energy must become non-partisan. He called it the "democratization" of clean energy.


What works in Germany won't work in Canada. At the federal and the provincial level our fossil energy corruption is now institutionalized, embedded.









Trump Lawyers Up


He says he has no and never has had any connections with the Russians since entering politics but Donald Trump is smart enough to lawyer up anyway.


Donald Trump has appointed lawyer Marc Kasowitz to represent him in an inquiry into Russia's alleged meddling in the US presidential election and any links to the Trump campaign, US media report.

Mr Trump has used services of the New York lawyer - known as a tenacious litigator - for more than a decade.

Last week, former FBI boss Robert Mueller was named special counsel for the Department of Justice inquiry.

President Trump denies any collusion between his campaign and Russia.

However, US intelligence agencies believe Moscow tried to tip the 2016 election in favour of Mr Trump.

Meanwhile, the CBC's Neil Macdonald casts Trump as a "steaming pile of hypocrisy" in a thoughtful piece well worth a read.

President Donald Trump ...is the Chronos of hypocrisy. He is Jabba the Hutt, with hypocrisy crouching in a silver bikini, a leash around its neck.
...

Trump is more capable than even his peers in Third World dictatorships of delivering judgment on something, and then turning around and doing that very thing, fecklessly and without the slightest shame, and then attacking anyone who notices. And like Third World dictators, he surfs on his own personality cult-wave.

It's addictive, actually. On the rare occasion when Trump acts presidential for a few days, reporters and politicos feel like a perk has suddenly and unfairly been cut off.

In case you missed it on Sunday, here's John Oliver's take on "Stupid
Watergate."

Pure Ecstasy


Another one of those "a picture is worth..." moments.

A lucky photographer captures the moment as a wave of utter ecstasy sweeps across the face of pope Francis as he poses for the obligatory snapshot with the Cheeto Benito, his frau, Melania, and his daughter-wife Ivanka.


While they refused to wear head coverings in Saudi Arabia, the ladies got them on quick enough to see the Man in White. They also chose matching black dresses, a tribute, perhaps, to the Inquisition? However Melania clearly wasn't about to waste one of her remaining smiles on the guy in the white beanie. Trump, meanwhile, grinned like a trained seal.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What Goes Around



Don't waste a tear on big game hunter Theunis Botha of South Africa. Just try not to giggle.

Theunis Botha, 51, from Johannesberg, was leading a hunt in Gwai, Zimbabwe, when they stumbled across a herd of elephants, which included pregnant cows.

Three elephants stampeded towards the hunters and Mr Botha opened fire with his rifle, prompting a fourth elephant to storm in from the side and lift him up with her trunk.

The Afrikaans news site Netwerk24 reported that another member of the group fired the fatal shot at the elephant and, as the animal collapsed dead, she fell on Mr Botha.

I have this feeling that where Mr. Botha is going he might find that it's the animals that have the guns.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Don't Worry, Be Happy. We've Got Kinder Morgan's Word, After All.



A dandy little interactive piece from the Globe & Mail showing how bitumen-laden supertankers will navigate through British Columbia coastal waters.

People who know better won't be impressed but the Globe has always been pro-pipeline, pro-tanker. The least assuring part of the presentation is the rosy Kinder-Morgan assessment sounding the "all clear" on the expansion. That may be why the paper has left out a few points.

One critical point left unmentioned - bitumen. While we're given Kinder Morgan's assurance that a spill is almost impossible, well that's bullshit from the American company intent on pushing its pipeline through to "tidewater." There has been plenty of testimony from experienced mariners including Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy types that predict a spill isn't a matter of "if" but "when" and "how often." Let's cut that in half - a spill is possible if not probable.

A spill of bitumen. Nobody wants to talk about bitumen or dilbit which is what is going in those tankers.

Kinder Morgan and the Globe don't want to get into what happens when dilbit gets spilled into our coastal waters. They pretend it's going to be, worst case, like the Exxon Valdez catastrophe. And, while that was a catastrophe and still hasn't been cleaned up, that was conventional crude oil, not bitumen, not dilbit.

Everybody - the feds, Notley, the oil patch, the pipeline gang think it's just dandy to push this toxic sludge through British Columbia waters.

Nobody - not Peter Kent, not Joe Oliver, not Justin or Cathy or Garneau, not Notley and certainly not Kinder Morgan - can walk on water or prove that dilbit can either. It sinks. The diluent, the light oil, separates and the really toxic bitumen, heads straight to the bottom. They imply that the stuff floats, like the Exxon Valdez oil, but they can't and won't prove it. If they could they would if only to silence their critics.

When he was enviromin Peter Kent was asked if the government had any technology to clean up a dilbit spill. He replied, "no, but we're working on it." Apparently Kent didn't get very far and neither did his successor, Dame Cathy. That much was obvious when the Liberal government's environment ministry authorized the use of Corexit as an "oil dispersant."

Their solution, Corexit. Fuck me, Corexit. The feds, Justin's team, have authorized the use of Corexit as a spill response. You see, Corexit doesn't disperse oil, it sinks it. It's the "out of sight, out of mind" solution to oil spills. Corexit was used at the Exxon Valdez disaster and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. It doesn't just harm the environment, it maims and even kills those who come into contact with it. Check this out. Yet those bastards in Edmonton and Ottawa think Corexit is just the ticket. Or go here to read the warning labels from the manufacturer.

Corexit is the federal government's admission that when a dilbit spill occurs their plan is to sink it to the bottom where pretty much all the marine life that sustains the oceanic food chain originates. Kill that off and you can kill off most of the marine life between the bottom and the surface - for decades and decades. The Exxon Valdez wasn't bitumen. Neither was the Deepwater Horizon. They were relatively benign crude oil and they remain environmental disasters to this day.

Justin, Rachel, Cathy and Christy - they've all got a raging hard on for this project just like their predecessors. Would you want that stuff, a product whose manufacturer warns, "Do not contaminate surface water," in your river or lake or pond? Would you want your kids or grandkids to swim in Corexit-laced water? Would you want to eat seafood that's been swimming in Corexit and bitumen contaminated water? If you would, well, you would be a moron.

But don't worry, be happy.





Water, Water Everywhere (At Least Everywhere It's Not Wanted)


Let's cut to the chase. The IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has estimated sea level rise over the course of this century will be somewhere between 30 cm. to 1 metre. With the IPCC's track record for getting it wrong, understating the pace and impact of climate change, you can consider that a low ball opinion.

More recent studies of the rate at which ice caps in both hemispheres are declining suggests by 2100 we'll see between 2 and 3 metres of sea level rise. With the current rate of sea level rise of 4 mm. annually and increasing, 2 metres is probably a safe bet.

Which lends a bit of perspective to the recent study about near-term sea level rise. Here they're looking at sea level rise of 5, 10 and 20 cms.  That sort of rise may not be devastating in its own right but it can be when it combines with high tides and storm surge events and it's expected to cause havoc in the tropics first.

In those locations, just 2.5cm of sea level rise leads to extreme water levels being seen twice as often, while a 5-10cm increase means coastal floods are twice as likely across all the tropics. A rise of 20cm leaves almost every coast with twice the risk.

The rise of 5-10cm, likely to occur within a couple of decades, would mean major cities including San Francisco in the US, Mumbai in India, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and Abidjan in Ivory Coast facing a doubled risk of coastal floods. “The maps of increased flooding potential suggest a dire future,” write the scientists.

“This study shows how even small changes in mean sea level can significantly increase the frequencies with which critical thresholds are exceeded,” said Thomas Wahl, professor of coastal risks at the University of Central Florida, who was not part of the research team.

While coastal British Columbia is obviously not in the tropics it already experiences seawater inundation events, especially in spring, when high tides and storm surges can be compounded by early season mountain snowcap melts and runoff. British Columbia's Lower Mainland, one of the most densely populated regions in Canada, is particularly vulnerable when meltwater runoff swells the Fraser River as it nears the sea. There are some very low-lying municipalities along the way, Richmond and Surrey in particular.

[University of Illinois prof, Sean] Vitousek said: “We are going to have to [cut carbon dioxide emissions] and engineer the coastlines to stop a lot of these events from happening. We want Greenland and Antarctica to remain as ice for as long as possible.

“One metre of sea level rise is going to be a game-changer for the coastal zone. The next time you are at the beach or down by the water, think about what that area would be like in some of these sea level rise scenarios, half a metre or metre. You’ll see it’s a pretty scary proposition.”






Assange Outwaits the Swedish Heat


Julian Assange may walk on the rape allegations from Sweden that have kept him bottled up in Ecuador's London embassy for years.


Swedish prosecutors have dropped their preliminary investigation into an allegation of rape against the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, bringing an end to a seven-year legal standoff.

The decision was taken after prosecutors concluded that “at this point, all possibilities to conduct the investigation are exhausted”, Sweden’s director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny, said on Friday.

“In order to proceed with the case, Julian Assange would have to be formally notified of the criminal suspicions against him. We cannot expect to receive assistance from Ecuador regarding this. Therefore the investigation is discontinued.

“If he, at a later date, makes himself available, I will be able to decide to resume the investigation immediately.”


Assange claimed asylum in 2012 arguing that, if he was delivered up to the Swedes, they, or the Brits, would simply turn him over to the Americans for political persecution.

With the announcement Assange got all frisky:

Later he tweeted again: “Detained for 7 years without charge by while my children grew up and my name was slandered. I do not forgive or forget.”

If he does venture out of the Ecuadorean embassy, the British Police still have issues to settle with Assange.


The Metropolitan police in London said Assange would face immediate arrest for breaching his bail conditions; a warrant was issued when he failed to attend a magistrates court after entering the embassy.

“The Metropolitan police service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy,” the statement said.

It added: “Whilst Mr Assange was wanted on a European arrest warrant (EAW) for an extremely serious offence, the MPS response reflected the serious nature of that crime. Now that the situation has changed and the Swedish authorities have discontinued their investigation into that matter, Mr Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence. The MPS will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence.”


It's telling that Julian "I do not forgive or forget" Assange acts as though he's been cleared, vindicated. He hasn't been anything of the sort.  If he wants to clear his name he'll have to travel to Sweden. Without that he's just another accused sex offender conveniently beyond the reach of the law. Don't forget, this is the guy who promised that he would hop a flight to the U.S. to face the music if Obama pardoned Chelsea Manning only to renege on that promise when Obama did pardon Chelsea Manning.






Weiner's Final Tumble



Registered sex offender. That should be the last nail in the coffin for the former Democratic congressman, Anthony Weiner.

Mr. Weiner will plead guilty to a single charge of transferring obscene material to a minor, pursuant to a plea agreement with the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, one of the people said. Mr. Weiner surrendered to the F.B.I. early Friday morning.

The federal authorities have been investigating reports that, beginning in January 2016, Mr. Weiner, then 51, exchanged sexually explicit messages with a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina.

The plea covers conduct by Mr. Weiner from January through March of last year, the person said. A likely result of the plea is that Mr. Weiner would end up as a registered sex offender, although a final determination has yet to be made, the person added.


Update:

Weiner has had his day in court and he pleaded guilty.

The 52-year-old admitted to the federal court in New York that he had transferred obscene material to a 15-year-old girl. As part of a plea bargain arranged between the judge and his lawyer, Weiner will not be able to appeal any sentence of 27 months or less in prison.

"I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse," the ex-lawmaker said.

Besides sending her inappropriate photos of himself, his victim said Weiner asked her to undress on camera. The allegations prompted then-FBI director James Comey to seize Weiner's laptop for evidence.

Comey then stunned the public in October by announcing that some material he had found on Weiner's laptop had given him reason to reopen the closed investigation in Hillary Clinton's handling of State Department business on a private e-mail server. Although Comey described himself as "mildly nauseous" at the idea, many have said his announcement was at least partially to blame for Clinton losing the presidency to Donald Trump.