Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Another Reason Canada Should Steer Clear of Trump's Call to Return to Afghanistan



If it can be rigged, it'll be rigged. If it can be corrupted, it will be corrupted.

You probably remember when Donald Trump said that America's biggest failing in the Iraq war was that it failed to take Iraq's oil. Not pay for it, take it. It was only fair that Iraqis pay for America's uninvited invasion of their country. That had such a lovely, medieval ring to it.

Having buggered up Iraq with nothing to show for it save two or three trillion in debt, the current majordomo seems interested in helping Afghanistan to rid itself of its pesky mineral resources. New York Times article here.  NY Mag article here. Gizmodo here.

The Trump White House has been consulting with high-profile war profiteers who have argued that the way forward in Afghanistan is to further privatize military operations in the country. White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Jared Kushner reportedly "recruited" both Feinberg and Blackwater founder Erik Prince to lay out a war plan for the president.

Critics denounced this development as a step toward "colonialism," and commentators had similar words for Trump's apparent attraction to Afghanistan's mineral wealth.

Law professor and former White House lawyer Andy Wright concluded that the Times report lays bare Trump's "British Empire thinking," which places plunder over "threat-based security."


Canada, yes Justin Trudeau's Canada, is already collaborating with Saudi Arabia's rampant campaign of war crimes in Yemen. Enough. If we didn't already have good reason to steer clear of Afghanistan, we've got compelling reasons now.

Is Somebody Sending Us a Message?



Well there's news, in a way, and there's bad news, in a worse way.

The news is that sperm counts are plummeting in the Western world. A 50% decline over the past 40-years.

The analysis did not explore reasons for the decline, but researchers said falling sperm counts have previously been linked to various factors such as exposure to certain chemicals and pesticides, smoking, stress and obesity.

This suggests measures of sperm quality may reflect the impact of modern living on male health and act as a "canary in the coal mine" signaling broader health risks, they said.

The bad news is that the decline is occurring in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand but not in the overpopulated and population bomb countries of Asia and Africa.









Ralph Klein's Sabotage


I used to sort of like Ralph Klein, until he quit drinking. Then he turned into a real son-of-a-bitch.

While he may be largely forgotten today, he's left Alberta a lasting legacy and it's going to cost the people of the Wild Rose province countless billions.

In the June 12, 1991 decision, a panel of Court of Appeal of Alberta judges unanimously ruled that "abandonment of oil and gas wells is part of the general law of Alberta enacted to protect the environment and for the health and safety of all citizens."

The responsibility to properly abandon a well was binding on all who became licensees of oil and gas wells, even in bankruptcy.

The ruling came to be known as the Northern Badger case.

The anxiety it triggered was profound, but it was replaced with a newfound confidence after an unexpected boom in oilpatch activity and Ralph Klein's swearing in as Alberta premier in December 1992.

Under Klein, the Orphan Well Association was established. Wells are called “orphans” when there is no solvent entity to carry out abandonment and reclamation responsibilities. This industry-funded organization saw the already enormous problem of old wells multiply.

With Klein calling the shots, the oilpatch effectively escaped accountability for billions of dollars in reclamation obligations in exchange for merely plugging some wells after companies disappeared. In fact, the Orphan Well Association has only reclaimed about 700 sites in more than 15 years.

And today, Klein's environmental liabilities are about to blow up in the face of Albertans.


Legislative and Regulatory Capture Writ Large

A joint government/industry committee reported in 1992 that new companies with “inadequate financial resources to meet future well-abandonment liabilities” were taking responsibility for wells from established companies. In some cases, “well-licence transferors have disposed of valuable assets, leaving only liabilities within a corporate shell and thereby generating future orphan wells.”

And regulators weren’t duped; they didn’t just look the other way while these environmental liabilities were passed around like hot potatoes; they actively sabotaged their own regulatory programs to further facilitate this downloading of risk.

The only program that even began to address abandonment and reclamation with any real enforcement was the Long Term Inactive Well Program (LTIWP) launched, after considerable delay, following the 1997 election. With enforcement provisions that scaled up to legal action, the LTIWP was a five-year plan to safely plug wells that had been inactive for more than a decade.

It had some success in its first year, but as enforcement escalated in the second year, regulators lost their nerve. A second progress report was never produced and a dramatic change was announced in the third year. The Base Well Count assigned to each producer was supposed to be unchangeable. Regulators then let it be manipulated so companies could shift wells to smaller and smaller companies.

The rule change completely undermined the program’s objectives and allowed industry to game the program and loot it of deposits companies paid for well abandonment costs that could otherwise be left to taxpayers. Outrageously, regulators actually demonstrated to companies how to do so.


Read the National Observer report in its entirety. It's a fascinating but disturbing account of how governments can collude with industry at the direct expense of the public. It's an illustrative tale of legislative and regulatory capture, how industry can corrupt government into working for its interests and against the public interest. It also demonstrates how our complacency fuels their perfidy.

Ralph Klein was a lot of things to Albertans but first and foremost he was the oil industry's man.


Trump Jungend



The Republicans assured themselves their 70-year old man/boy president would mature once in office. You morons, the guy turned 71 on June 14. He ain't gonna change. He's not smart enough even if he wanted to, even if he thought he had to in order to survive. No amount of time and pressure and heat can transform that lump of dirty soft coal into a diamond. He's a deviant, a pervert, by his own statement a serial sex offender with a basket full to the brim with his psychological maladies.

Any residual doubt was dispelled when Trump appeared before the Boy Scouts of America. His utterly inappropriate speech was, naturally, all about himself, the electoral college, his wonderful ideas, why America should be grateful to have him with a few shots at Hillary and Obama tossed in for good measure.

It was like a recruiting speech and reminded me of nothing so much as another tyrant's speeches to another group of young boys from another country and in a previous century.

Trump was supposed to be speaking to these kids:


Not these kids:


The Madness of King Donald


Two senators, a Republican and a Democrat, caught discussing the madness of King Donald and his "crazy" minions in the House.



Oh yeah and at the end they were talking about this guy, Texas congressman Blake Farenthold (rhymes with 'fartinghole') who said, if she weren't a woman, he would have challenged the Republican senator from Maine, Susan Collins, to a duel.


Ain't he something?

For a Guy On Death's Doorstep, He Can Still Come Out Swinging.



Yes, Arizona senator John McCain did return to Washington to cast the essential vote allowing the Republicans to go ahead and debate health care, the first step to abolishing the Affordable Care Act. But then McCain delivered a couple of hard shots to his Republican leadership and fellow senators.

He blasted the path taken by Republican leaders “coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them that it was better than nothing.

“I don’t think that’s going to work in the end, and it probably shouldn’t,” he said.

Debates in the Senate have become “more partisan, more tribal, more of the time than at any time I can remember,” he lamented.

With President Donald Trump threatening electoral retribution for Republicans who don’t toe the line, McCain urged senators to stand up for their own constitutional status.

“Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the president’s subordinates,” he said. “We are his equal!”

People with health care problems had speculated on social media how McCain would vote, and his decision disappointed many. Addressing concerns that tens of millions will lose coverage if the Republican bill becomes law, McCain said the process is far from over.

“I voted for the motion to proceed to allow debate to continue,” he said. “I will not vote for this bill as it is today. It’s a shell of a bill right now.”

Rachel, Justin, the Science Is In.


There's plenty of it and it all points to one conclusion - bitumen trafficking is dangerous.

An 8-person  Stanford research team led by Canadian, Stephanie Green, a Banting post-doctoral fellow spent two years studying the impact of bitumen on Canada's marine environment. If you're going to keep your promise, Justin, that your government will follow the science, well, this is it.

The findings were published Tuesday in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment in the midst of what the authors call an "intense public policy debate" about the future of energy.

Bitumen is too heavy to flow freely in a pipeline in ambient temperatures. So it must be shipped after being diluted in a toxic solution, sometimes using a formula that is considered to be an industry trade secret. This product, known as dilbit, could react differently in water when compared to other forms of crude oil that have previously been implicated in spills such as the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster off the coast of Alaska in March 1989 or the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster of April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. The secret formula used to ship bitumen could also make it difficult for responders to figure out how to clean up after a spill, the new paper said.

The new study — Oil sands and the marine environment: current knowledge and future challenges — was published less than a month after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government approved two major pipeline expansion projects, Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin in the U.S. midwest, and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion project from Alberta to the Vancouver region on the west coast of B.C.

Together, these projects, if completed, would add more than one million barrels per day of capacity to Canada’s pipeline infrastructure. But they are fiercely opposed by many First Nations leaders, environmentalists and some local mayors who say they pose to great a risk of spills, while pushing the country’s climate change goals out of reach.

The latest research from the scientists adds evidence into the debate that was missing when Trudeau announced his government's decisions.

“As Canadians, I think we often think about what’s happening with our fossil fuel industry, particularly around the oilsands being inland — inland Canada — and looking at the environment there,” said Green, the study’s lead author, in an interview with National Observer. “But as we’re seeing increasing pressure to transport this product globally, it’s connecting that type of industry to the ocean in ways that most of us don’t really consider.”

The scientists who authored the new study shared their findings with the government in November, prior to Trudeau's announcement, and also shared some of the information with reporters. A few days ago, Wendy Palen, one of the co-authors, even noted on Twitter that the scientists had only found four papers that reviewed direct impacts of bitumen on oceans, describing this as "inadequate risk assessment" of industry.

Oh, Great.

A federal scientist says they're working on this.

He also said that they can learn more when a spill actually occurs.

“So, (we) use that as an opportunity to learn and corroborate the science that we’ve produced. Luckily those sorts of things are not very common, but we try and learn as much as we can to try to prepare for the next time."

But I suppose we have to give the federal government the benefit of the doubt on this. No, we don't. One word: Corexit.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rethinking North American Football


They died as young as 23 and as old as 89. In their professional careers these men played every position on a football team. They had one thing in common. Of the 111 pro National Football League players, the brains of all but one revealed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated head trauma.

110 out of 111, that's a compelling statistic.

Among 202 deceased former football players (median age at death, 66 years [interquartile range, 47-76 years]), CTE was neuropathologically diagnosed in 177 players (87%; median age at death, 67 years [interquartile range, 52-77 years]; mean years of football participation, 15.1 [SD, 5.2]), including 0 of 2 pre–high school, 3 of 14 high school (21%), 48 of 53 college (91%), 9 of 14 semiprofessional (64%), 7 of 8 Canadian Football League (88%), and 110 of 111 National Football League (99%) players. Neuropathological severity of CTE was distributed across the highest level of play, with all 3 former high school players having mild pathology and the majority of former college (27 [56%]), semiprofessional (5 [56%]), and professional (101 [86%]) players having severe pathology. Among 27 participants with mild CTE pathology, 26 (96%) had behavioral or mood symptoms or both, 23 (85%) had cognitive symptoms, and 9 (33%) had signs of dementia. Among 84 participants with severe CTE pathology, 75 (89%) had behavioral or mood symptoms or both, 80 (95%) had cognitive symptoms, and 71 (85%) had signs of dementia.


Britain Follows France, Bans Diesel and Gas Powered Cars Effective 2040


Barring some grave misfortune I won't be around to see it but you might. First France and now Britain  will ban gasoline and diesel-powered cars by 2040.

Informed of the development the Cheeto Benito promptly announced that, by 2040, all new American cars would be fueled exclusively by brown coal and raw bitumen.

Dying But Not Quite Dead Yet


Oh this is a glorious day for Trump and his Senate minions. The first step to the repeal of Obamacare just happened as Arizona Senator John McCain cast the 50th Republican repeal vote, tying the issue 50-50, and allowing the vice president, Pence, to cast the tie-breaker.

All Democrats opposed the measure. Underscoring the significance of the vote, many senators sat at their desks for the vote.

The vote is no guarantee that the fractured Republican caucuses can coalesce around a single health care plan. Now that debate has officially started, Republicans in the Senate lack 50 votes on a policy. Moderates oppose repealing Obamacare without a replacement, and conservatives don’t like the idea of significantly replacing it.

The leading idea now is to repeal only a small portion of the health law just to get a bill to a conference with the Senate.


Now we may witness the spectacle of Senate Republicans eating themselves alive. Today's vote means that the Senate will take up the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, but the hard part, the politically dangerous next step, is to debate what to do if it's repealed.  Some Republicans, two or perhaps three, don't want the ACA repealed. Another group, the majority, want it gutted to free up cash to fund tax cuts for the rich. The third group, the radicals, want the federal government to scrap health care programmes entirely. How is a group at such odds with itself going to muster the 51 votes needed to scrap the ACA?

The Repugs have 52 seats in the Senate, the Dems currently stand at 46. There are 33 Senate seats up for grabs in 2018 but only 8 are Republican. The Dems have 25 seats in jeopardy. Throw in the Trump factor and whatever that barking mad heathen gets up to between now and November, 2018, and it's anybody's guess.

Oh, Never Mind. What Was I Thinking?


Hard times are coming. In such times you need to know your real friends, those you can count on. This is as true for nations as it is for individuals.

The West, as we know it today, was a group of friendly nations that were bound by shared values, foremost among them an embrace of democracy. That was certainly true for the West's military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, and it served the West well for decades.

With time and shifting circumstance, NATO was transformed from a relatively close-knit group of like-minded countries willing to go to war in defence of the others into an expanded club that was less defensive and increasingly more geopolitical in outlook.

Hate to say it but NATO dropped the ball - and its standards - after the collapse of the Soviet Union, especially during the Bush/Cheney era.

NATO chose to expand right up to Russia's doorstep, in the process drawing into its ranks some pretty sketchy nations from the old Warsaw Pact days.

Now some of those old WarPac countries are reverting to their bad old days, flirting with authoritarianism. Among the worst are Turkey, Hungary and Poland. Why should Canadian men and women be in jeopardy of having to defend any of those increasingly undemocratic states? Why should they even be allowed to remain members of NATO?

Oh, never mind. What was I thinking? If a commitment to liberal democracy was a prerequisite to membership in the North Atlantic Alliance what would we do with today's post-democratic, increasingly authoritarian, United States of America?

Taming the Wild West


It's time to drain the swamp now that Christy Clark and the BC Liberals have been ousted from power. Only unlike what Trump meant by the term, basically nothing, British Columbians need Christy's bog drained to see what lurks on the bottom.

Not for nothing did The New York Times call Clark's British Columbia the "Wild West of Canadian Political Cash."  What many would consider outright influence peddling was standard fare for the BC Libs.

Christy Clark rounded out her final days in office with a parting gift — not to British Columbians but to a loyal BC Liberal donor, Taseko Mines. The company donated more than $130,000 to the BC Liberals, and now they’ve scooped up Clark’s prize.

 While members of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation were being chased from their homes by an aggressive wildfire, Clark’s outgoing government approved exploratory permits for the company to dig up their traditional, and constitutionally protected, lands — an area so culturally and environmentally important that Harper’s Conservatives rejected federal permits twice.

But then again, the federal Conservative party can’t accept corporate donations. Over here in the “Wild West,” Clark’s BC Liberals can, and did.
...

Too many decisions — potentially made under the influence of Big Money — will still stand, even after we ban Big Money.

Remember Mount Polley? The mining company whose tailing pond breach became the biggest environmental disaster in B.C.’s history? Imperial Metals has given more than $213,760 to the BC Liberals, $54,220 of which came from its subsidiary Mount Polley Mining.

B.C.’s Ministry of Environment knew about risks the tailing pond posed and issued five warnings to the company, but took no punitive action when warnings were ignored. Meanwhile, Christy Clark and BC Liberals ministers were flying to Calgary for a $1-million fundraiser hosted by Imperial Metals’ controlling shareholder Murray Edwards.

The mine was allowed to reopen two years after the disaster with no fines or criminal charges, and taxpayers are on the hook for cleanup costs.

To top it all off, the company is now allowed to dump waste directly into Quesnel Lake, where residents of Likely B.C. get their drinking water.
...

When you start to see all of the political decisions that have been made to the benefit of Big Money donors and the detriment of British Columbians, it is really alarming. Texas-based Kinder Morgan’s unpopular pipeline approval in B.C., U.S. trophy hunting Super PACs’ pressure to influence over wildlife management, a Malaysian and Chinese state-owned LNG terminal built on top of a salmon spawning ground, a lobbyist turned government-appointed chair turned board member of a Las Vegas casino that landed a prime location next to B.C. Place, even the unresolved BC Rail sale… every corner of this province, every sector of industry, has an example to look at.

Now there's a swamp that really is overdue for a draining.

WTF? Sessions Again?


As if to erase all doubt that he's barking mad, America's imperial president is again hectoring his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

President Trump launched another public assault Tuesday morning on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, questioning why the Justice Department chief has not done more to investigate alleged “crimes” by Hillary Clinton and those who have leaked information to the media.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” Trump tweeted at 6:12 a.m. from his personal account, his second Twitter message of the morning.


Rumours are Emperor Trump has his eye on Rudy Guiliani to fill in for Sessions, sort of like Trump's very own Incitatus.

In his first tweet Tuesday morning, Trump wrote about Hillary Clinton: “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign - ‘quietly working to boost Clinton.’ So where is the investigation A.G.”

Trump seemed to be referring to reports that during the election, the Democratic National Committee hired a Ukrainian American Democratic operative, Alexandra Chalupa, to mobilize ethnic communities, including Ukrainian Americans. In 2014, Chalupa had investigated the role that Paul Manafort, who went on to become Trump’s campaign chairman, played in the rise of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

After leaving the campaign in July 2016, Chalupa continued her research. Politico reported that Chalupa said she sometimes shared her findings with officials at the DNC and Clinton’s campaign, but campaign officials said they never received information. The White House has tried to compare this arrangement with the communication that the Trump campaign had with Russians during and after the campaign.

[Fact Checker: The White House’s facile comparison of Trump-Russia and Clinton-Ukraine]

At 6:21 a.m., Trump followed up with another tweet that took aim at the acting director of the FBI: “Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!”


It's rumored that Congressional Republicans, frustrated by Trump's obsessions, have swamped the Congressional library with requests for a classic Disney film, Old Yeller.






News on the Climate Change Front, Mostly Good



First the good news. The Vancouver-based National Observer reports that Canadian security regulators are beginning to scrutinize publicly-traded companies to determine if they're hiding climate change risks from investors. This appears to echo investigations underway in America launched by several states' Attorney-Generals.

Provincial securities officials have been spending the spring and summer investigating exactly how climate disclosure is regulated in Canada. The Canadian Securities Administrators, the umbrella group representing several provincial regulators, expect to issue a report after their investigation has concluded. The group says the goal of the review is to instigate “high quality disclosure of material information” to help investors make informed investment and voting decisions.

The probe follows several legal cases that question whether companies are liable for the changes to the earth’s climate as a result of their products or activities, or whether they are misleading investors over the risks posed by climate change to their businesses.

In the U.S., they include a high-profile investigation of a possible climate change "fraudulent scheme" at fossil fuel giant Exxon Mobil, as well as a lawsuit filed last week in the San Francisco Bay Area against dozens of oil and gas companies alleging that they hid knowledge of carbon pollution's impact on the climate.

In Canada, environmental group Greenpeace asked Alberta’s securities regulator to stop an initial public offering of Kinder Morgan, questioning the company’s disclosure of climate risks to investors.


It's time the polluters pay:

The securities investigation will also undoubtedly be examined closely by the District of Highlands, a municipal area outside Victoria, B.C, which sent a “climate accountability letter” last week to 20 fossil fuel companies demanding they help pay climate costs like those that result from wildfires and drought.

“Until communities start asking fossil fuel companies to pay their fair share, it’s not on the radar,” said Andrew Gage, a staff lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law, in an interview.

“We’ve got a situation where communities around the world, and certainly in Canada, are having to already pay increased costs” for more resilient storm drains, and to deal with wildfires and floods, he said.

“Right now the assumption is that 100 per cent of those costs will be paid for by taxpayers. This letter, and others we hope to see sent, are signaling publicly that that’s not the assumption.”


I expect this will go over like the proverbial lead balloon in Ottawa. What's that I hear? Oh yes, that's our environment minister, Dame Cathy, bleating, "national unity, national unity...."

Another item in the National Observer questions whether Big Oil is committing fraud to keep its books in the black. Bill McKibbin calls Exxon's shenanigans "the most consequential lie in human history."

“They kept that lie going past the point where we can protect the poles, prevent the acidification of the oceans, or slow sea level rise enough to save the most vulnerable regions and cultures. Businesses misbehave all the time, but … no corporation has ever done anything this big and this bad.”

Exxon denies it did anything wrong and calls the investigation a “political witch hunt.”

Remind you of anyone else bigly in the news lately?

...

The company didn't respond to questions from National Observer reporter Carl Meyer who asked the company and its Canadian subsidiary, Imperial Oil, about the situation last week.

New York’s attorney general alleges that Exxon’s Canadian arm — Imperial Oil — was “false and misleading” by keeping two sets of books. One set designed to placate investors worried about the implications of climate policy, and a different set that Imperial actually used for its operations.

Exxon's lead lawyer, Theodore V. Wells Jr., wants the AG to close the investigation, arguing that there is no evidence to pursue the probe.

Eric Schneiderman, the New York AG, has gotten a court order to get testimony from Jason Iwanika, an Imperial Oil employee who pushed back against his bosses’ bookkeeping practices in the Alberta oilsands.

Around the world, lawyers are riffing off the fight against tobacco companies and launching lawsuits against big oil or against governments for failing to protect citizens from fossil fuel impacts.

Just this week three communities in California sued 37 fossil fuel companies over damages from sea level rise.

How embarrassing must it be for our Liberal government that the New York AG is going after a Canadian company, Imperial Oil, for cooking its books while Ottawa sits there with its thumb up its ass?












Monday, July 24, 2017

Say It Again, Jared. This Time With Meaning.


Most media accounts will give you the impression Trump son-in-law, Jared Kushner, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee for two hours today, asserting that neither he nor anyone else involved in Daddy's campaign "colluded" with those nasty Russians to swing the election to Trump.

Only Jared didn't testify to anyone and what he did say was said behind closed doors. Kushner refused to answer questions under oath and so his protestations of innocence have the probative value of Alvin Karpis claiming he never robbed a bank.

George Orwell, Why Did We Ever Doubt Him, or, Remember When We Thought "1984" Was a Novel?


Foreign Policy's Thomas Ricks writes that the doubters were wrong and Orwell's mistake was he got the year wrong.


Harold Bloom wrote in 1987 that Orwell’s great novel of totalitarianism, 1984, threatened to become a period piece, such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Even the literary critic Irving Howe, a longtime supporter of Orwell, had thought it possible that 1984 would have “little more than ‘historic interest” for future generations.

Yet instead of fading away, Orwell has enjoyed a new surge of global popularity. The passing of the historical context of 1984 seems to have liberated the novel, its message speaking to a universal problem of modern humankind.
...

For present-day Americans, 1984’s background of permanent warfare carries a chilling warning.
In the book, as in life in the United States today, the conflict is offstage, heard only as occasional rocket impacts. “Winston could not definitely remember a time when his country has not been at war,” Orwell wrote in 1984. (The same is true of all Americans now in their late teens or younger.)

In an era when U.S. wars are waged with drones firing precision-guided missiles, and with small numbers of special operations forces on the ground in remote parts of the Middle East, with infrequent attacks in cities such as London, Paris, Madrid, and New York, this passage from the novel is eerily prescient:

'It is a warfare of limited aims between combatants who are unable to destroy one another, [and] have no material cause for fighting.… [It] involves very small numbers of people, mostly highly trained specialists, and causes comparatively few casualties. The fighting, when there is any, takes place on the vague frontiers whose whereabouts the average man can only guess at.… In the centres of civilization war means no more than … the occasional crash of a rocket bomb which may cause a few scores of deaths.'


The second driver of the current Orwell boom is the post-9/11 rise of the intelligence state. We live in an intrusive, overweening state in both the East and the West. In the early 2000s, the U.S. government regularly killed people in nations with which it was not officially at war by using remote-controlled aircraft. This tactic became known as “signature strikes,” which target men of military age showing a threatening pattern of behavior associated with terrorists, such as talking to known terrorists by telephone or attending a meeting with them. Several hundred of these strikes have been carried out in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. And now metadata collection — the gathering of trillions of bits of information that the intelligence community analyzes in order to recognize previously unseen patterns — allows governments to quietly compile dossiers on the behavior of millions of individuals.
...

Third, and perhaps most shocking, is the way the use of torture in 1984 foreshadows how today’s state uses it in an endless “war on terror.” After 9/11, for the first time in American history, torture became official policy. (Before then it had been used occasionally but always in disregard of the law, and sometimes it was prosecuted.)

To better understand 2017, return to Orwell’s three best books. First, Homage to Catalonia, in which he shows that the left can lie just as much as the right, and becomes skeptical of all exercise of power. Second, Animal Farm, which he called a fairy tale — an adult version of a tale of disenchantment. Finally, 1984, in which Orwell updates the horror story. His monster is not Frankenstein, but the modern state.

Obituary for An Imperfect Democracy. America Down.



The Gullibillies thought he was going to make America great again and he will, just not for them. Six months of Donald Trump has shown that the imperial president does want to transform America but into the first complete corporate state of the 21st century, the Corporate States of America.

The Guardian's George Monbiot wrote this in February but now that August nears, we've had time to see the wisdom in his words.

It took corporate America a while to warm to Donald Trump. Some of his positions, especially on trade, horrified business leaders. Many of them favoured Ted Cruz or Scott Walker. But once Trump had secured the nomination, the big money began to recognise an unprecedented opportunity.

Trump was prepared not only to promote the cause of corporations in government, but to turn government into a kind of corporation, staffed and run by executives and lobbyists. His incoherence was not a liability, but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network already developed by some American corporations was perfectly positioned to shape it. Dark money is the term used in the US for the funding of organisations involved in political advocacy that are not obliged to disclose where the money comes from. Few people would see a tobacco company as a credible source on public health, or a coal company as a neutral commentator on climate change. In order to advance their political interests, such companies must pay others to speak on their behalf.

Soon after the second world war, some of America’s richest people began setting up a network of thinktanks to promote their interests. These purport to offer dispassionate opinions on public affairs. But they are more like corporate lobbyists, working on behalf of those who fund them.
...

The American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, at work extinguishing the dying embers of anything remotely progressive in America.

Alec is perhaps the most controversial corporate-funded thinktank in the US. It specialises in bringing together corporate lobbyists with state and federal legislators to develop “model bills”. The legislators and their families enjoy lavish hospitality from the group, then take the model bills home with them, to promote as if they were their own initiatives.

Alec has claimed that more than 1,000 of its bills are introduced by legislators every year, and one in five of them becomes law. It has been heavily funded by tobacco companies, the oil company Exxon, drug companies and Charles and David Koch – the billionaires who founded the first Tea Party organisations. Pfizer, which funded Bertin’s post at Atlantic Bridge, sits on Alec’s corporate board. Some of the most contentious legislation in recent years, such as state bills lowering the minimum wage, bills granting corporations immunity from prosecution and the “ag-gag” laws – forbidding people to investigate factory farming practices – were developed by Alec.
...

The Heritage Foundation is now at the heart of Trump’s administration. Its board members, fellows and staff comprise a large part of his transition team. Among them are Rebekah Mercer, [more on Rebekah Mercer and her dad, Robert, here, here and here] who sits on Trump’s executive committee; Steven Groves and Jim Carafano (State Department); Curtis Dubay (Treasury); and Ed Meese, Paul Winfree, Russ Vought and John Gray (management and budget). CNN reports that “no other Washington institution has that kind of footprint in the transition”.

Trump’s extraordinary plan to cut federal spending by $10.5tn was drafted by the Heritage Foundation, which called it a “blueprint for a new administration”. Vought and Gray, who moved on to Trump’s team from Heritage, are now turning this blueprint into his first budget.
...

Long before Trump won, campaign funding in the US had systematically corrupted the political system. A new analysis by US political scientists finds an almost perfect linear relationship, across 32 years, between the money gathered by the two parties for congressional elections and their share of the vote. But there has also been a shift over these years: corporate donors have come to dominate this funding.

In April 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt sent the US Congress the following warning: “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.” It is a warning we would do well to remember.



Do You Think Trump's Mad? Do You Think Trudeau's Sane?


We're just a couple of weeks off from World Overshoot Day, 2017. That will mark the day on which humankind has exhausted an entire year's supply of Earth's natural resources.  Barely more than a decade ago, Overshoot didn't hit until November. Since then our consumption has grown even as our planet's resource reserves have dwindled. Yes, that is a candle burning at both ends.

What the steadily marching arrival of Overshoot tells us is that our leaders' obsession with perpetual, exponential growth is madness. No matter how much you may fawn over him, Trudeau has that addiction and he's got it bad. He's not alone. Every mainstream political party in Canada and, for that matter, most of the developed world and the emerging economic superpowers, shares that same terminal addiction.

I've been writing about Overshoot for years, at least as far back as when it didn't set in until the latter part of October. Maybe this will convince you. An essay from William Rees, professor emeritus of human ecology and ecological economics at the University of British Columbia.



Humans have a virtually unlimited capacity for self-delusion, even when self-preservation is at stake.

 The scariest example is the simplistic, growth-oriented, market-based economic thinking that is all but running the world today. Prevailing neoliberal economic models make no useful reference to the dynamics of the ecosystems or social systems with which the economy interacts in the real world.
Consider economists’ (and therefore society’s) near-universal obsession with continuous economic growth on a finite planet. A recent ringing example is Kaushik Basu’s glowing prediction that “in 50 years, the world economy is likely (though not guaranteed) to be thriving, with global GDP growing by as much as 20 per cent per year, and income and consumption doubling every four years or so.”

Basu is the former chief economist of the World Bank, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor of economics at Cornell University, so he is no flake in the economics department. But this does not prevent a display of alarming ignorance of both the power of exponential growth and the state of the ecosphere. Income and consumption doubling every four years? After just 20 years and five doublings, the economy would be larger by a factor of 32; in 50 years it will have multiplied more than 5000-fold! Basu must inhabit some infinite parallel universe.
...

Propelled by neoliberal economic thinking and fossil fuels, techno-industrial society consumed more energy and resources during the most recent doubling (the past 35 years or so) than in all previous history. Humanity is now in dangerous ecological overshoot, using even renewable and replenishable resources faster than ecosystems can regenerate and filling waste sinks beyond capacity. (Even climate change is a waste management problem — carbon dioxide is the single greatest waste by weight in all industrial economies.)

Meanwhile, wild nature is in desperate retreat. One example: from less than one per cent at the dawn of agriculture, humans and their domestic animals had ballooned to comprise 97 per cent of the total weight of terrestrial mammals by the year 2000. That number is closer to 98.5 per cent today, with wild mammals barely clinging to the margins.
...

Ignoring overshoot is dangerously stupid — we are financing growth, in part, by irreversibly liquidating natural resources essential to our own long-term survival.

And things can only get worse. Even at today’s “lacklustre” three-per-cent global growth rate, incomes/consumption would double in just 20 years and produce — in this century — dramatic climate change, widespread extinctions, the collapse of major biophysical systems, global strife and diminished prospects for continued civilized existence.

...

How might a clear-sighted neutral observer interpret our predicament? First, she or he would point out that on a finite planet already in overshoot, it is not biophysically possible to raise the material standards of the poor to those of the rich sustainably — that is, without destroying the ecosphere, undermining life-support functions and precipitating global societal collapse. In a non-deluded world, governments would no longer see economic growth as the panacea for all that ails them; in particular, they would acknowledge that enough is literally enough and cease promoting growth as the primary solution to both North-South inequity and chronic poverty within nations.

Instead, a rational world would focus on devising institutions and policies for co-operative redistribution — ways to share the benefits of development more equitably. The goal should be to enhance the material well-being of developing countries and the poor and improve life-quality for all while simultaneously reducing both aggregate material consumption and world population.
...

Ensuring a socially just, economically secure and ecologically stable global environment requires: a) that rich nations consume less to free up the ecological space needed for justifiable consumption increases in poorer countries; and b) that the world implement a universal population management plan designed to reduce the total human population to a level that that can be supported indefinitely at a more-than-satisfactory average material standard. This is what it means to “live sustainably within the means of nature.”

Fortunately, various studies suggest that planned de-growth toward a quasi steady state economy is technically possible, would benefit the poor and could be achieved while improving overall quality of life even in high-income countries.
...

Failure to implement a global sustainability plan that addresses excess consumption and over-population while ensuring greater social equity may well be fatal to global civilization. Indeed, adherence to any variant of the growth-bound status quo promises a future of uncontrollable climate change, plummeting biodiversity, civil disorder, geopolitical turmoil and resource wars.

In these circumstances, should not elected politicians everywhere have an obligation to explain how their policies reflect the fact of global overshoot?

Denying reality is not a viable option; self-delusion can become all-destroying. If our leaders reject the foregoing framing, they should be required to show how the policies they are pursuing can deliver ecological stability, economic security, social equity and improved population health to future generations. Ordinary citizens should assert their right-to-know as if their lives depend upon it.






Faulty Math on Climate Change, Yikes.


The battle with climate change comes down to numbers. Countries joining the fight usually pledge to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions  by some percentage of what they were at some past year by some future year. 25% from 2010 levels by 2030, that sort of thing. 2010 less 25% by 2030. Math.

These formulae aimed at achieving some warming/heating target. That was usually expressed as holding warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius above "pre-industrial" levels, i.e. the advent of the fossil energy era. Many people think that's the target to "fix" global warming. It's not. It's the target to avoid triggering natural feedback loops such as massive methane emissions that trigger runaway, i.e. extinction-grade global warming.

Who can forget when our freshly-minted prime minister, J. Trudeau, and his elegant environment minister, Dame Cathy, were the belles of the ball at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit, leading the charge to reset the warming target from 2 C to 1.5 C? Heady times. Short lived.

The problem with numbers is human nature. We tend to screw them up, we get things wrong. Somebody comes around to run the sums again and - whoop - there it is. Now we're hearing that our working numbers at Paris might have been off - brace yourselves - by a staggering 40%.


In the Paris climate treaty, nearly every world country agreed to try and limit global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and preferably closer to 1.5°C. But a new study published in Nature Climate Changenotes that the agreement didn’t define when “pre-industrial” begins.

Our instrumental measurements of the Earth’s average surface temperature begin in the late-1800s, but the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-1700s. There’s also a theory that human agriculture has been influencing the global climate for thousands of years, but the mass burning of fossil fuels kicked the human influence into high gear.
...

According to the last IPCC report, to have a 50% chance of staying below the 2°C target, when accounting for non-carbon greenhouse gases, we have a remaining budget of about 300bn tons of carbon dioxide. But that was for 2°C warming above late-1800 temperatures. If we add another 0.1°C of pre-industrial warming, the study authors estimated that the budget shrinks by 60bn tons (20%), and if there was an additional 0.2°C pre-industrial warming, the 2°C carbon budget shrinks by 40%. As one of the study authors Michael Mann put it:

"Either the Paris targets have to be revised, or alternatively, we decide that the existing targets really were meant to describe only the warming since the late 19th century."

It’s an important point if we want to measure whether we’ve succeeded or failed in meeting the Paris climate targets. And it’s important to know if our budget should be set at no more than 300bn tons, or more like 200bn tons of carbon dioxide pollution.

This might sound like it's a matter of mathematical semantics and it sure sounds that way to me. Who cares if we failed to include the farts of the first oxen yoked to a plough? What matters is when mankind pulls the trigger on runaway global warming, when we trigger nature to join our greenhouse gas bacchanal. There's a lot of science suggesting we've already awoken that sleeping giant and that the dreaded natural feedback loops, or several of them, are already in action. The loss of the Arctic sea ice, that's one. The accelerating release of frozen methane deposits in the tundra and the Arctic sea bed, that's another. There are plenty more.

On the other hand, if our working numbers are off 40% that's something we can't overlook. We need to know and, if these claims are right and there is a real problem, we need to fix that hole in the dike. If we did get it so wrong at the Paris climate summit, what else might we have missed?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Kelly, Meet Kelli. Oh, You've Already Met?



They're both ambitious women. They're both radical conservatives. Hey, they're both doctors and they'll say anything and walk all over anyone to get what they want.

Ours is the ever odious Tory, Kelly Leitch. No need to rehash her record.  Theirs is Arizona's Kelli Ward, a woman who makes Leitch look like a Girl Guide flogging cookies door to door.

Kelli Ward wants to become one of her state's two senators. She wants her ass in Washington and she'll do whatever it takes to get there.

After losing a nomination battle to John McCain, Ward shifted her sights to Arizona's junior Republican Senator, Jeff Flake, who must win his party's nomination to contest the seat in 2018.

Suddenly, with the announcement that McCain has developed brain cancer, Ward has taken wing - like a buzzard over a wounded critter.

A day after news came out about US Senator John McCain's brain cancer diagnosis, his one-time political opponent urged him to think about his political future sooner rather than later - and expressed interest in the possibility of her taking over his Senate seat.

"I hope Senator McCain is going to look long and hard at this, that his family and his advisers are going to look at this, and they're going to advise him to step away as quickly as possible, so that the business of the country and the business of Arizona being represented at the federal level can move forward," Kelli Ward, who lost to McCain in last year's Republican primary and is now running to unseat Senator Jeff Flake, said during an interview with an Indiana radio station.

...

In a combative interview Friday with Arizona radio hosts Mac Watson and Larry Gaydos, Ward maintained that should McCain become debilitated, "of course he should step aside."

"I got to tell you, Dr Ward. Have you no shame? I mean, I think this is low class. I think you're kicking the man when he's down, the week he's diagnosed with brain cancer, with really what I believe is a despicable comment," one of the hosts told Ward.
...

"We can't wait until the 2018 election waiting around to accomplish the Trump agenda, to secure the border and stop illegal immigration and repeal Obamacare and fix the economy and fix the veterans administration," she said. "All those things need to be done, and we can't be at a standstill while we wait for John McCain to determine what he's going to do."

UPDATE:

Surprise, surprise. It turns out Kelli Ward's patrons in her battle to unseat John McCain were noneother than Robert Mercer and his hellspawn daughter, Rebekah, a.k.a. "The Blow It All Up Billionaires."

What Would the Ancient Greeks Have Made of Donald Trump?



Good question and one best left to experts like Stanford prof, Josiah Ober, author and professor of political science and the classics.

In Dr. Ober's view, the Greeks would not have recognized the United States as a democracy but they would have instantly recognized Donald Trump as a tyrant. He argues that Americans' notion of democracy is skewed:

We tend to mistranslate it as majority rule. For the ancient Greeks, the word didn’t mean majority rule, or majority tyranny. Instead it really means people have the capacity to rule themselves,” he says. “That’s the core idea of democracy, the capacity for self-governance, not power of one part of the population over another part of the population.”

Ancient Greeks believed in widespread self-governance, and would likely be disturbed by the ignorance, apathy, and lack of political service today. Ober believes that they would describe the US as a “pseudo-democracy or straight-up oligarchy.”

It is not enough that to have elections to select the officials that then govern the United States; ancient Greeks would still view these disparate levels of power—with one small group of people ruling over the masses—as a form of oligarchy.
As for the Cheeto Benito, they would recognize him all too well.
Ober says they would be particularly unimpressed with the current president of the United States.

Ancient Greeks had a definite idea of the characteristics of a tyrant: “A Greek tyrant was a megalomaniac, extremely greedy for material possessions, a sexual aggressor, he sought to block out all of his enemies from any role in politics,” says Ober. “I think they would look at our current president and say, ‘How doesn’t this fit the view we have of what a tyrant is?’”


This Could Send Trump Racing For the "Pardon Button" Or Maybe the Launch Codes


Can Robert Mueller indict Donald Trump?

Ken Starr, the special counsel who tried to take down Bill Clinton, seems to think so. The New York Times using Freedom of Information access has pried a Starr memo, 56-pages of it, out of the National Archives.


The 56-page memo, locked in the National Archives for nearly two decades and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, amounts to the most thorough government-commissioned analysis rejecting a generally held view that presidents are immune from prosecution while in office.

“It is proper, constitutional, and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of, and are contrary to, the president’s official duties,” the Starr office memo concludes. “In this country, no one, even President Clinton, is above the law.”


For you legal minds out there, here's a direct link to the pdf file.

Is Climate Change Even "News" Any More?


For the better part of 15 years I've been following news of developments in climate change, anthropogenic global warming. I subscribe to these news aggregators that every day deliver to my inbox summaries of the latest reports on a host of topics including droughts, floods, sea level rise, global warming and heatwaves, severe storm events including hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, the freshwater crisis and the annual Asian monsoons. Where I can I try to go to the source articles, the research or at least the report summaries.

It's gotten to the point where I find very little climate change "news" to be had. Sure, when an iceberg the size of Prince Edward Island calves off the Larsen B Antarctic ice sheet, that's news - sort of. When research shows that, over the past thirty years, we've managed to trim the populations of other species, terrestrial and marine, by fully half, that's news - sort of.  And yet even the most alarming research has no traction. It's straight down the Memory Hole in a matter of days, a couple of weeks at the outside.

Sea level rise is a metaphor for climate change developments generally. A paltry three millimetres a year, so what? A fraction of a degree Celsius, hardly enough to inspire any political unrest. Climate change is ideally suited, seemingly almost tailor made, for what's called "creeping normalcy." Until it actually costs us something or kills someone we know we pretty much accept it without a second thought. It becomes the new normal.

As Jared Diamond observes, creeping normalcy may not matter much to the general public but it's very important to one group, our political caste. It defines what they can get away with in this era of Everyday Low Taxes.

It's all about what you can get away with. That goes for the plebs too.  We can get away not noticing. We can get away with the status quo as we imagine it. We don't want to see our taxes go up. Out of sight, out of mind. But I digress.

There is very little climate change "news" these days. There's nothing much new. It's just an incrementally worse version of what we had yesterday or last year. What we now get is what I think of as climate change "churn." We're churning over the same old stories and people just get bored with it. It becomes nearly impossible to discern the significance of the latest reports, what differentiates the newest research from what can appear to be the near identical research before it. Who can keep track of what's what?

There are occasional encouraging signs. The latest editorial in the Gainsville Sun is an example. Gradually, incrementally, the people of Florida are coming to realize that their state is in the cross hairs of global warming. And finally even the papers are beginning to point fingers - at the state's Republican leadership.

Coastal areas in Florida from Miami Beach to Cedar Key are already seeing effects such as sunny-day flooding and powerful storm surges, and conditions are likely to worsen. Even mid-range projections by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists put the seas around Florida up to 17 inches higher by 2030 and up to 5.5 feet higher by 2070.

Just three feet of sea level rise could force at least 1.2 million Floridians to leave low-lying communities for higher ground, according to one study cited in the article. But any Alachua County resident who dismisses climate change as a problem just affecting the wealthy owners of beachfront homes has another thing coming.

Long before low-lying parts of Florida are inundated, researchers project that coastal rivers and tidal creeks will see rapid increases in the frequency and duration of flooding. Rising sea levels can also cause saltwater intrusion in groundwater, threatening drinking water supplies.

Those leaving the coasts will have to go somewhere, stretching the resources of inland areas such as Alachua County. These areas at the same time will be coping with other impacts of climate change, such as shifting agricultural conditions and weather patterns.
 
Another study, published last month in Science, found that Union County and other rural counties in our region will experience some of the worst economic damage from climate change in the U.S. So the harm posed by climate change will cross over Florida, from coastal areas struggling with the effects of rising seas to poorer inland areas suffering from the effects of rising temperatures.

Some public officials in Florida are facing the challenge, such as Miami Beach officials working to improve infrastructure to deal with flooding. But too many of the Republicans running the state and federal governments have refused to acknowledge the reality of climate change or do anything to prepare.

Other policy makers need to stop listening to climate change skeptics and starting looking at the scientific evidence. It shows rising seas will be a rising threat to the coastal areas of Florida and other parts of our state in the decades ahead. We all have a responsibility to reduce carbon emissions and prepare for the problems that can’t be prevented.

It's going to take a hell of a lot more than an editorial in the Gainsville Sun to shift public opinion among Floridians and their governor, Rick Scott, will still prohibit state employees from uttering the words "global warming." Of course, coming from a petro-state such as Canada, I'm not sure we have any reason to be smug.



Saturday, July 22, 2017

"I Wish I Had Better News." Yeah, I'll Bet.



Sea level rise is probably going to be one of the two, perhaps three greatest climate change impacts we'll experience in the U.S. and Canada over the next few decades. The good news is that sea level rise won't be an equal opportunity scourge. Poor people don't tend to own homes that front on the high water line. Choice waterfront property has always been the preserve of the wealthy. Think the star-studded shoreline of Malibu.

However, rich or poor, we'll all be affected somewhat by sea level rise this century. It's going to cost governments, provincial and federal, a load of money to replace infrastructure and manage the retreat from the sea. Can't be helped. There's absolutely no point arguing with the sea.

Places with the sort of beaches that draw hordes of tourists will be severely effected. Think Florida or the Aloha State. In Hawaii they're very worried and for good reason.


Seasonal high tides are typically around 2.5 feet, but this year has been enhanced by several anomalies. Warm water from El Niño has warmed the Eastern Pacific and is now sloshing back to the west, combining with warm water gyres spinning off the equatorial region to each add several inches to the tide. To top it off, a south swell coincided with the peak of the high tide.

“When you stack them on top of each other, you start to see record-breaking water levels,” [Waikiki beach management coordinator Dolan] Eversole says. “They’re anomalies, they’re not permanent, but they all happened to coincide at the same time.”

Seasonal high tides are typically around 2.5 feet, but this year has been enhanced by several anomalies. Warm water from El Niño has warmed the Eastern Pacific and is now sloshing back to the west, combining with warm water gyres spinning off the equatorial region to each add several inches to the tide. To top it off, a south swell coincided with the peak of the high tide.

The stacking effect has led to unprecedented tides. “Our NOAA tide gauge in Honolulu Harbor set the highest-ever recorded non-storm water level in April of this year,” Eversole says. “We broke that record in May, and we broke it again in June. We could potentially break it for the fourth consecutive time in four months (on Friday).

In places like Waikiki, coastal development prevents what Eversole calls the landward migration of beaches. “The beaches naturally want to move landward with the increased sea level, but we’re not allowing them to do that, so they’re narrowing,” he says. “The beach just narrows to nothing.”

That’s bad news for Waikiki Beach, an economic, social, iconic, and natural asset for Oahu. “Waikiki is the engine that drives our economy, and the beach is a big part of that,” Nakasone says.

Hawaii does not have any long-term engineering plans to keep water out and is largely “screwed.”

The heat that’s already embedded in the ocean is going to give us, by some estimates, at least 500 years of sea level rise, even if we were all to disappear tomorrow. I wish I had better news.








Well Hello Dr. Strangelove



His real name is Guy B. Roberts and he's Donald Trump's nominee for assistant secretary for nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) programmes at the Defense Department. He may be assistant secretary Roberts but Dr. Strangelove still works.

In this role, Roberts will “prevent, protect against, and respond to weapons of mass destruction threats,” according to the DOD website. He’ll also advise the secretary of defense in “matters concerning nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs.”

Roberts has an extensive resume, including 25 years in the Marine Corps and a couple of nuclear weapon–related policy positions at NATO. He’s also a proponent of first-use nuclear policy. In a lengthy essay for The National Interest last year, he criticized President Barack Obama for considering banning the U.S. from launching nuclear weapons before others do. The piece, titled “America Must Be Ready To Nuke First,” argues that America must be first-use to stave off Russian aggression.

Great, just great. Who can forget during the 2016 campaign when it emerged that Trump had asked his briefers what is the point of having all these nuclear weapons if America can't use them. So now we've got Dr. Strangelove joining the Trump administration.



Musings on Religion


I think scripture of any religion is written by old men. I think it's written by old men mainly for old men. It's what old men need to hear as they pass through their years of certain uncertainty.

I think scripture, written by old men for old men, is in many faiths treated as Holy, inerrant, because it has such a demonstrated success in creating and sustaining ordered belief when it can be inculcated in youth. Get there first. Get there before the young can be exposed to critical thinking and secular philosophy.

It's all a struggle of belief. Philosophy is belief. Religion, economics, political ideologies - they're all belief constructs and nothing more. Beliefs can be tossed, turned, stretched and compressed, they're incredibly resilient. But, once embraced and adopted, if nurtured skilfully they can become as hard and certain as concrete.

I think religions "troll" for young people they can lure for they will be what sustains that faith in the years and decades to come. That's why you want to fill them to overflowing with belief before their minds are exposed to other thinking. By the time you're an old man, you'll be grateful you did. No better way to go out than with the firm belief that you're a winner.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

America's Victim in Chief


Donald Trump knows a thing or two. He knows that he's America's greatest ever reality TV star. He knows he's America's victim in chief.

The victimization of the martyr president was front and center yesterday with the man-baby presidente strutted his stuff before the editors of The New York Times. Not sure why he chose to make his appearance on the epicenter of the fake news circuit. But, I digress.

It turns out that America would be a terrific, awesome place today but for the people who have failed Trump and the malevolent Democrats who obstruct his every move. Never afraid to name names, Trump tore into his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, as a milquetoast. Sessions did the unforgivable. He recused himself from the Russia investigation. Hardly better was Session's deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed former FBI director, Robert Mueller, as special counsel to conduct the investigation, despite all of Mueller's obvious conflicts of interest. Then there was that rat, former FBI director and leakfiend, James Comey.

Then there was the Democrats who failed to support a healthcare plan that would throw anywhere from 22 to 35 million Americans off the health insurance rolls. How dare they? And, of course, Hillary and Obama are constantly plotting to bring down the almost duly elected president.

The self-proclaimed martyrdom of Donald Trump is one thing but aren't martyrs supposed to meet with some glorious end?


The Perspective is Jarring.


Let's see, 9 billion tonnes of plastic divided by 7.5 billion human beings. That's 1.2 tonnes of plastic per person or 2,640 pounds.

More than 9 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since 1950, and almost all of it is still around.

A new study that tracked the global manufacture and distribution of plastics since they became widespread after World War II found that only two billion tonnes of that plastic is still in use.


That sounds like a lot, and it is, but consider the "technosphere" which is mankind's overall footprint on the Earth. That's you and me and all of our stuff and every building, road, airport and bridge. Everything man made. That now comes in at 30-trillion tons. Your per capita share of that is a staggering 4 thousand tons, just over 3.6 thousand metric tonnes.



Brazil's Christ the Redeemer statue comes in at just 635 tons. Your share of the technosphere is almost six of those.  The Statue of Liberty comes in at a paltry 225 tons. 

These should be sobering numbers to any who doubt humankind's imprint on our planet especially when you consider that most of the technosphere was built with some sort of fossil fuel energy. That includes you and me for most of the food we have consumed was produced with fossil energy for everything from the machinery involved in planting, harvesting and transportation to the chemical fertilizers used to bolster crop yields.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

John McCain, Brain Cancer


Arizona Senator John McCain has been diagnosed as suffering from brain cancer.



The office for the 80-year-old McCain, the Republican nominee for president in 2008 and a U.S. senator representing Arizona since 1987, released a statement from the Mayo Clinic announcing that, after undergoing a procedure to remove a blood clot from above his left eye last week, “Subsequent tissue pathology revealed that a primary brain tumor known as a glioblastoma was associated with the blood clot.”

“The Senator and his family are reviewing further treatment options with his Mayo Clinic care team. Treatment options may include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.”

Okay, Kids. Here's Your Inheritance. You Owe $535 Trillion Dollars.


Imagine if your older generations had handed you a tab of $535 trillion.

That's the estimated cost of "negative emissions" technologies those who follow us will have to implement if they want to survive climate change.

These are the main findings of new research published in Earth System Dynamics, conducted by an international team led by US climate scientist James Hansen, previously the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The most promising negative emissions technology is BECCS – bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration. It involves growing crops which are then burnt in power stations to generate electricity. The carbon dioxide produced is captured from the power station chimneys, compressed, and piped deep down into the Earth’s crust where it will be stored for many thousands of years. This scheme would allow us to both generate electricity and reduce the amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.
...

Humans have pumped over 1.5 trillion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere since 1750. It is not just the amount, but the rate at which this CO2 has been added. The oceans can absorb extra CO2 but not fast enough to remove all human inputs and so it has been progressively building up in the atmosphere. This extra CO2 traps more heat than would otherwise escape out into space. More energy is therefore entering the climate system than leaving it.

Over decades and centuries the climate will move back into balance with the same amount of energy leaving as entering. But this will be at a higher temperature with among other things less ice, higher sea levels, more heatwaves, and more floods. The last time the Earth’s climate experienced such an energy imbalance was the Eemian interglacial period some 115,000 years ago. At that time global sea levels were six to nine metres higher than today.

The Hansen team argues that even maintaining the current energy imbalance risks locking in several metres of sea level rise. That is because slow processes such as melting ice sheets still haven’t “caught up”. The longer the climate is held out of balance, the greater their effect will be.


Whatever assumptions you make about economic growth, or however much you discount future costs, it’s unimaginable that US$535 trillion could be afforded. While these costs will be spread over 80 years, this will also be a period in which the global population will increase from seven billion to perhaps 11 billion and beyond. Humanity will need to grow enough crops to feed these billions while fuelling BECCS schemes at a time when climate change will already be impacting food production. There are also no guarantees that BECCS or any other negative emission technologies will actually work. If they fail then large amounts of CO2 could be released very rapidly with disastrous consequences.

If we are at or are heading to this point, remedies such as BECCS are fanciful nonsense and not just because of the out of this world cost. The amount of energy that would be required to plant, grow, harvest and transport this biofuel feedstock would be massive and the emissions associated with those processes also be massive. Also, we're fast depleting our remaining stocks of high quality, arable farmland. A third of our global stocks of arable land have been lost in just the past 40 years. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that, at the rate we're degrading our productive farmland, we have about 60-years of crop production left. In 2012 the UN FAO announced the world had entered a state of permanent food insecurity. BECCS will only worsen these problems by taking cropland out of food production for intensive biomass production. You can't square that circle.

What we have to find is a way to slash emissions from fossil fuels and, yes, biofuels which are energy from the "surface carbon cycle" will be needed. However it's all for naught if we fail to resolve two other man-made existential threats - overpopulation and over-consumption. We can't go to nine billion. We have to shed more than half of our existing population until we're at or below the three billion mark. Even then we will have to slash our demands on the the Earth's resources, renewable and non-renewable until the economy returns to the safety zone as a subset of the environment.

There are ways but we won't find them with our current political leadership both within our country and globally.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Plot to Assassinate Democracy


Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Charles Koch and one James McGill Buchanan and there you have the radical right's stealth plan to dismember democracy in America. The worst part, according to George Monbiot, is that it's gone past the point of plotting. It's underway in America today and catching hold across the Atlantic.

It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is to see what was previously invisible.

The history professor’s work on the subject began by accident. In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She says the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch.

Her discoveries in that house of horrors reveal how Buchanan, in collaboration with business tycoons and the institutes they founded, developed a hidden programme for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. The programme is now reshaping politics, and not just in the US.


James Buchanan ...argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes were forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital.

Any clash between “freedom” (allowing the rich to do as they wish) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defence of freedom.

His prescription was a “constitutional revolution”: creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice. Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he developed a theoretical account of what this constitutional revolution would look like, and a strategy for implementing it.

...

In 1980, he was able to put the programme into action. He was invited to Chile, where he helped the Pinochet dictatorship write a new constitution, which, partly through the clever devices Buchanan proposed, has proved impossible to reverse entirely. Amid the torture and killings, he advised the government to extend programmes of privatisation, austerity, monetary restraint, deregulation and the destruction of trade unions: a package that helped trigger economic collapse in 1982.
...

Buchanan saw stealth as crucial. He told his collaborators that “conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential”. Instead of revealing their ultimate destination, they would proceed by incremental steps. For example, in seeking to destroy the social security system, they would claim to be saving it, arguing that it would fail without a series of radical “reforms”. (The same argument is used by those attacking the NHS). Gradually they would build a “counter-intelligentsia”, allied to a “vast network of political power” that would become the new establishment.

Through the network of thinktanks that Koch and other billionaires have sponsored, through their transformation of the Republican party, and the hundreds of millions they have poured into state congressional and judicial races, through the mass colonisation of Trump’s administration by members of this network and lethally effective campaigns against everything from public health to action on climate change, it would be fair to say that Buchanan’s vision is maturing in the US.

...

In one respect, Buchanan was right: there is an inherent conflict between what he called “economic freedom” and political liberty. Complete freedom for billionaires means poverty, insecurity, pollution and collapsing public services for everyone else. Because we will not vote for this, it can be delivered only through deception and authoritarian control. The choice we face is between unfettered capitalism and democracy. You cannot have both.

Buchanan’s programme is a prescription for totalitarian capitalism. And his disciples have only begun to implement it.


UPDATE:

For more on Nancy McLean and her book, there's an interview here.