Friday, February 23, 2018

I've About Had It With Amerika


Wayne La Pierre, Dana the Douche Loesch, the NRA and seemingly unstoppable plague of school mass killings, America's malignant gun culture, Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, FOX & Friends, Hannity, Limbaugh and Alex Jones, Sarah Palin, every goddamned Tea Partier and all the mangy nags they rode in on, Paul Ryan and the reptilian Mitch McConnell, their "bought and paid for" Congress and corporatist Supreme Court, the Koch brothers, the Coors and the rest of the Billionaire's Slime Club, ExxonMobile and Monsanto, Judge Roy Moore and his wannabes, the greasy pocket-lining, kid-diddling televangelists with the sexual appetites of goats, the White Supremacists, Nazis and the Klan, NAFTA,  and the Pentagon with its wars without end - on and on and on - I have had it to the tits with all of them, the lot.

There's no easy or effective way, no "safe distance" to watch the garbage unravel. There's so much of it that it operates with the same pathology as a highly contagious disease. There's an inescapable smell of decay to it. America is rotting out from the inside.

There are many sane, kind and, yes, wonderful Americans, better than half I suspect. Yet they're losing their America to those who want to transform it into Amerika.

Ask yourself this: how does this end?

Donald Trump's Cheat Sheet Exposed.


How is a very stable genius supposed to cope with meeting the survivors of a school shooting and their parents? How do you handle it when there are cameras rolling and you really don't give a shit about anyone but yourself and your next round of golf? It's easy if your staff hand you a five point crib sheet.


It looks like they forgot #6 - don't let the cameras get a shot of this.

Avalanche! Rick Gates to Plead Guilty.


There were some who thought Omerta might just save the Trump gang. For a while it looked as though Paul Manafort's understudy, Rick Gates, would tough it out and refuse to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's dealings with sketchy Russians.

Mueller turned up the heat this week with additional charges against Manafort and Gates, mainly for money-laundering. It worked. Gates cracked.

NBC News reports that former Trump campaign aide Gates has thrown himself on Mueller's mercy and will plead guilty. Which is decidedly bad news for Paul Manafort and probably very bad news for the Mango Mussolini to boot.

Mueller is ramping up the pressure on former Trump campaign manager, Manafort, who, at age 68, is facing what might well be a life-sentence behind bars.

UPDATE:

As expected, Gates has pleaded guilty to two charges. No word on the disposition of the other charges he faces.




Standing Rock is Everywhere



Around the world, indigenous peoples are occupying the front lines in the battle to defend the planet's environment. Chief Avrol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota people, writes in today's Guardian that Standing Rock is everywhere.

Our Elders foretold of a Black Snake and how the Water of Life — “Mni Woc’oni,” which is our first medicine — would be affected if we did not stop this oncoming disaster. Mni Woc’oni is part of our creation story, and the same story that exists in many creation stories around Mother Earth.

When we say “Mni Woc’oni” — Water of Life — people all over the world are now beginning to understand that it is a living spirit: it can heal when you pray with it and die if you do not respect it. We wanted the world to know there have been warnings in our prophecies and, as we see it, those warnings are now taking place. It was said water would be like gold. It was said that our spirit of water would begin to leave us.

We are at the crossroads.
...

What happened at Standing Rock has awakened many of my own people, and people across the world.

It was at Standing Rock that so many came together to share their stories and knowledge of what was happening in their territory, sharing ideas on how to move toward sustainable living in our relationship to land, water, and food.
...

In the protection of Mni Woc’oni, it is more than oil pipelines threatening the well-being and future of our water. Near the native territory of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, concentrated animal feeding operations or “CAFOs” are draining and degrading the land and water. As a result, the air is toxic, swamps have dried up, and aquifers, to which the people are supposed to have water rights, are being drained. Residents have mortgaged their homes to fight these threats in court and lost. In other places — in mining spills across South America and Africa and at Fukushima — man has gone too far.

Water is a source of life, not a resource.

Pierre's buckskin jacket won't help Justin this time.

The Guardian Meets Charles Dickens



When it comes to my daily scour of the news it always starts with a quick scan of the CBC website and then on to the serious stuff, beginning with The Guardian. While there are those who take jabs at it as the "nanny paper" I find it the best mainstream paper for a progressive take on the day's events.

The Guardian offers what you don't find in most papers. It has a dedicated environment section and recently it has introduced a section on the worsening problem of inequality.

There's an item, albeit from last month, detailing how our governments' obsession with short term growth has produced historically high levels of inequality and, in particular, greater generational disparity. Put simply, our political caste is (probably inadvertently) pursuing economic policies that are failing to protect future generations - our kids and our grandchildren. Quelle surprise!

the WEF report warns that both rich and poor countries are failing to protect future generations – highlighting high levels of public debt and economic drivers that depend on a high rate of carbon dioxide emissions as two key factors.

Even in countries with the strongest economic growth in terms of GDP, such as the US, the report found evidence of “inclusion” (where increased wealth and opportunity is being shared more widely) to be lacking.

It's true. For the sake of short-term prosperity we are offloading on our young generation the butcher's bill of climate change impacts most of us can't really imagine while ensuring they'll be burdened with the tax load of servicing our deficits and therefore less than ideally positioned to deal with those impacts. And the blame for that rests as much with Obama as it does with Trump and with Trudeau as much as it does with Harper. Of the Ten Commandments of Neoliberalism, that might just be Number One.

Then there's a global comparison of inequality by country. It's broken into five tiers. Tier One, the most equal societies, is the preserve of certain European countries, the Ukraine on top - who knew?, plus, of course, the Scandinavians. Canada, along with most of Western Europe, Australia, India and the Asia Pacific nations occupy Tier Two. Tier Three is dominated by the United States, China and Russia along with a smattering of countries in South America and Africa. The U.S. seems to be the only representative of the Western World in Tier Three.  Tier Four, where it must be really ugly seems limited to Brazil and a couple of African states. America isn't there - yet.

There's a piece on the Death of the American Dream. It revolves around a report showing America's poor are 20 times less convinced that hard work will bring them prosperity than their counterparts in Latin America. Ouch.

 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Climate Lemmings. You Either Are or You're Not.


I think very few among us have any realistic idea of how far down the climate change road we've already gone. That includes our political leadership. No question about that.

It's hard to keep track of what's going on even a couple of thousand miles away much less in more distant corners of the world. It takes work and an investment of time that could be put to other uses to stay on top of what's happening. TV news isn't going to keep you up to date even when they do have dramatic pictures.

Pretty much all of us are living in some form of climate change anomaly. We've got ours out on the Pacific coast. Follow that coastline a couple of thousand miles south and they've got a somewhat different anomaly. My relatives in eastern Canada are dealing with their own climate anomaly. Ditto for every other continent and regions within those continents.

Temperature fluctuations are one area of climate anomaly. We've just had another mid-winter, dark of night, temperature anomaly in the high Arctic where it's been some 25 degrees Celsius hotter than normal - above freezing. Eastern Canada has had some bitter winter conditions. It spread into the American eastern seaboard too.

It's chaotic, schizophrenic in a way. Washington, D.C. was freezing. Trump was mocking climate scientists, praying for a little global warming for the capitol. His prayers were answered. Wednesday saw the earliest 80 degree (F) day in the history of the US capitol. Here's a temperature map for yesterday from the US Weather Service.



"What we have is a large-scale pattern that wouldn't be too uncommon in the spring," said meteorologist Patrick Burke of the National Weather Service. "But it's a little bit unusual to see it set up this way in February—and set up with such persistence."

Central Park hit 76°F. Boston had back-to-back 70°F days. Towns in Virginia and Vermont were pushing 80°F, with some Vermont towns warning residents that rapid snowmelt from the heat could cause a new round of flooding. In Pittsburgh, a high of 78°F beat a record set in 1891 by a whopping 10 degrees.


Some call this emerging pattern of severe fluctuations in formerly stable seasonal conditions "global weirding."  I think that's an unduly benign term, one that can lull us into the lemming-like state that seems to have taken hold of us.

The Potsdam scientists warned us this week that every five years of our ongoing failure to dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions will translate into an extra 20 cms., 8 inches, of sea level rise by 2100 ("best case" scenario). These clear warnings cut no ice in Washington or Ottawa or any provincial capitol for that matter. 

You don't have a cadre of climate scientists at your beck and call. The same can't be said for our prime minister and premiers. They've got experts at their fingertips if only they chose to receive what they needed to hear instead of what they wanted to hear or simply not near at all.

There is a trickle down effect. The lemming-like indifference among our top political leadership sets the tone for the general public. They can't build up our awareness of the impacts of climate change, our remaining options for mitigation and adaptation, and the urgency of taking action without exposing their own failures and so they're not even trying. And, by their self-serving indifference, they leave many of us more vulnerable to denialist arguments.

It recently emerged that we're just five years away from hitting what our government has proclaimed the "never exceed" point of global warming - 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Our government, however, acts as thought we've got twenty, perhaps 30 years (the lifetime of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline) before we have to worry about this.  The US Energy Department, meanwhile, projects there'll be no reduction in America's carbon footprint before at least 2050. They're expecting an emissions increase. Sounds like a safe bet. And ExxonMobil has assured its shareholders that the company is confident it will sell every last barrel of oil in its existing proven reserves and whatever new reserves it can discover in the future. This seems to be confirmed by the International Energy Agency's outlook to 2040 that shows robust growth in oil sales to 2025 and continued, albeit slower growth, in oil markets to 2040.

In other words, the petro-party is far from over and it's not going to stop for the foreseeable future.  Good luck.

Monbiot, Again - This Time on the Scourge of Wealth Accumulation



It's not a plot. The hyper-rich haven't masterminded some scheme to suck the wealth and power out of the rest of us. Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, says it's an entirely natural process, one that has dire implications if left unchecked.

Wealth and power concentrate not because those we confront are wicked (though there are one or two). Their escalation, in the absence of a political movement to restrain it, is an intrinsic feature of complex human societies. It occurred even in the world’s first cities, in southern Mesopotamia.

A useful way of looking at this problem is the concept of patrimonial capital, popularised by Thomas Piketty*. Piketty showed that when the return on capital increases faster than the growth of economic output, inequality spirals, social mobility stalls and the enterprise economy is replaced by a rentier economy.

In other words, once you have money and property, you can use it to accumulate more money and property, taking an ever greater share of society’s wealth, through the harvesting of economic rent. By economic rent I mean charging people over the odds to use a non-reproducible resource over which you exercise exclusive control. Think, for example, of the ridiculous price we pay in the UK for train tickets, because the train companies have us over a barrel.

By this means, through no enterprise of their own, the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. This process has no natural limits. Eventually, as we’ve seen in the past, the very rich can capture almost the entire production of society.

At this point, the debt, destitution and unemployment that results can cause economic collapse
: the Great Depression is a good example.

This predicament is not a perversity of the system. It is an innate characteristic. It is bound to work this way, unless there is a political movement capable of breaking the vicious circle of wealth accumulation.

But the problem doesn’t end there. The economic power of the owners of wealth translates into political power. The richer a tiny segment of society becomes, the better it is able to capture politics and undermine democracy. Eventually, we get a government of the elite, by the elite, for the elite. Does that sound at all familiar?


On Reformation:

The right will never break the power of patrimonial wealth, because the right exists to defend it. But the left, when it remembers what it’s for, exists to confront it.

During the 1940s, when the left was arguably at the peak of its power in mainstream politics, the top rate of income tax in the US rose to 94%, and in the UK to 98%. Economists today look back on these rates and describe them as irrational. They argue that the Laffer Curve suggests that governments raise no further revenue above a rate of about 70%. But this is to miss the point. The point of these taxes was not just to raise revenue, but to break the power of patrimonial capital, and the vicious circle of wealth accumulation and inequality.

They did so to great effect, which is why this nation came to enjoy, for the first time in our history, decent housing for working people, a National Health Service, high employment and shared wellbeing and a robust social safety net to ensure that no one fell into the condition suffered by people in the Old Nicol.

But after Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan came to power, top rates of tax were slashed, trade unions were suppressed, regulations, including rent controls, were torn down, and patrimonial wealth began to rise again. The vicious circle began to turn once more. Unfortunately, 13 years of Labour government did little to address this, because Tony Blair and Gordon Brown failed to understand the power of patrimonial capital, or the need to contain it.

Monbiot's remarks are, of course, directed to his homeland, Britain.  Yet this accumulation of patrimonial wealth is also alive and well on our side of the Atlantic. Just as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown failed to understand it, so too does today's Canadian government.

Another Reminder of Why Athabasca Bitumen Must Be Left In The Ground



It's February. In the Arctic it's pitch black. The darkness lasts until early March.

February in the Arctic is normally cold, very cold. Only it's not, not this year. It's 25 degrees Celsius above normal. It's been above freezing.

On Monday and Tuesday, the northernmost weather station in the world, Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland, experienced more than 24 hours of temperatures above freezing according to the Danish Meteorological Institute.

"How weird is that?" tweeted Robert Rohde, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley. "Well it's Arctic winter. The sun set in October and won't be seen again until March. Perpetual night, but still above freezing."

...

This next batch of abnormally warm air is forecast to shoot the gap between Greenland and northern Europe through the Greenland and Barents seas. Similar circumstances occurred in December 2016, when the temperature at the North Pole last flirted with the melting point in the dark, dead of winter. Similarly large jumps in temperature were documented in November 2016 and December 2015.

An analysis from Climate Central said these extreme winter warming events in the Arctic, once rare, could become commonplace if the planet continues warming. A study in the journal Nature published in 2016 found the decline of sea ice in the Arctic "is making it easier for weather systems to transport this heat polewards."

Arctic sea ice was at its lowest extent on record this past January, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"I have sailed boats through [the Arctic Sea] but never this time of year," tweeted David Thoreson, an Arctic photographer. "It's amazing to watch this unfold."

The record-setting temperatures and lack of ice is exactly what scientists have projected over the Arctic for years and it's fundamentally changing the landscape.


A study was just released predicting that for every 5 years we delay in slashing carbon emissions, we can expect an additional 20 cm. of sea level rise by the end of the century. That's a 'best case' scenario. It could be much more.

We've also been put on notice that, if we were to fully exploit Tar Sands bitumen, it's the end of our hopes for limiting global warming to a survivable level. There are people in Canada, powerful people, for whom this doesn't matter or at least not remotely enough to rein in this sector of our economy. They cling to the same morality that looked the other way while asbestos, banned for use in Canada, was exported for use in the Third World. When it comes to trade, that's when we see the shallowness of our vaunted Canadian values.

It Ain't Over Until Fat Donald Cries "Uncle"



Donald Trump is so desperate to get free of his very own Russia scandal that he's reading things into documents that simply aren't there.

Ed Luce, writing in the Financial Times says that Trump will never escape Russia.

Donald Trump may no longer be interested in Russia, but Russia is interested in him. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has now indicted 19 people — including 13 Russians and five Americans who worked on Mr Trump’s campaign. That was just the start. When Mr Mueller gets round to Moscow’s election hacking, more Russians and Americans will surely be added. The Watergate investigation took two years to play out from burglary to presidential resignation. Nine months into the job, Mr Mueller looks to be on a similar timetable....

 [T]he biggest Russian shoe is yet to drop. Last week’s indictments focused on the St Petersburg-based internet troll farm. They said nothing about the email hacking of the Democratic party’s headquarters and senior members of Mrs Clinton’s campaign. Unlike the fake news operation, which was headed by a friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin, the hacking was almost certainly pulled off by the FSB and the GRU, Russia’s two main intelligence agencies. They funnelled their material through WikiLeaks, the site run by the fugitive Julian Assange. 

Roger Stone, Mr Trump’s first campaign manager, had a knack for guessing when WikiLeaks would dump its next cache. Mr Trump would then forecast it from the hustings. He cited WikiLeaks 164 times in the last four weeks of the general election. The timing of the leaks was always helpful. The largest dump took place 32 minutes after the release of the notorious Access Hollywood tapes. Who is to say that smoke bomb did not alter the US election? Nobody can prove Russia’s impact either way, of course. With each move by Mr Mueller, Mr Trump will only become more obsessed with disproving it. 

The stand-off between Mr Mueller and the US president is a geopolitical gift to Mr Putin. Mr Trump is unable to take the tough line on Moscow his advisers are urging. Six months after Congress passed new Russia sanctions, Mr Trump has yet to implement them. The gulf between Mr Trump’s instincts and the advice he receives is widening. His administration formally defines Russia as an adversary. That would have been Mrs Clinton’s stance were she in power. Mr Trump disagrees with it. America’s allies have no idea whom to believe — the president, or the people who work for him. They say different things.

Mr Putin is also reaping ideological dividends. Russia’s aim is to “sow discord” in US democracy, according to Mr Mueller. Mr Putin could open a new bank with the proceeds. Last week Dan Coats, Mr Trump’s director of national intelligence, told Congress he was sure Moscow would interfere in the upcoming US midterm elections. Yet Mr Trump will not even refer to the threat. His administration is doing very little to boost the resilience of America’s election process. We should put Mr Coats down as another dispensable pawn. 

But the largest breakdown is with America’s law enforcement agencies. The Federal Bureau of Investigation says Russia tried to sabotage US democracy. Mr Trump insists that claim is a hoax. He even blamed last week’s Florida school massacre on the FBI probe. The agency had spent “too much time on Russia collusion” to act on tip offs about the school shooter, he said. That takes some mind-bending. Are they “laughing their asses off” in Moscow, as Mr Trump tweeted last weekend? They ought to be. America’s president is a gift that keeps on giving.

So just what is going on between the American president and Russia? Those who might know aren't talking, not yet. All most of us know is that something doesn't make sense. Refusing to implement Congressionally mandated sanctions makes no sense. Refusing to move to defend the United States against another hacked election, the 2018 mid-terms, doesn't make any sense. As the New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, recently wrote, Trump is hiding something.







Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Monbiot - The Town that Discovered a New Medicine for What Ails Its People.



The Guardian's George Monbiot has a look at how the town of Frome, Somerset, managed to slash its emergency room admissions by tackling loneliness and isolation.

This week the results from a trial in the Somerset town of Frome are published informally, in the magazine Resurgence & Ecologist. (A scientific paper has been submitted to a medical journal and is awaiting peer review). We should be cautious about embracing data before it is published in the academic press, and must always avoid treating correlation as causation. But this shouldn’t stop us feeling a shiver of excitement about the implications, if the figures turn out to be robust and the experiment can be replicated.

 What this provisional data appears to show is that when isolated people who have health problems are supported by community groups and volunteers, the number of emergency admissions to hospital falls spectacularly. While across the whole of Somerset emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% during the three years of the study, in Frome they fell by 17%. Julian Abel, a consultant physician in palliative care and lead author of the draft paper, remarks: “No other interventions on record have reduced emergency admissions across a population.”
...

The point was to break a familiar cycle of misery: illness reduces people’s ability to socialise, which leads in turn to isolation and loneliness, which then exacerbates illness.

This cycle is explained by some fascinating science, summarised in a recent paper in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. Chemicals called cytokines, which function as messengers in the immune system and cause inflammation, also change our behaviour, encouraging us to withdraw from general social contact. This, the paper argues, is because sickness, during the more dangerous times in which our ancestral species evolved, made us vulnerable to attack. Inflammation is now believed to contribute to depression. People who are depressed tend to have higher cytokine levels.

But, while separating us from society as a whole, inflammation also causes us to huddle closer to those we love. Which is fine – unless, like far too many people in this age of loneliness, you have no such person. One study suggests that the number of Americans who say they have no confidant has nearly tripled in two decades. In turn, the paper continues, people without strong social connections, or who suffer from social stress (such as rejection and broken relationships), are more prone to inflammation. In the evolutionary past, social isolation exposed us to a higher risk of predation and sickness. So the immune system appears to have evolved to listen to the social environment, ramping up inflammation when we become isolated, in the hope of protecting us against wounding and disease. In other words, isolation causes inflammation, and inflammation can cause further isolation and depression.

Swindled. How Vulnerable People in America and Elsewhere Were Conned into Faux Populism


Donald Trump's die hard supporters still believe he's a populist who will deliver them from the evils of globalism. He's not. He's a swindler and the Gullibillies are his lawful prey.

David Adler, writing in The New Republic, examines why, "Right-Wing Populism Can't Fix Globalization."



Across Europe and North America, the rise of populism was widely seen as a backlash against globalization by its losers and left-behinds. Their vote reflected discontent with decades of international economic integration, which came at the cost of democratic control. Populist candidates were elected with the mandate to take back that control.

Many observers made sense of this transformation in the terms of Rodrik’s “trilemma of the world economy.” The trilemma stipulates that we can satisfy only two of the three following conditions: global economic integration, national sovereignty, and substantive democracy. Within this framework, the populist turn was away from globalization + sovereignty and toward democracy + sovereignty. Or so the argument went.

Today, the true intentions of these right-radical movements are clear. Far from changing course, they are doubling down on hyper-globalization—deepening the democratic deficit along the way.

If the great globalization lie was a tragedy—a sour mix of bad economics, technocratic politics, and simple bad faith—the populist reaction is cruel farce. Proudly pointing out the mistakes of globalization, it does everything it can to repeat them.


Donald Trump's "False Flag"

Trump’s term in office may have begun with a noisy ejection from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but his big promise of protectionism has been mostly smoke and mirrors. A campaign trail attack on China for its “rape” of American workers has softened to praise for President Xi Jinping—a “very special man,” in Trump’s words—and $250 billion in bilateral business agreements. An attack on Wall Street for “getting away with murder” has turned into a generous program of regulatory rollback in support of a “devastated” finance industry. And the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 to just 21 percent—a generous invitation to international capital, not a challenge to it.

But what about in the domestic economy? Has the Trump administration drained the swamp to give voice to the American worker?


Quite the opposite. The walls of the White House are padded thick with special interests—far more than two decades ago, when Bill Clinton first pushed the Third Way agenda. The administration has eliminated rules against lobbyists entering the White House, and it has eliminated the publication of the visitors’ logs that held these lobbyists accountable to the public. “Do you have a regulation that we should put on a list to eliminate?” the White House regularly asks lobbyists. “Is there something that is impeding you from growing?”
...

If we are to unwind from excessive economic integration, then, it must be on progressive terms. Fortification of the nation-state means nothing if it leads to a race to the bottom of regulatory standards. Progressives can only justify their extraction from international regulatory frameworks if they are prepared to introduce an even more robust set of regulations, protections, and provisions for economic investment—to redistribute power, in other words, back to the people, and not just between geographies of elites.



The NYT Asks: What Does Real Populism Look Like?


The term "populism" has been smothered in negative connotations lately as though it is the preserve of sketchy characters like Donald Trump or Victor Orban. Yet theirs is a perversion of true populism, a ploy to foment and harness public discontent for ulterior purposes.

Having spent some time over the past several years exploring progressivism I came to realize that progressivism, like nationalism, came in two essentially contradictory iterations, positive and negative.

Negative nationalism, for example, is a blend of paranoia and xenophobia. It posits the "other" as a threat. Positive nationalism is internal and focuses on what is right and good within one's nation and what can be done to make it better. Negative nationalism perceives the nation as awash in threats and perils. Positive nationalism works to improve.

In today's New York Times, Harvard prof, Dani Rodrik*, considers populism in its positive context - an embodiment of the New Deal.


The early history of American populism, culminating in the New Deal, suggests a more productive and less damaging kind of populism. When populism succeeds, it does so not by cosmetic gimmicks but by going after the roots of economic injustice directly.

At the 1896 Democratic National Convention, the 36-year-old former Nebraska congressman William Jennings Bryan delivered what became one of the most famous lines of American political oratory: “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” Bryan’s immediate target was the gold standard, an emblem of the globalization of his day, which he blamed for the economic difficulties of what he called the “toiling masses.” Bryan ran for president that year as the joint candidate of the Democratic Party and of the People’s Party, also known as the Populist Party.

...

The populist backlash unleashed by advanced stages of economic globalization should not have been a surprise, least of all to economists. The warning signs are right there in the basic economic theory we teach in the classroom. Yes, globalization expands economic opportunities: There are gains from trade. But globalization also entails stark distributional consequences, with some groups almost always left worse off. Factory closings, job displacement and offshoring are the flip side of the gains from trade.

...

William Jennings Bryan ultimately failed in his quest for the presidency, and the People’s Party imploded because of regional and ideological divisions. But many of the Populists’ economic ideas, such as the progressive income tax, regulations on big business and much greater government control of the economy, were absorbed by the progressive movement and became part of the political mainstream.

It wasn’t until 1933 that the Populists’ main plank, the end of the gold standard, was adopted. By then the United States was mired in the Great Depression, and Franklin D. Roosevelt had decided the economy needed the monetary boost that adherence to the gold standard precluded. Internationalists complained that Roosevelt acted unilaterally, but he had little patience with orthodox economic ideas or shackles — foreign or domestic — on his conduct of economic policy. At home, he had to fight conservative courts to put his New Deal reforms in place.

By his day’s standards, and perhaps also today’s, Roosevelt was an economic populist. But the New Deal reinvigorated the market economy and saved capitalism from itself. It may also have saved democracy, as it helped staved off the dangerous demagogues and chauvinist ideologues, of which there were plenty (such as Father Coughlin and Huey Long).

...

If our economic rules empower corporations and financial interests excessively, then the correct response is to rewrite those rules — at home as well as abroad. If trade agreements serve mainly to reshuffle income to capital and corporations, the answer is to rebalance them to make them friendlier to labor and society at large. If governments feel themselves powerless to institute the tax policies and regulations needed to address the dislocations caused by economic and technological shocks, the solution is not just to seek more national autonomy but also to deploy it toward such reforms.

A populism of this kind can seem like a frontal attack on the economic sacred cows of the day — just as earlier waves of American populism were. But it is an honest populism that stands a chance of achieving its stated objectives, without harming fundamental democratic norms of tolerance and equal citizenship.

*Dani Rodrik was featured on this blog in August, 2016, for a piece he wrote for the Financial Times discussing what he described as "the inescapable trilemma of the world economy."  He summed it up succinctly, "democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three but never have all three simultaneously and in full.”

There's No Time for Ottawa's "Bitumen-Green" Economy.


We're writing the future now for generations of Canadians to come and it's indelible.

A new study concludes that every five years we delay strong action on climate change will add an extra 8 inches of sea level rise by this century's end.

“One important point was to reveal that sea level [rise] is not in the far future, it’s now, and because the system is so slow, we just can’t see it at the moment,” said Matthias Mengel of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the lead author of the study, which was published in Nature Communications. “But we cause it now.
...

The goal is to limit warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which requires that the world essentially cease adding any more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2050 or so.

This, in turn, means that global greenhouse gas emissions must reach a peak by either 2020, 2025 or 2030 (or possibly 2035) and then begin to decline rapidly. The longer the wait, the faster the necessary decline after the peak. If we delay longer still, it simply becomes too difficult to bring emissions down fast enough to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.
...

For every five-year delay in the peaking of emissions, the middle-range sea level projection for 2300 increased by 20 centimeters, or about eight inches, the study found.

“The more cumulative emissions, the more warming, the more sea level,” Mengel explained.

And that’s just the central estimate in the study. At the extreme end of what’s relatively unlikely but still certainly possible, the research found that each five-year delay could mean as much as an additional meter, or over three feet, of sea level rise. That is because of the ever-growing chance of major destabilization of the Antarctic ice sheet. In some small number of scenarios, even with the sharp emissions reductions contemplated by the Paris agreement, the Antarctic ice sheet still gives up meters worth of sea level rise.

It's becoming inarguable that Justin Trudeau isn't taking this seriously. Instead he's gambling with the future, our grandkids' future. Even Liberals should find that reprehensible.

And So It Goes. Mueller Files New Charges against Manafort and Gates.


The indictment is sealed meaning it will be a while before the nature of the new charges against Paul Manafort and his former sidekick, Rick Gates. Gates has pleaded guilty to some earlier charges and is believed to be cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

Monday, February 19, 2018

What Is Trump Hiding?


New York Times columnist Tom Friedman concludes that Donald Trump's abject indifference to Russian hacking of America's elections admits of just two possibilities: either Trump is criminally incompetent or there's something he's hiding from the American people.


Our democracy is in serious danger.

President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.

That is, either Trump’s real estate empire has taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin — so much that they literally own him; or rumors are true that he engaged in sexual misbehavior while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape and he doesn’t want released; or Trump actually believes Russian President Vladimir Putin when he says he is innocent of intervening in our elections — over the explicit findings of Trump’s own C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. chiefs.

In sum, Trump is either hiding something so threatening to himself, or he’s criminally incompetent to be commander in chief. It is impossible yet to say which explanation for his behavior is true, but it seems highly likely that one of these scenarios explains Trump’s refusal to respond to Russia’s direct attack on our system — a quiescence that is simply unprecedented for any U.S. president in history. Russia is not our friend. It has acted in a hostile manner. And Trump keeps ignoring it all.

Friedman's got a point. After all, Congress passed additional sanctions against Russia and Putin's clique. Trump didn't veto the measures but he's balked at implementing them. Without Trump's nod they won't go into effect.


It is so obvious what Trump is up to: Again, he is either a total sucker for Putin or, more likely, he is hiding something that he knows the Russians have on him, and he knows that the longer Mueller’s investigation goes on, the more likely he will be to find and expose it.

Donald, if you are so innocent, why do you go to such extraordinary lengths to try to shut Mueller down? And if you are really the president — not still head of the Trump Organization, who moonlights as president, which is how you so often behave — why don’t you actually lead — lead not only a proper cyberdefense of our elections, but also an offense against Putin.
...

But whatever it is, Trump is either trying so hard to hide it or is so na├»ve about Russia that he is ready to not only resist mounting a proper defense of our democracy, he’s actually ready to undermine some of our most important institutions, the F.B.I. and Justice Department, to keep his compromised status hidden.

That must not be tolerated. This is code red. The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office.

The Case for Resuscitating Liberalism (While There's Still Time)


Is liberalism dead in the modern era? The Atlantic's James Traub (former editor of Foreign Policy) argues that it's certainly on the ropes but might be salvageable.

[P]erhaps, like God, liberalism has been buried prematurely. Maybe the question that we should be asking is not what killed liberalism, but rather, what can we learn from liberalism’s long story of persistence—and how can we apply those insights in order to help liberalism write a new story for our own time.

Liberalism is not a doctrine founded on a sacred text, like Communism. It is something more like a set of predispositions—a faith in individuals and their capacity for growth, a tempered optimism that expects progress but recoils before utopian dreams, a belief in open debate and the possibility of persuasion, an insistence upon secularism in the public realm, an orientation towards civil rights and civil liberties. Precisely because it has no canon, liberalism perpetually redefines and renews itself. Liberalism is not intrinsically majoritarian, but because it fully thrives only in democracies, seeks to align itself with the broad public will.

Nevertheless, liberalism has a core, and that is the right of the individual to stand apart. John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” is the closest thing liberalism has to a founding tract. Mill set out to explain why it was in the interest of society in general to give individuals the greatest possible right to speak and act as they wish. Individuals, that is, do not have some kind of “natural right” to free speech independent from its social value. Rather, he wrote, mankind is fallible; our saving grace is that our errors are “corrigible.” We acknowledge our fallibility by listening to those with whom we disagree, and testing our ideas against the strongest possible counter-argument. Only thus do we have a chance of approximating, if not actually reaching, the truth.

Read today, this passage sounds as archaic as the chivalric code. In our own world, after all, free speech abounds while the intellectual habits that make free speech actually matter degenerate. The rhetoric of “fake news” turns different sides of the political debate into rival camps, each encased in its own cognitive bubble. In The Open Society, written in the heyday of Nazi Germany, Karl Popper described irrationalism as the sine qua non of the totalitarian state. Popper and Mill compel us to ask an epistemological question: How can the quintessentially rationalist faith of liberalism flourish in an age that systematically demeans rationality?
...

In The Once and Future Liberal, Mark Lilla argues that the growing obsession with identity politics has stripped liberals of the civic language they long used to address the American people collectively. Now, Lilla observes, conversations on race, gender or ethnicity often begin with the privilege-claiming expression, “Speaking as a…” Hurling the ultimate insult, Lilla describes this as the Reaganism—the harsh individualism—of the left.

I doubt whether the near-obsession with identity issues can be uprooted from the heart of the Democratic Party. But liberalism’s appeal has always sprung from its commitment to the language of collective interest—the language of “we.” This offers liberalism a platform very different from the insistent “I” of conservatism, and the “they” of populism—the not-us, whether elites or their clients. One way of thinking about the choice liberals face is this: At a moment of intense polarization, they must either return to the old “we” or deploy their own version of “us and them.”
...

The meritocracy of professionals and academics and upper-white-collar workers has ossified in recent years into something that looks to people on the outside more like an oligarchy. In The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Edward Luce dubs this phenomenon “hereditary meritocracy.” Luce observes that about a quarter of American children from the top 1 percent of the income scale attend an elite university, while only 0.5 percent of those from the bottom fifth do. The well-to-do also have access to tutors and private guidance counselors and fancy summer programs and the like. “Why wouldn’t the losers be angry?” Luce asks.

Patrick Deneen, the author of Why Liberalism Died, has a word for this class: the “liberalocracy.” While the aristocratic family perpetuated itself through the landed estate, Deneen writes, the liberalocratic family rests upon the legacy of liberal individualism “loose generational ties, portable credentials, the inheritance of fungible wealth, and the promise of mobility.” Deneen insists that the hereditary meritocracy is not an aberration of liberalism, but its greatest achievement, since a system built on impersonal considerations of “merit” is impervious to attack in liberal terms.
...

There is, in fact, no sharper difference between left-liberalism and right-liberalism than the estate tax, with its implicit principle that privilege ought not be transmitted generationally. There is no better rebuttal of Deneen’s contempt for liberalism. And there is no better way of standing up against the power of money in politics, the great theme that brought Bernie Sanders to the brink of the Democratic nomination. No less important, the willingness of the left, unlike the right, to gore its own ox might demonstrate to hard-pressed Americans that the liberal elite understands, as it once understood, the meaning of sacrifice.

But do liberals understand sacrifice? Liberalism did grave damage to its reputation in the 1960s by demanding real sacrifices from ordinary people and very little from elites, whose children were not the ones being bused to inner-city schools, nor drafted and sent off to fight in Vietnam. Has anything changed today? So many of the things liberals favor—globalization, a generous immigration policy, an increase in the minimum wage, affirmative action—do them real good and little harm, while impinging, or at least seeming to impinge, on Americans a few steps down the ladder. What do liberals favor that’s good for America broadly but not good for them? Still thinking?

This is not a problem for conservatives, who believe in the social value of selfishness. But liberals fancy themselves idealists. They need to prove it by pulling themselves off their perch. What about mandatory national service? Not killing anyone—that’s for professionals—but clearing brush in a national park. I would advocate eliminating legacy admissions at elite universities, as others like Richard Reeves of Brookings have argued, save that I can’t believe that institutions whose economic model depends on alumni donations will ever do that.

National service and even the estate tax are essentially emblems; perhaps sacrifice itself is a kind of emblem. But it is a language that Americans understand, and appreciate. If liberals are to find a way to speak to Americans who have been trained to regard them as the spawn of Satan, it will not be enough, as Hillary Clinton amply demonstrated, to have the best policies. The death-knell of liberalism really might prove to be premature if liberals can rediscover the deep sources of the collective “we” in the face of Donald Trump’s devastating strategy of “me” and “us.”

Well that Explains It. How, Yet Again, Little Norway Kicks the World's Ass.



It has a population way smaller than the Greater Toronto Area's 6.4 million. Norwegians come in at just 5.3 million.

It's a country of many truly remarkable "firsts." Longevity, standard of living, quality of life and more. It also has the world's largest sovereign wealth fund. Unlike Alberta, Norway didn't squander its oil wealth.

Now people are asking how Norway is kicking everyone's ass at the winter olympics. USA Today went in search of the answers.



“We’re not a gorilla beating its chest,” said Tore Ovrebo, the Norwegian Olympic Committee’s director of elite sports.
...

And ironically, for a country that’s been winning everything here, Ovrebo believes much of the success traces back to its disregard for the scoreboard with younger athletes.

Unlike the U.S., where we keep score of everything all the time, Norway puts kids in sports but doesn’t let them keep score until age 13. The idea is to make sports part of their social development so that the motivation to stay involved is to have fun with their friends, not winning.

Eventually, of course, the Norwegians introduce competition and the most advanced sports science techniques they can develop to pump out their medal-hoarding biathletes, skiers and ski jumpers. But the idea, Ovrebo said, isn’t to have the highest-ranked 10-year-old athletes in the world but rather the most mature adults.

“A huge amount of Norwegian kids are doing sports, so we have very broad recruiting base, and our top sports programs and our kids are very closely connected in our system,” Ovrebo said. “They can compete, but we don’t make like No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 before they’re in their 13th year. We think it’s better to be a child in this way because then they can concentrate on having fun and be with their friends and develop. We think the biggest motivation for the kids to do sports that they do it with their friends and they have fun while they’re doing it and we want to keep that feeling throughout their whole career.”\


And fun remains a key tenet of the Norwegian experience even when they grow up, which is important since, as Ovrebo acknowledges, “it’s not a very competitive society from the start.” In other words, Norway doesn’t look at sports as an avenue to fame and fortune, nor is it an escape from their troubles. Because most Norwegians, it turns out, don’t have many troubles given the universal health care, free college education and high employment rates.

“We have quite a high level of life quality for a very high percentage of the people and that puts them in a position where they can actually choose sports as a kind of self-realization and development arena,” Ovrebo said. “They’re not struggling for their lives, so they’re quite free and quite educated and have good health state. That means many of the youth are actually in a position where they can choose sports.”


Yeah, it makes sense. You know it does.

And, get this. Norway withholds the weight of its athletes out of sensitivity to weight-related disorders. How tall is Svend? He's 6'2". What does he weigh? None of your damned business.




The Social Pathologies of Collapse


As a companion piece to the previous post, here are excerpts from  Umair Haque's essay, "Why We're Underestimating America's Collapse."

Haque offers up five trends, pathologies that he contends evidence America's collapse. These five are the staccato rhythm of school shootings; the opiod epidemic; the rise of "nomadic retirees," people living in cars travelling the US in search of low-wage jobs; the decline of American life expectancy (Costa Ricans now live longer than Americans); and Number Five:

And that is my last pathology: it is one of the soul, not one of the limbs, like the others above. American appear to be quite happy simply watching one another die, in all the ways above. They just don’t appear to be too disturbed, moved, or even affected by the four pathologies above: their kids killing each other, their social bonds collapsing, being powerless to live with dignity,or having to numb the pain of it all away.

If these pathologies happened in any other rich country — even in most poor ones — people would be aghast, shocked, and stunned, and certainly moved to make them not happen. But in America, they are, well, not even resigned. They are indifferent, mostly.

So my last pathology is a predatory society. A predatory society doesn’t just mean oligarchs ripping people off financially. In a truer way, it means people nodding and smiling and going about their everyday business as their neighbours, friends, and colleagues die early deaths in shallow graves. The predator in American society isn’t just its super-rich — but an invisible and insatiable force: the normalization of what in the rest of the world would be seen as shameful, historic, generational moral failures, if not crimes, becoming mere mundane everyday affairs not to be too worried by or troubled about.


And Haque has a warning for the rest of us.

American collapse is a catastrophe of human possibility without modern parallel . And because the mess that America has made of itself, then, is so especially unique, so singular, so perversely special — the treatment will have to be novel, too. The uniqueness of these social pathologies tell us that American collapse is not like a reversion to any mean, or the downswing of a trend. It is something outside the norm. Something beyond the data. Past the statistics. It is like the meteor that hit the dinosaurs: an outlier beyond outliers, an event at the extreme of the extremes. That is why our narratives, frames, and theories cannot really capture it — much less explain it. We need a whole new language — and a new way of seeing — to even begin to make sense of it.

But that is America’s task, not the world’s. The world’s task is this. Should the world follow the American model — extreme capitalism, no public investment, cruelty as a way of life, the perversion of everyday virtue — then these new social pathologies will follow, too. They are new diseases of the body social that have emerged from the diet of junk food — junk media, junk science, junk culture, junk punditry, junk economics, people treating one another and their society like junk — that America has fed upon for too long.

Requiem for American Democracy


It truly was a death of a thousand cuts. It was years in the making and, when the heart stopped beating, few even noticed, fewer still cared.

Thom Hartman traces the slow but eventually fast collapse of the democratic state and its incremental displacement by today's oligarchy.

But you might scoff and point out that Americans still have elections, they still get to vote. It is the ballots that American voters cast that determine who will go to Washington to govern the nation. In a perfect world, sure. In today's America that's a dangerously fanciful notion.

A vital democracy depends on an informed electorate able to vote freely. The people who killed off American democracy had those very elements in their gun sights. They knew that a misinformed electorate suitably manipulated were the keys to manufactured consent. The private sector had mastered those techniques for decades. Watch a teenager roaming a mall in a trance, riveted to his smart phone, engaged in text messaging and social media, and you'll see it at work.

When Donald Trump got elected it heralded the passing of the canary of democracy.

Writing in TruthDig, Thom Hartman explores the bellweather of post-democratic America, rampant corruption.

The billionaires doing the seizing of our nation just didn’t come out about it until the presidency of Barack Obama, when the Koch Network, Adelson, the Mercers and the Waltons all became openly, and in some cases braggadociosly political in their “giving.”

...The American Legislative Exchange Council was founded in 1973, right after Lewis Powell’s memo – suggesting a propaganda program to promote the interests of big business and the rich – began circulating through top corporate and high-net-worth circles. That year, too, the Heritage Foundation was created. And in 1977, Charles Koch and friends founded the CATO Institute.

While the efforts of these groups have been multifaceted, their most obvious and deadly impact has been on the ongoing proliferation of weapons of war in America, and the denial of healthcare to millions in so-called red states. With the installation of Reagan, big business and billionaires were finally to get the tax breaks and other goodies that they wanted from Congress and the Executive Branch, while waging war on unions and working people.

But to Lewis Powell, a lawyer by training and the author of the infamous blueprint for billionaires to take over America (now known as The Powell Memo), nothing was more important than targeting the courts.


The Rise of the Corporate State

In the 1970s, as the US Chamber of Commerce focused on the courts, employing high-priced, savvy lawyers, and flooding the Supreme Court chamber with amicus briefs, a string of explosive decisions throughout the decade gave the #MorbidlyRich what they needed to eventually overthrow FDR’s New Deal and to radically reinterpret the 2nd Amendment.

In 1976, in Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court (which Nixon appointed Lewis Powell to in 1972, the year after Powell wrote his infamous memo) ruled that political money is constitutionally protected free speech, changing American law so that those who have the most money would have the most “First Amendment free speech” in our political system. And if there was anything that the NRA was getting good at, it was raising money from weapons manufacturers and others.

That same year, in United States v. Martin Linen Supply Co., corporations – as persons – were given Fifth Amendment protections against double jeopardy, limiting the ability of citizens to go after gun manufacturers, among others.

And in Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, the Supreme Court ruled that corporate advertising (including promoting M15 weapons of war to our kids) is a protected form of free speech. (Ironically, William Rehnquist was the sole dissenter; he argued that corporate “speech” [advertising] was often deceptive. But the deed was done; Caveat emptorbecame the new American normal.)


The Oligarchs Move In For the Kill

Then came the Federalist Society, founded in 1982 with millions of dollars in funding by the Koch-connected Bradley Foundation.

They built a nationwide network of jurists, attorneys, legal scholars, and politicians to indoctrinate a new generation’s legal system with billionaire-friendly interpretations: Corporate personhood is real, money is speech, democracy is not sacred, and organized money should always have privilege over organized people.

They also helped lay the case for the Heller decision, which, for the first time in nearly 230 years, found a “right to individual gun ownership” in the 2nd Amendment.

In 2010 the Supreme Court wrapped its gift to corporations and gun manufacturers all up in a neat little bundle with their 5-4 Citizen’s United ruling. With that decision, America was nearly completely turned over to the wealthy and corporations.

Thereafter, oligarchs like Adelson and the Kochs began openly bragging about how much they were spending to buy politicians, legislation, tax breaks, and the deregulation of consumer protections.
...

And so, a few days after Paul Ryan shepherded through Congress a law that confers potentially billions of dollars in tax benefits to them, the Kochs and their friends put a half-million dollars into Ryan’s fundraising committee, while the NRA continues to shower him and Mitch McConnell with support.

In 1971, only 175 companies had registered lobbyists. By 1982, there were nearly 2,500, and today there are over 12,000 lobbyists just registered in DC. Oligarchs were dumping huge amounts of money lobbying for favorable legislation, although it still isn’t really visible to most Americans until tragedies like mass shootings give us an insight into how it all works.

As the Reagan administration rolled into power in 1981, so, too, did the #MorbidlyRich oligarchs, who were seeding brand-new right-wing think tanks devoted to espousing the same free-market, Andrew Mellon/Warren Harding ideologies that led to the 1929 Great Crash: massive tax cuts, deregulation, and privatization.

The Age of Graft

For example, can you imagine Richard Nixon lying about how environmentally destructive some industrial poisons are? Nixon couldn’t imagine it; he put into place the Environmental Protection Agency. And he was fine with the fairly strong gun control laws that several states, from California to New York, had in place.

But today’s Republican Party (with a few very, very rare exceptions) is so in debt to – so owned by – a few petrobillionaires and coal multimillionaires and oil companies that they’re perfectly willing to look the world in the face and lie through their teeth about the science of global warming.

They’re so fully-owned by the gun lobby/NRA that they’ve made it illegal for the US government to do any meaningful research into gun deaths; they’ve banned doctors, in a number of states including Florida, from even asking kids if there’s a gun in their home; and McConnell and Ryan have successfully prevented any sort of meaningful legislation to restrict guns from getting a vote even when they know it would pass.

Jimmy Carter Says:

"Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over. The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody’s who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger."

Fixing It Won't Be Easy

The most effective way to solve this problem is to pass a constitutional amendment that will proclaim, clearly and unambiguously, that corporations are not persons and that money is not “free speech.” Groups like MoveToAmend.org and Public Citizen have been working on these campaigns for years, and they’re bearing fruit.

Once the power of money is stripped from our political system, the power of gun manufacturers through the NRA will largely evaporate.
...

The NRA’s essentially outright purchase of senators like Richard Burr ($6.3 million in 2016), Marco Rubio ($3.2 million in 2016), Roy Blunt ($3 million), and Rob Portman ($2.2 million) – and Donald Trump ($30 million in the presidential race) – is so obviously corrupt to many of the students in Parkland that they’re furious.

He's right. A constitutional amendment should do it only it would have to survive a thoroughly "bought and paid for" Congress, a undemocratic and unscrupulous White House and an effectively corrupted Supreme Court.





 Amendment. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Brain Candy - Can We Break Our Smartphone Addiction?


Definitely worth a read. Psychiatrist Norman Doidge and former Blackberry CEO Jim Balsillie kick around the growing problem of smartphone addiction. It may be a far worse problem than you imagine. Here's part of the discussion.



Doidge:

Simply put, the chemistry and the wiring of the brain can be manipulated. There are all sorts of behavioural addictions – gambling, online porn, shopping – sthat take hold because they trigger the same areas of the brain as drugs. People are unsuspecting of digital addiction. That's because each addiction – cocaine, heroin, alcohol, video games – has a slightly different form and effect, so it takes a while to recognize any new addiction as such.



Balsillie:

I recently experienced something fascinating that made me see smartphone addiction in a different light: I attended a dinner that included a young teenager. He was constantly engaging with his smartphone. His parents saw that it was poor table manners, so they took it away. The teenager then started to fidget. His eyes darted everywhere. He couldn't calm down and was visibly uncomfortable for the next 45 minutes. I could see the kid was in pain and was manifesting it physically. I know there is always moral panic about technology, but this incident told me that, in the case of smartphones, it might be coming too late. Seeing this kid suffer and not say a word to anyone stayed with me. People now spend on average more than 10 hours a day on their screens. This is no longer an attention economy, but an addiction economy.


Doidge:

Digital tech is especially good at changing our brains without our awareness. The brain is neuroplastic, meaning it has a property that allows it to change its structure and function in response to mental experience. Digital technologies are uniquely "compatible" with the brain, because both are electric and also work at high speeds. Marshall McLuhan figured this out. He argued that all media extend us – the microphone extends the voice, the radio the ear, the computer the brain's processing power. In 1969, he said, "Now man is beginning to wear his brain outside his skull, and his nerves outside his skin." At the time it seemed like one of his more bizarre aphorisms. Few believed the brain was plastic and that the media could work by, in some way, connecting to and rewiring our neurons.


Balsillie:

Are you saying that by using screens 10 hours a day we are, by definition, addicted?


Doidge:

For some, "addiction" is just a metaphor meaning "too dependent on" or "a compulsion." But for many, it is literally true, and they show all the signs of addiction: compulsivity, loss of control of the activity, craving, psychological dependence, using even when harmful. Everywhere we see people who mustcheck their phones every few moments – according to Adam Alter's book Irresistible, the average office e-mail goes unanswered for only six seconds. That's compulsive! They check while driving – that's harmful – and feel agitation when they can't. They stay up late, stuck on their computers, and then can't sleep. In online-porn addictions, people develop tolerance and need ever more stimulation for excitement, and start to crave the porn, without liking it, and feel withdrawal when they try to stop. Addicts always underestimate the time spent on the activity because they're under a spell. If you think of addiction, only in quantitative terms, you worry about, "Am I spending too much time online?" But our brain is sculpted by whatever we do repeatedly, and 10 hours a day also drives huge qualitative changes. The most important factor in any technology is what they do to our brains. In this case, it's plummeting attention spans, patience, memories or how social media is creating insecurity. So there are significant mental-health issues involved.

Well, They All Got a Shoo-In from Ottawa. Thanks, Ottawa. Thanks.


The Globe and Mail has a feature story on how well Vancouver's fentanyl bosses are making out and where they're laundering their money - in high priced Vancouver real estate. Check out the impressive photo gallery here.

It was dirty money – stuffed in the trunk of their Mercedes and behind a seat in their Range Rover. The rest was squirrelled away in a safe and a night table, at a condo they were using.

Small bills – $660,970 in all – covered with traces of deadly fentanyl and other street drugs. Police seized the cash in the spring of 2016, when they arrested Ying Zhang, Zhi Guang Zhang and Wei Zhang, after putting them under surveillance and watching them conduct business in parking lots in and around Vancouver.

They weren't charged with any crimes, despite the evidence that they were peddling opioids that kill people. It's not unusual in B.C. for police to forgo pursuing charges when they find dealers in possession of drug money, but not holding actual drugs. The Zhangs did lose their cash, though, for good: A judge ordered it forfeited to the provincial government as "proceeds of crime."


"Proceeds of crime." That's an apt description for much of Vancouver's toniest real estate, a phenomenon that has led to the displacement of the ordinary people who once lived in those neighbourhoods.

My old neighbourhood succumbed to this government-enabled malignancy. Originally it was a middle class area of cookie-cutter two bedroom bungalows from the 40s with neat lawns, well tended flower beds and a single car garage accessed from the lane in back.

If my neighbours and I had simply held on for another 20 years we could have sold our homes for easily ten and closer to 20 times what we had paid for them. Only, once the first McMansions went up, most of us didn't want to live with a monster house on either side. It looked so forlorn, a modest bungalow sandwiched between monstrosities.

As for the newcomers, it wasn't long before the druggies were knocking on their doors.

A Globe and Mail investigation has discovered that the Zhangs and other local residents associated with drug-related crime are effectively parking their riches in Vancouver-area real estate, where it is rendered clean and secure, without actually owning any of the properties.
...

Just as a bank does, they grant a loan, then register a land-title charge against the borrower's real estate, equal to the value of the debt, plus interest. The charge, which gives them a stake in the real estate, remains in place until the debt is cleared. If the property is sold, the loan gets paid out from the sale proceeds, in clean money, all seemingly legal.

Except these financiers are unregulated and unlicensed and the loans they grant are in cash, which is likely dirty money derived from drug deals or other crimes. The Zhangs charge interest rates of up to 39.6 per cent, with some private lenders demanding up to 120 per cent. Court records show that one of the Zhangs' associates is among those allegedly charging that extortionate level of interest, which is double the maximum legal rate.\

...

Their target customers are wealthy Chinese newcomers or tourists – and their grown children – who've bought property in Canada and who want to use it as leverage to borrow large amounts of cash, as they might with a home-equity line of credit, for gambling or other extravagances. Some borrowers appear to use the loans to pay down other debts.

Typically, their wealth is in China – money that can't easily be wired to B.C., because the Chinese government forbids its citizens from taking more than US$50,000 per year abroad. Most of the homeowners already have at least one mortgage with a Canadian bank, and may have maxed out their legitimate borrowing power in this country.

Enter the private lenders, offering quick, easy money – by word of mouth – through social and business circles.

One of the Zhangs' customers was a real-estate developer, based in China, who has a gambling habit. Jia Gui Gao borrowed tens of millions of dollars – more than his B.C. properties were worth – from several private lenders. Then he simply walked away from $58-million worth of empty Vancouver-area mansions and vacant land he owned, leaving it all to his creditors.

...

Beyond the Zhangs, such private moneylenders in B.C. include Xun Chuang, who has a record of drug crimes; Vinh-Loc Chung, convicted for carrying a restricted firearm; Xiao Ju Guan, found storing ecstasy and other drugs; Ye Jin Li, convicted on drug charges; and Kwok Chung Tam, a long-time Vancouver lender who's been convicted of drug crimes. Mr. Guan also ran a business wiring cash overseas.
We've been setting ourselves up for this going back as far as Mulroney's days when the federal government essentially sold citizenship for a modest investment in some Canadian business of a couple of hundred thousand dollars. A lot of these "investor class" newcomers simply borrowed the requisite sum, invested it in some qualifying asset, i.e. a strip mall often owned by their immigration agent, paid interest on it for a couple of years and then, having met Ottawa's requirements, simply allowed their immigration consultant to recover the asset through foreclosure.

I was involved in looking into this scheme for the Law Society of British Columbia. It was as simple as doing a title search on a subject property and discovering that it had a different owner every two or three years and a history of being foreclosed back to the consultant again and again. As I understand it certain Law Society officials tried to give the information to immigration authorities for action but they didn't seem to think it was their problem.

Meanwhile my old neighbourhood is wrecked. Bare lot prices are well over $2-million. With a megaplex thrown up they fetch closer to $3-million. And yet, in terms of declared income, it's the poorest neighbourhood in the city. That's right. The people who are springing for those $3-million homes seem impoverished, destitute, at least if you don't count the house and those luxury cars that litter the curbside. Thanks Ottawa, thanks.

And what is fearless Justin doing to fight back? The only thing I've heard is his announcement on a visit to the People's Republic that he would be opening a slew of new immigration offices across China. Great, Justin. Great. 

Most of the loans get paid back privately, and no one is the wiser. Once a loan is secured, with real estate as collateral, paying it back, under the radar, is simple. One long-time customer told The Globe that he and most other borrowers make their payments via electronic transfer from their bank accounts in China to accounts that the lenders hold, also in China.

"I can pay the money online on my phone," said the customer, whom The Globe agreed not to name, because he fears repercussions. He added that the lenders work in tandem with people who operate underground banks in China. "We all use our money in China to pay back … We don't have money here."

Those offshore payments are thus delivered to the lenders as clean money – beyond the reach of Canadian law enforcement.

The dubious transactions don't stop there. According to a recent operational alert from FinTRAC, Canadian-based drug-trafficking rings are using money laundered through China to buy fentanyl there. "Financial intelligence suggests that traffickers procure fentanyl, and its analogues and precursors, from overseas sources, mainly in China," said the bulletin. "Traffickers most often pay for these materials with wire transfers and money orders processed by money-services businesses."

Well, Justin, this makes you the latest in a succession of prime ministers who are or have been, through your dereliction, complicit in this enterprise.  Federal Liberals and Tories alike, along with the leadership of the provincial Liberals, have wrecked this city and allowed it to be turned into a money laundering machine for Chinese drug criminals and their fentanyl industry.

At some point Ottawa has to stop being British Columbia's scourge. From pipelines to money laundering, from solid neighbourhoods utterly ruined, to providing the essential foundation for foreign drug gangs and their racketeering, Ottawa keeps treating my province, British Columbia, as their plaything.

UPDATE: It's Better than Sleeping Under a Bridge

Also in The Globe - a report on Vancouver's new nomads. People who can no afford even rent in Vancouver and instead have joined a legion of people who now live on city streets in campers.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Meanwhile, Less Than an Hour Drive from the Bloodstained Halls of a Parkland High School..


What would Presidents' Day Weekend be without a three-day gunshow?  Wall to wall "black guns," assault rifles, AR-15s the weapon of choice for every school massacre. Instruments of mass carnage to fit every budget, some as low as $529. And don't be afraid to hard bargain  either. Chances are you'll walk out with a few extra, high-capacity magazines and ammo thrown in for good measure.




Jorge Fernandez, a manager working the floor at the gun show says he’s expecting a large turnout of gun enthusiasts at the event, which runs through the weekend.

"We don't want people going out to buy guns and using them to kill people," said Fernandez. "But we do need to realize that lawfully licensed gun owners have the right to defend themselves."


Want to See How Easy It Is for Russia (or Anyone) to Manipulate Ordinary People?


And Trump has denied this, denounced it as a "hoax," for so long that experts say it's already too late to take meaningful action to safeguard American democracy in this year's mid-term elections. No collusion, really?

This Australian Paper May Have the Answer to America's Gun Problem


I read the headline, "American gun obsession is based on a historical misunderstanding," and I thought to myself, okay, here we go again. Arguments along this line are not uncommon. There's nothing novel about them, or so I thought. Still, I read on.

The op-ed was penned by Claudia Hakke, a professor at Melbourne's La Trobe University.

Haake, in the standard template for these commentaries, begins with how deeply rooted in Americans' consciousness is this notion that the citizenry has a generally unfettered and absolute right to carry guns because, after all, that's how the Colonialists won their freedom from those awful Brits.  That, she points out, was nonsense.


[T]he main reason about the strong belief in and attachment to guns actually has more to do with Britain and the American Revolution. In the Virginia Constitution of 1776, future US president Thomas Jefferson wrote that “no freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms”.

Jefferson and contemporaries objected to the army and took it to be a threat to those liberties that colonists sought to defend. They regarded it as a tool of oppression. For instance, John Adams saw the Boston massacre of 1770, in which several colonists were killed by soldiers, as proof for the danger posed by a standing army and feared that a tyrannical government might disarm its citizens.

Furthermore, he and others realised that such an army would also be a costly thing to maintain. At the same time, Jefferson, Adams, and others believed in civic virtue and military prowess and for this they relied on guns in the hands of private individuals, the "yeomen" that Jefferson held in such esteem. The idea was that there would be a militia system, comprised of an "an armed people" bringing their own guns.

This was the background from which the framers of the US Constitution came. The belief in militia found expression in the Second Amendment, which, as passed by Congress, read "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Yet even though the right to bear arms as described was a collective, not an individual, one as it was closely linked to the civic need for "a well regulated Militia", it came to be regarded as an individual liberty.

According to this myth, American freedom was won by armed yeomen who stood up for their believes and their country. However, it was actually the Continental Army, not the militia, who were crucial for the military fortunes during the revolutionary war. Nonetheless, there is an enduring myth which states the exact opposite and praises the militias for securing US Independence.

It is this belief that enables the NRA even today to perpetuate the idea that popular access to arms is an important counterbalance to tyranny and thus a crucial right that needs to be preserved almost at all costs. This lasting belief has assured that even high-profile assassinations or mass shootings have had little or no impact on gun control in the US. That is unlikely to change unless the underlying beliefs can be challenged and changed.

False ideas about the past, cleverly utilised by those standing to benefit financially, will thus continue to cost lives.

Unfortunately, professor Haake didn't follow through, because it leads to a possible solution.

What if the choice to purchase a firearm constituted your application to enlist in your State's militia?  Maybe gun owners of from the ages of 18 to 60 should be required to give up one weekend a month and report to their nearest armoury for training and drill. Now, unlike the National Guard, the governor and president couldn't call them up for service overseas. They would operate solely within their own state but they would also be liable to be called up for local disaster relief - floods, tornadoes, that sort of thing. No uniforms or anything smacking of militarism. They would simply have to present themselves with a serviceable firearm. 

They could be a source of auxiliary first responders, trained in first aid, communications, traffic direction, crowd control, sandbagging and such. They would also spend time at the range to be trained in and demonstrate suitable proficiency in firearm safety.

Rights come with responsibilities and cash strapped states and municipalities could use trained volunteer first responders. Those who didn't want to participate in their State's militia could opt out by turning in their weapons on pain of fines or imprisonment for unlawful possession.

C'mon, it's win-win.