Friday, October 20, 2017

And This Is a Democracy?

I know, I know, it's Texas. But still.

In the hurricane battered town of Dickinson, 30 miles southeast of Houston, disaster relief comes with some pretty weird strings. Those applying have to commit to not boycotting Israel.

The city of Dickinson, Texas recently posted applications online for relief grants "from the funds that were generously donated to the Dickinson Harvey Relief Fund," the city's website says. The application, however, includes a provision requiring applicants to promise not to boycott Israel.

Section 11 of the four page document is titled: "Verification not to Boycott Israel".

The text reads: "By executing this Agreement below, the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement."

The city attorney for Dickinson told a local television station he was only following a state law forbidding state agencies from doing business with Israel boycotters.

That's what happens when you skip straight to the 2nd Amendment without reading the 1st.

In May, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed the Anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions) bill into law. The statute "prohibits all state agencies from contracting with, and certain public funds from investing in, companies that boycott Israel," according to the governor's website.

"Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas," Abbott said at the bill's signing. "We will not tolerate such actions against an important ally."

How the law would apply to individuals seeking disaster relief - rather than businesses seeking contracts - is unclear.

That's Refreshing. Election Hacking is "Warfare."

It's always notable when a Trump appointee strays from the script. This time it's America's UN ambassador, Nikki Haley.

While the Mango Mussolini does his best to dismiss Russia's meddling in the 2016 election that landed him the presidency, ambassador Haley says what the Russians did is tantamount to "warfare."

US Ambassador Haley lashed out at Russia's efforts to "sow chaos" in elections across the world during a conference hosted by the George W. Bush Institute.

"The Russians, God bless them, they're saying, 'Why are Americans anti-Russian? And why have we done the sanctions?' Well, don't interfere in our elections and we won't be anti-Russian," Haley said.

"When a country can come and interfere in another country's elections, that is warfare."

The comments come as Trump continues to question the intelligence community's determination that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Meanwhile the ex-Worst President in American History, George w. Bush hisself, left no doubt what he thinks about what Russia did.

"America has experienced a sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country's divisions," Bush declared.
"The Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other."

And, without mentioning Trump by name, Barack Obama added his own scathing criticism.

Bugs Give Monbiot the Willies.

A couple of days ago The Guardian reported on a German study that flying insect populations had declined by 75 per cent over the past 25 years.

Another report for the Dire Warnings file.

Only The Guardian's enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, says don't take this lightly.

Which of these would you name as the world’s most pressing environmental issue? Climate breakdown, air pollution, water loss, plastic waste or urban expansion? My answer is none of the above. Almost incredibly, I believe that climate breakdown takes third place, behind two issues that receive only a fraction of the attention.

This is not to downgrade the danger presented by global heating – on the contrary, it presents an existential threat. It is simply that I have come to realise that two other issues have such huge and immediate impacts that they push even this great predicament into third place.

One is industrial fishing, which, all over the blue planet, is now causing systemic ecological collapse. The other is the erasure of non-human life from the land by farming.

And perhaps not only non-human life. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, at current rates of soil loss, driven largely by poor farming practice, we have just 60 years of harvests left. And this is before the Global Land Outlook report, published in September, found that productivity is already declining on 20% of the world’s cropland.

Monbiot blames industrial agriculture and the pesticide industry for the collapse of insect populations and the knock-on effects that triggers. He suggests a global treaty to regulate pesticides, environmental assessments of the global fishing industry and the agricultural industry, a sharp reduction in land use (yes, he means to take your steak off the grocer's shelves) and an end to the use of land for growing corn for biofuels. 

There's no use in debating the fine points and nuances of Monbiot's solutions. These are things that are simply not going to happen.

Maybe when, like the insects, we've pared the human population by 75 per cent all these problems will be solved. There'll be fresh air, clean water and plenty of delicious filet mignon for everybody. We've still got a way to go before we get there.

Remember, kids. Nature bats last.

Nine Million a Year, But Who's Counting?

Other than The Lancet, that is. A study published in the prestigious British medical journal finds that 9 million premature deaths are caused every year by man-made pollution.

With our new Blade Runner sensibilities that figure should elicit a yawn and be down the memory hole within days. 

Sure, it means that our toxic emissions are killing more of us than all of our wars and smoking combined but, so what?

The vast majority of the pollution deaths occur in poorer nations and in some, such as India, Chad and Madagascar, pollution causes a quarter of all deaths. The international researchers said this burden is a hugely expensive drag on developing economies.

“Pollution is one of the great existential challenges of the [human-dominated] Anthropocene era,” concluded the authors of the Commission on Pollution and Health, published in the Lancet on Friday. “Pollution endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies.”

Prof Philip Landrigan, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, US, who co-led the commission, said: “We fear that with nine million deaths a year, we are pushing the envelope on the amount of pollution the Earth can carry.” For example, he said, air pollution deaths in south-east Asia are on track to double by 2050.

Dire warning duly noted and filed under "dire warnings." That file is getting pretty thick. Still, it's an interesting benchmark, another milestone in humanity's march to whatever waits ahead.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Have the Republicans Developed "Stockholm Syndrome"?

An article in Foreign Policy by displaced former Republican pundit Max Boot suggests that Congressional Republicans have capitulated to Donald Trump's will and have begun accelerating his and their own "race to the bottom."

The lobotomization of the Republican Party appeared complete last year when the same GOP paladins who had denounced Donald Trump as a “lunatic trying to get ahold of nuclear weapons” (Marco Rubio), as a bigot who was guilty of “the textbook definition of a racist comment” (Paul Ryan), and as a “narcissist,” “serial philanderer,” “pathological liar,” and “bully” (Ted Cruz) nevertheless endorsed him for the most powerful position in the world. Tragedy turned to farce (or is it the other way around?) after the emergence of the “grab ‘em by the pussy” tape on October 7, 2016. Republicans such as Sens. John Thune, Mike Crapo, and Deb Fischer called for Trump to leave the race on the grounds that he was unfit for office, only to change their minds and re-endorse him when it became evident that he was still polling strongly among base voters.

But the Republicans’ race to the bottom — to the absolute lowest moral and intellectual depths — wasn’t over last year, and it’s not over now. It’s still continuing, with even supposedly “normal,” “moderate,” “mainstream” Republicans increasingly echoing Trump’s know-nothing effusions.

The leaders of Congress seem to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, which by now should really be renamed Republican Syndrome. There, on Monday, was Senate majority Leader Mitch McConnell singing kumbaya with Trump in the White House Rose Garden only hours after the president disavowed any blame for “not getting the job done” legislatively. “I’m not gong to blame myself, I’ll be honest,” Trump said. (When has he ever blamed himself for anything?) “They’re not getting the job done.” In case there is any doubt about who “they” is, Trump has been explicit in calling out McConnell as a weak leader, tweeting in August, “The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that, after hearing Repeal & Replace for 7 years, he failed!” McConnell nevertheless pledged fealty to his abuser. “Contrary to what some of you may have reported,” he dutifully intoned, “we are together totally on this agenda to move America forward.”

This GOP attitude was taken to its logical if laughable extreme when Sen. Rob Portman, another supposed Republican adult, was asked about the victory in Alabama’s Senate special election primary of far-right rabble-rouser Roy Moore, who makes Trump seem wonkish by comparison. Portman’s only response? “He’s going to be for tax reform, I think.” Never mind about the Constitution, which Moore and Trump both seek to shred in their own ways — Moore is opposed to the separation of church and state, Trump to the freedom of the press. (He thinks that “it is frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write.”) As long as they’re for tax cuts, we’re all good!

It becomes ever harder to disagree with the verdict of foreign-policy sage Robert Kagan, like me an erstwhile Republican, who writes that the GOP in its current form is doomed and that Republicans who cannot stomach Trumpism “should change their registration and start voting for Democratic moderates and centrists, as some Republicans did in Virginia recently, to give them a leg up in their fight against the party’s left wing.” As I’ve explained before, I have my qualms about the Democratic Party, which is lurching to the left, but I am done, done, done with the GOP after more than 30 years as a loyal Republican.

This is truly Trump’s party, and that leaves me to root for Democrats to win a landslide victory in the midterm elections next fall. I have my differences with many Democratic candidates, but on the most important issue facing our nation — whether Trump is fit for office — they are right and Republicans are a disgrace.

Another Sign? I Sure Hope Not.

Something has changed over the past two years.  My home is bordered along the back by a row of large cedar trees.  When I moved here some 15 years ago one of the delights I discovered was being awakened in the mornings by the chirps and songs of a seemingly massive variety of small birds that nested in those cedars.

Last year that stopped. This year it's been the same.  My neighbour has several feeders in her yard and she says the usual birds haven't been coming to her place either, not even to eat.

Something seems to be happening, but what?

Then I came across an article in The Guardian about a severe and massive decline in flying insect populations in Germany.  A 75 per cent decline. That's pretty drastic.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

Could something akin to that be underway out here on the island? It's hard to imagine. We don't have any industrial agriculture in the vicinity, just rocks and Christmas trees.

That said, the World Wildlife Fund in conjunction with the London Zoological Society and other agencies has been warning us over the last several years how severely human activity is pummeling other forms of life on Earth. The Living Planet Report of 2014 took an inventory of terrestrial animal life on the planet and found we had collapsed the total numbers by 50 per cent since the 1970s, the neoliberal era.  The Living Planet Report of 2015 inventoried marine species over the same time frame and, again, found a loss of 50 per cent.  The Living Planet Report of 2016 updated the loss figures for terrestrial and marine life at 58 per cent since 1970.

There is a confluence of events that occurred in the early 70s. That was when mankind drove the world into "overshoot." That's when our population passed the 3 billion mark and our consumption of the Earth's renewable resources - water, air, biomass - exceeded the planet's carrying capacity. We exceeded the world's capacity to cleanse our pollution and waste output. We began drawing more surface and groundwater than the Earth could replenish. We began exploiting more of the planet than was needed for the survival of other species and their numbers began to plummet.

This research connected the dots, linking climate change to two other existential threats, overpopulation and over-consumption/depletion of natural resources.  From 3 billion in the early 70s, we've grown to 7.5 billion today en route to at least 9 billion, possibly by 2030-2040.  And, while we've done that, our per capita consumption and our per capita environmental footprint has continued to expand rapidly with the emergence of new, massively populated emerging economies in India and China.

And yet, even as these events of the past forty years - just forty years - have unfolded; even as the research has come in revealing how severely we're overtaxing the planet, Spaceship Earth, our one and only biosphere; even as the early onset impacts of our excesses begin to send us reeling; our politicians, including Canada's, still pursue perpetual, exponential growth. They believe their policies are constructive, positive when they're actually nihilistic. And you and me, we're just along for the ride.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Climate Change - Turns a Calamity into Catastrophe

Even the most affluent nation on Earth can't escape the knock-on effects of climate change. The Pentagon thinks of it as a "force multiplier." It magnifies difficulties, makes them more protracted and sometimes leaves irreparable damage in its wake.

That's what the United States is now facing from the devastation of Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria, the mass depopulation of the territory.  From The Washington Post.

During the decade before Maria, economic decline and depopulation, a slower-moving catastrophe, had been taking a staggering toll: The number of residents had plunged by 11 percent, the economy had shrunk by 15 percent, and the government had become unable to pay its bills.

It already ranked among the worst cycles of economic decline and depopulation in postwar American history, and projections indicated that the island’s slide could continue for years.

Then came Maria.

Now, even as officials in Washington and Puerto Rico undertake the recovery, residents are expected to leave en masse, fueling more economic decline and potentially accelerating a vicious cycle.

We are watching a real live demographic and population collapse on a monumental scale,” according to Lyman Stone, an independent migration researcher and economist at the Agriculture Department. The hurricane hit “might just be the kick in the pants Puerto Rico needs to really fall off this demographic cliff into total epochal-level demographic disaster.”

Whatever happens with Puerto Rico, moreover, will have far-reaching effects, because while the disaster is felt most keenly on the island, the accelerated exodus is already being felt on the mainland.

Cities popular with Puerto Ricans, such as Orlando, Hartford, Conn., and Springfield Mass., are bracing for more students, many of whom come from families living below the poverty level.

Politicians, meanwhile, are weighing the potentially significant electoral consequences of a wave of migrants expected to lean Democratic — especially in Florida. The swing state already boasts half a million Puerto Rican-born residents, and more are expected in Maria’s aftermath.

Indeed, at a news conference last week, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned that without significant help, “millions” could leave for the U.S. mainland.

“You’re not going to get hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans moving to the States — you’re going to get millions,” Rosselló said. “You’re going to get millions, creating a devastating demographic shift for us here in Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado has warned, meanwhile, that without more aid, the government could suffer a shutdown by the end of the month.

“Even before Maria, you had what looked like a death spiral going on,” said Gregory Makoff, a bond researcher who worked on the Treasury Department’s Puerto Rico team and now is a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation. “Now it’s no longer theoretical. In a week’s time, they’ve lost another huge chunk of the population.”

For years before the economic slide, companies such as Merck, Johnson & Johnson and PepsiCo had collectively saved $2 billion or more annually under a key tax break that gave U.S. companies an incentive to set up operations on the island.

But in 2006, the tax break was eliminated, taking away a key incentive for companies to operate there. It was one of many factors blamed for the island’s decline.

Among the others: The island’s electrical power system is outdated and saddles islanders with bills roughly double what they are on the mainland; an exodus of doctors has opened holes in the health-care system; and the economy’s most critical sector, manufacturing, has been shrinking even more rapidly than the rest of the economy, affected not just by the lost tax break but also by global competition.

Only about 40 percent of people in Puerto Rico are employed or seeking work. By contrast, the U.S. figure for what economists call “labor force participation” is about 63 percent.

Finally, the government’s inability to pay off more than $70 billion in debt has provoked a congressionally mandated oversight board and a new fiscal plan that calls for efforts to raise taxes and significant cuts to the government. Even with optimistic assumptions, that plan predicted continuing shrinkage of the economy.

Like many on the island, Sergio M. Marxuach, policy director for the Center for a New Economy, a San Juan-based think tank, said a massive federal investment is necessary.

“We’re going to need some significant government intervention — essentially a big rescue package, not only to rebuild the economy but get it growing,” he said. “People are saying, ‘I don’t want my children to grow up in a place where the economy is going to be devastated for the next 10 years.’ If enough people think that way, it’s going to be a self-reinforcing downward spiral.”

Even those who evince optimism acknowledge that more difficult times lie ahead.

“We will move forward better than we were before,” said Joaquín Fernández Quintero, the president of Telemedik, a telehealth company that employs about 400 people.

But he said that about 10 percent of the employees in his Mayaguez office will move to the States in the coming weeks, several of them “high-level” employees. And he’s not sure when they will be coming back.

“People are getting frustrated and depressed,” Fernández Quintero said. “A lot of small and medium companies will be closing because they cannot maintain their operations. It will be a complicated process.”

Trump's dilemma - long promised tax cuts and Republican credibility or a massive bailout to salvage what remains of Puerto Rico. Then there's the threat the migrants pose to Republican incumbents in next year's mid-term elections when they may be able to swing critical Congressional seats to the Democrats. That could alter the balance of power, especially with the current, bitterly divided Republican caucus.

Trump may treat the Puerto Ricans like Mexicans only they can travel freely within the United States and they can vote.

By the time those internally displaced citizens go to the polls, the losses and the death toll will be known. At the moment it's expected to top 450.

The official count is now 48 deaths. But the news site Vox thought that number seemed off.

"We knew from reports on the ground, and investigative journalists who've also been looking into this, that this was very likely way too low of a number,” said Eliza Barclay, an editor at Vox.

So they dug into the numbers, cross-checking with news reports, and found that the number of casualties resulting from the hurricane was probably much closer to 450.

It's Not Just Some Fable Any More.

Thanks, Aesop, the tortoise will take it from here.

Is It Unreasonable?

It's a simple question. Is climate change an existential threat?

Does anthropogenic global warming imperil the continuation of life as we know it on Earth?

C'mon people. This question is going to be decided before this century is out, possibly much sooner than that. The only thing that ignoring the question changes is the probability/certainty that it will be existential, determinative of the continuation of not just our civilization but most life on Earth. The longer we put it off, the worse our odds.

You would think that our parliaments and our legislatures would be alive with discussion and debate over this most critical of all questions. How then are we to explain the virtual silence it elicits from them?

If climate change is an existential threat, and all the science says it is, then there has to be real meaning in the silence among our political caste. They have to be avoiding the subject, collectively ducking it. How else can you reconcile a threat of this magnitude - mass extinction - with such resolve not to take action to avert it while there might, just might, still be time to pull out of this nose dive and at least achieve a somewhat survivable forced landing?

What would you think of a nanny out walking your baby in a pram who, just for a lark, decides to see if she can cross a busy highway while blindfolded? That's akin to how I feel about our political leaders beginning with the prime minister, his government and the opposition parties in Parliament, and the premiers and their legislatures across the land. It's our babies, our grandkids and great grandkids in that pram.

So, how does that leave you feeling about your government, the outfit you trust to keep you and your country safe now and into the future? Are you still left with warm, fuzzy feelings for the Liberal Party or the New Dems or the Conservatives? I'm not.

We have given them a monopoly on the power and the money to deal with our problems and nothing surely can be a greater problem than an existential threat.

How does it make you feel about the narrow, special interests who successfully importune our politicos to either go slow or perhaps simply do nothing?

I used to be "alarmed" at climate change. I used to be worried at the warnings that, if we didn't do thus and so, dire consequences might set in by the end of the century. I used to be concerned about these "tipping points," natural feedback loops, we were told might be triggered if we didn't slash our greenhouse gas emissions drastically by 2100. I used to be that way less than 20 years ago.

Yet here we are. Climate change impacts we were told could be felt by 2100 have arrived 80 years sooner than predicted. Tipping points? Nobody even talks about those any more. We got that wrong too. Those "do not exceed" points have already been tipped, loads of them.  Natural feedback loops - from the early and widespread loss of Arctic sea ice, to the retreat of polar ice caps and glaciers, to the warming of the Arctic and its now energized atmosphere, to the onset of severe storm events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration, to Western wild fires that rage from Mexico all the way north into Alaska, to sea level rise and coastal inundation, to the melting of seabed methane clathrates and the thawing of onshore permafrost and the release of its once safely sequestered methane and CO2, to flash floods and the newby, flash droughts - this is nature on a rampage and we're just sitting by and watching it unfold.

It's too late for alarms. The tests have been run, we've got the lab results. We have the diagnosis. Yet we have a pretty boy prime minister who looks us straight in the eye, pisses all over our pant leg and tells us that the path to our green future lies in ramping up the extraction, processing and transmission of the most carbon-intensive and toxic ersatz petroleum on the planet. Ever ask that dummy how the first ensures the other? Ever ask that lying weasel when exactly this magic is going to happen? Ever ask him just whose interests he's protecting because it's sure as hell not yours.

Is it unreasonable to see your government as a threat, a peril to your grandkids and their children? Maybe so, provided you can put all the science, all the warnings and all the early-onset impacts we're already dealing with out of your mind. The more mindless you are the more benign they can seem. Only being mindless is not reasonable.

Back to the Drawing Board, Rachel.

If there's one thing that petro-states know it's that honesty never pays. In fact, honesty almost always costs and sometimes the costs can be huge.

And, yes, by petro-states I mean Alberta, Saskatchewan and our federal government. They're incorrigible.

Alberta has been caught out underestimating methane leaks from the province's oil wells. Underestimating by about half.

New research suggests industry and government are badly underestimating Alberta's emissions of one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

The difference between official estimates and the measured results suggests the province's energy industry could have to double its planned methane emission cuts if Alberta is to meet its promised 45 per cent reduction.

Currently, industry is only required to report how much methane is released during flaring and venting. So-called fugitive emissions from equipment such as leaky valves have only been estimated.

In Lloydminster, results from the airborne tests found the type of heavy oil recovery used in that area released 3.6 times more methane than previously thought.

That same heavy oil technique is widely used elsewhere in Alberta, including the Peace River, Cold Lake and Athabasca regions.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Now There's an Idea

Brookings Institute fellow Ranj Alaaldin has a clever idea about how Trump can strike back against Iran, back the Iraqi Kurds in their independence struggle against the Shiite-controlled central government in Baghdad.

The Kurds and their Peshmerga have always been America's best allies in the region going back well before Saddam was driven out of Kuwait.

The Kurds are a people without a homeland. The French and British had promised them they would get just that during WWI after the Ottomans, Germany's ally, were toppled. That led to the Treaty of Sevres in 1920.

But then along came a fierce Turkish nationalist, Ataturk, threatening to give the Brits and the French another bloody nose and so they folded and replaced Sevres with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 that restored Turkey to the boundaries that stand today.

While they were at it, the Brits and the French carved up the rest of the Ottoman empire between themselves creating new nations including Syria, Iraq and Iran. It was called the Sykes-Picot or Asia Minor agreement.

France was to have control of A while the Brits got B. The deal was drawn strictly for European convenience and ignored all the ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural realities on the ground. That also meant that the Kurdish homeland was carved up among Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey where, as ethnic minorities, they fared pretty much as minorities fare in the Middle East.

The Brits and the French made a horrible mess of it, lumping Shiite minorities with Sunni majorities here, Sunni minorities with Shia majorities there, Arabs here and Persians there. A formula for the conflicts that have persisted ever since.

Right now Trump is really pissed with Iran but he's also pissed with Iraq, Syria and, more recently, Erdogan's Turkey.  The only group that has given America no grief is the Kurds.  And wouldn't it plant a burr under the saddle of the Turks, the Syrians, the Iraqis and especially the Iranians if Trump backed the Kurdish north's independence from Baghdad?

Then again, given America's record of winning wars in that region, maybe Trump will sit this one out.

Kids Will Be Kids

Even as they're embarking on their 30s, our children can sometimes sugar coat things especially if they don't want their to upset their parents.

I have a daughter who lives and works in Dublin.  She's got a good job and it seems like she's there for the long haul.

Given the time difference I sometimes have difficulty reaching her as quickly as I would like. With hurricane/tropical storm Ophelia barreling down on Ireland I thought to send her a facebook message: "Stay indoors. Stay safe. Stay in touch."

That was greeted with assurances she was perfectly safe. The whole thing was nothing really. Then she let slip that she and her girlfriends were standing near her balcony when they saw the winds tear the door off the Starbucks across the street.

Nothing to see here, unless you're missing a front door.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Is Airbus Flying to Bombardier's Rescue?

CBC is reporting that European aircraft consortium, Airbus, will acquire a majority stake in Bombardier's C-class jetliner project.

Boeing has tried to kill off the C-class aircraft using its clout to trigger punitive tariffs totalling nearly 300 per cent even though the Bombardier aircraft is of a different class to anything Boeing has on offer.

The deal may rescue the C-class - and Bombardier - but Airbus is exacting a stiff price.

The two aircraft manufacturers announced the partnership Monday evening, weeks after the United States announced 300 per cent preliminary duties on exports of the aircraft following a complaint from Airbus rival Boeing.

The partnership is expected to result in significant CSeries production cost savings by leveraging Airbus's supply chain expertise, but Airbus won't be paying any money for the acquired stake.

Airbus will acquire a 50.01 per cent interest in the CSeries Aircraft Limited Partnership, which manufactures and sells
the plane.

Bombardier will own 31 per cent and the Quebec government's investment agency will hold 19 per cent.

Still, 49.99 per cent of profits on a viable and perhaps expanded aircraft programme is a lot better than 100 per cent of nothing.

The possible snag in the deal, at least for Canadian aerospace, is a rumoured provision that Airbus gets the entire C-series project in five years. That would seem to leave Bombardier and the government of Quebec five years to recoup their investment before Airbus swallows the C-series jetliner.

As for Canadian manufacturing jobs there is also talk of building the C-series in Alabama for American customers. Because nothing says high skilled manufacturing like Alabama.

Was this a good strategic move for Bombardier or a capitulation in the face of possible ruin?

Trump, Russia and Cambridge Analytica (Maybe the Crew From Victoria Too?)

The plot thickens. The world was awakened to how votes could be hacked, voters brainwashed, by sophisticated software, social networks, and targeted messaging in the upset "leave" vote for Brexit. Fingered in that was a small company from Victoria, B.C., Aggregate IQ, and a shadowy young man from Western Canada, Chris Wylie.

Aggregate IQ and Wylie are believed to have links to American rightwing billionaire, Robert Mercer, his cohort, Steve Bannon, and his Aggregate IQ clone, Cambridge Analytica.

AggregateIQ holds the key to unravelling another complicated network of influence that Mercer has created. A source emailed me to say he had found that AggregateIQ’s address and telephone number corresponded to a company listed on Cambridge Analytica’s website as its overseas office: “SCL Canada”. A day later, that online reference vanished.

There had to be a connection between the two companies. Between the various Leave campaigns. Between the referendum and Mercer. It was too big a coincidence. But everyone – AggregateIQ, Cambridge Analytica, Leave.EU, Vote Leave – denied it. AggregateIQ had just been a short-term “contractor” to Cambridge Analytica. There was nothing to disprove this. We published the known facts. On 29 March, article 50 was triggered.

Then I meet Paul, the first of two sources formerly employed by Cambridge Analytica. He is in his late 20s and bears mental scars from his time there. “It’s almost like post-traumatic shock. It was so… messed up. It happened so fast. I just woke up one morning and found we’d turned into the Republican fascist party. I still can’t get my head around it.”

He laughed when I told him the frustrating mystery that was AggregateIQ. “Find Chris Wylie,” he said.

Who is Chris Wylie?

“He’s the one who brought data and micro-targeting [individualised political messages] to Cambridge Analytica. And he’s from west Canada. It’s only because of him that AggregateIQ exist. They’re his friends. He’s the one who brought them in.”

There wasn’t just a relationship between Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ, Paul told me. They were intimately entwined, key nodes in Robert Mercer’s distributed empire. “The Canadians were our back office. They built our software for us. They held our database. If AggregateIQ is involved then Cambridge Analytica is involved. And if Cambridge Analytica is involved, then Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon are involved."

Now Cambridge Analytica has shown up on the radar of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. They want to know if Cambridge Analytica colluded with Russian interests to hack the election and catapult Donald Trump into the White House.  Go figure.

The company is in the process of turning over documents to HPSCI, according to a source familiar with the committee’s work. Another source close to the investigation said that the probe’s focus on Cambridge Analytica is “fruitful.”

Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, had holdings in Cambridge Analytica worth between $1 million and $5 million as recently as April of this year, Bloomberg reported. Bannon, now back as the chairman of the pro-Trump media outlet Breitbart, hasn’t been publicly mentioned as a potential witness for or target of Russia investigators. He previously sat on the board of Cambridge Analytica.

Another key Cambridge Analytica investor is Robert Mercer, the reclusive hedge fund billionaire who also generously backed Trump’s presidential campaign. Mercer and his daughter Rebekah introduced several top officials to Trump’s campaign, including Kellyanne Conway and Bannon. The Mercers also are partial owners of Breitbart—among their many, many investment in far-right media outlets, think tanks, and political campaigns.

A recent Vanity Fair piece highlighted speculation among Washington Democrats that the Trump campaign’s data operation could point to collusion between Trump and Russia.

Cambridge purports to go beyond the typical voter targeting—relying on online clues like Facebook Likes to give a hint at a user’s political leanings and construct a picture of a voter’s mental state. The “psychographic” picture Cambridge ostensibly provides to a campaign is the ability to tailor a specific message based on personality type – angry, fearful, optimistic and so forth – rather than simply aiming ads at voters from likely convivial candidates.

Russian propaganda on Facebook and other social-media platforms passed itself off as authentic American voices; targeting refugees, posing as an American Muslim groupand backing an Atlanta-based duo supporting Black Lives Matter. Depending on which cohort was being targeted, the efforts encouraged pro-Trump voters to intensify political participation, black voters to abandon Hillary Clinton for Trump, and Muslim voters to consider Clinton an Islamophobe.

The Kremlin-orchestrated propaganda efforts on Facebook have evinced a level of sophistication surprising for a foreign entity, prompting speculation that Russians may have received some kind of targeting help. Such targeting reached voters in states where Clinton enjoyed a traditional advantage but went for Trump, including Michigan and Wisconsin, CNN reported.

In May, the Guardian’s Sunday Observer reported that Cambridge Analytica and its UK affiliate SCL––which owns 10 percent of Cambridge Analytica to Mercer’s 90 percent––have worked in Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Iran and Moldova.

“Multiple Cambridge Analytica sources have revealed other links to Russia, including trips to the country, meetings with executives from Russian state-owned companies, and references by SCL employees to working for Russian entities,” the Observer reported.

Meanwhile, where in hell is Chris Wylie?

Will Trump Bankrupt the United States?

That's a serious question and a genuine prospect. Trump the business genius has established a pattern, one that led to five major business bankruptcies. He's doing it again, this time with the United States of America, and it's hard to imagine he'll achieve a different outcome.

Think back to the eight-year presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Both spent heavily on the military while cutting income taxes dramatically. Both left the nation with such huge debts that their successors were forced to raise taxes — George H.W. Bush despite his famous campaign promise, and Barack Obama despite the painful aftermath of a deep recession.

Some of Reagan’s and Bush’s advisors also claimed that cutting taxes would increase tax revenue, so great would be the resulting boost to economic activity. That notion has been shown to be false for the United States, time after time. Trump, at least, has employed no such pretension.

Rather, [Trump] has relied on his usual business strategy, starting with the seduction of starry-eyed investors (now voters) with the glamour of the Trump name and promises of monumental proportions. The next steps — the ones that led him to repeated bankruptcies — are more ominous: Lever up a mountain of debt, and then leave others to foot the bill when repayment becomes impossible.

Americans already know what happens when this strategy comes to Washington. Reagan and the younger Bush let the nation live beyond its means, too, stealing from legions of unborn Americans to fund their grand ideas. They also stole from as-yet unelected presidents; whoever followed them in power would be the ones to pay the piper. Their own party would return when times were good again.

To be sure, not all of Trump’s economic proposals are irredeemable, yet even the ones that show some promise are half-baked. The corporate income tax is an unnecessarily volatile source of revenue for the federal government, and even experts aren’t really sure how it affects the economy. So lowering the rate from 35 percent to 15 percent — or even eliminating it entirely — isn’t such a bad idea. But the revenue would have to be replaced with other taxes, preferably stable ones like individual income taxes, and Trump has no such plans.

Investing in infrastructure is also something the economy needs, though more now for long-term growth than for any immediate stimulus. Of course that infrastructure must actually be useful for the former effect to take hold, and it’s not clear that a big wall on the nation’s southern border would fit that description. The road system, energy grid, and water and waste systems are far more urgent priorities.

First, the Good News.

A Pew Research survey of 38 nations found that three quarters of respondents support representative democracy. Two-thirds even back direct democracy. That's the good news.

We're still keen on representative government but not nearly so pleased with what we're getting from those we've been putting in office. And that's giving rise to some less than democratic appetites.

“The level of support for some of the nondemocratic approaches, even in Western long-standing democracies, is notable,” said Richard Wike, one of the report’s lead authors. “If you’re looking at rule by the military or strong leader models, it’s minorities, but it’s significant minorities.”

Support for representative democracy is strong in the United States, with 40 percent committed to it and a further 46 percent less committed, meaning respondents also expressed support for a nondemocratic approach. Only 7 percent indicated support for only nondemocratic forms of government.

But there are partisan divides, both in the United States and in Europe. The survey asked respondents to express whether or not they believed the statement: “A system in which a strong leader can make decisions without interference from parliament or the courts would be a good way to govern our country.”

Just 17 percent of Democrats agreed with that statement, but one-third of Republicans did.

Education is a key indicator of support for nondemocratic approaches. Some 24 percent of Americans without a high school [diploma] said military rule would be good for the country — compared with just 7 percent of those with high school [diplomas].

Democracy is still holding its own in many countries, ours included, for now. However liberal democracy is under attack even in countries we consider our friends and NATO allies including Hungary, Poland and Turkey where the rule of law is being suppressed to make way for authoritarian rule (while we sit by and look the other way).

This makes it all the more infuriating that our Liberal prime minister so casually reneged on his promise of electoral reform.

How to F#@k Up a Town. A Core Demographic is Bailing Out.

Vancouver may wind up the poster boy for what happens when incompetence and greed become the guiding principles of governments, municipal, provincial and federal.

Vancouver has sky high real estate prices, far higher than prevailing wage rates. If you don't have a lot of money you don't live in Vancouver and probably never will.  That creates a demographic exodus leaving the city and leaving the city without the people needed for it to function. Service jobs go begging. They can't pay what would be a living wage in today's Vancouver.

Millennials have bailed out. Boomers are leaving the hot, congested and sometimes nasty city, selling their overpriced houses and heading for distant places that are simply better.  Young professionals see little to hold them in Vancouver.  If you can't find a doctor or a dentist it's more than an inconvenience.

Now another core demographic is leaving - the middle aged management class. They're beating feet too.

While a lot of fuss has been made about millennials leaving the Lower Mainland, the bigger exodus may be the group that is either nearing middle age or well into it. Generation Xers, or people from 35 to 55, could start bailing at a rate that could turn into a crisis, says Chris Fair, president of Resonance Consultancy, a research and branding firm. Mr. Fair, who also has an office in New York, commissioned Insights West to do a survey. The result was the Future of B.C. Housing report, and he was startled by the response that people with lots of working years ahead of them were planning to leave. Of people between 35 and 55 in Greater Vancouver, 47 per cent agreed that they would be selling their home for a cheaper market in the next five years. For those people, the need for affordable housing and more space was the draw. Kelowna and Victoria are top alternatives.

Through home ownership they've earned enough wealth to go somewhere with greater affordability, where they can own land and bigger homes. They can retire or semi-retire at a young age, or trade their career for part-time jobs, but they can do so because their equity goes further in a less expensive community.

"For all the talk about young people leaving Vancouver, the people with the highest propensity to leave Greater Vancouver is the Gen X homeowner," says Mr. Fair, who presented his data findings earlier this year.

"This is a real crisis for the city. It's not young people or boomers leaving, but it's the management class of the city leaving, people who are in their peak earning years, mid-career. If they leave, what does that do to the economy of Vancouver, and the prosperity of a company trying to find senior level talent?"

The article is misleading. That's not "earned" money. It's windfall money generated by a huge influx of offshore money often just looking for a safe place to park - or hide.  Successive federal governments going back to Mulroney have looked the other way as large amounts of very suspect money flowed into Vancouver.  Mulroney, Chretien, Harper and now Trudeau. They've all betrayed the city of Vancouver and its people. They allowed this to happen. They encouraged it.

We've Got to Shed the 20th Century, But How?

George Monbiot reminds us how much of the 20th century still clings to us and why we have to shed that skin if we're to survive the 21st.

We are still living in the long 20th century. We are stuck with its redundant technologies: the internal combustion engine, thermal power plants, factory farms. We are stuck with its redundant politics: unfair electoral systems, their capture by funders and lobbyists, the failure to temper representation with real participation.

And we are stuck with its redundant economics: neoliberalism, and the Keynesianism still proposed by its opponents. While the latter system worked very well for 30 years or more, it is hard to see how it can take us through this century, not least because the growth it seeks to sustain smacks headlong into the environmental crisis.

Sustained economic growth on a planet that is not growing means crashing through environmental limits: this is what we are witnessing, worldwide, today. A recent paper in Nature puts our current chances of keeping global heating to less than 1.5C at just 1%, and less than 2C at only 5%. Why? Because while the carbon intensity of economic activity is expected to decline by 1.9% a year, global per capita GDP is expected to grow by 1.8%. Almost all investment in renewables and efficiency is cancelled out. The index that was supposed to measure our prosperity, instead measures our progress towards ruin.
Monbiot sees the need for something along the lines of a wartime mobilization to rapidly decarbonize our economy and our society. It sounds much like Schellnhuber's "induced implosion" of the fossil fuel industry. This he would see followed with an equally if not more radical shift in how we hold property.
...if everyone in London acquired a tennis court, a swimming pool, a garden and a private art collection, the city would cover England. Private luxury shuts down space, creating deprivation. But magnificent public amenities – wonderful parks and playgrounds, public sports centres and swimming pools, galleries, allotments and public transport networks – create more space for everyone at a fraction of the cost.

Wherever possible, such assets should be owned and managed by neither state nor market, but by communities, in the form of commons. A commons in its true form is a non-capitalist system in which a resource is controlled in perpetuity by a community for the shared and equal benefit of its members. A possible model is the commons transition plan commissioned by the Flemish city of Ghent.

What Monbiot envisions is eerily akin to a command economy, an experiment that ran its course also in the 20th century and decisively failed. It didn't succumb to its theory but to human nature in putting it into operation. In a utopian world in which everyone embraced his ideal it might work but, absent some near universal consensus it would require compulsion and that usually triggers the worst instincts of government and bureaucracy.

Our values and ways, some good, some very bad, are deeply ingrained in us as our natural order. Monbiot offers no insights into how he would overcome that and lead the masses to his enlightenment. Human civilization has a 12,000 year history. When has this degree of collective magnanimity ever been attempted much less achieved?

It saddens me to say that I'm so unconvinced, the more so because the sort of correction he advocates is quite possibly the sine qua non to our future.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

He Said WHAT?

We still have difficulty grasping the undercurrent that lurks in the shadows of the independence movement in Catalan, headquartered in Barcelona, and the Spanish government rooted in Madrid.

For some perverse reason the royalist government, well rooted in Spain's fascist near past under the dictator Francisco Franco, insists on overplaying its hand. It began when Madrid sent its storm troops, the Guardia Civil, into Catalan two weeks ago to beat up peaceful Catalans holding an independence referendum. The ghost of that murderous old bastard Franco rode again.

Now this.

The warning from the spokesman of Spain's ruling party stopped hearts across Catalonia: If Carles Puigdemont declared independence, he might "end up like the man who declared it 83 years ago".

That man was Lluis Companys, the Catalan president who was imprisoned and later executed by the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Today his death, on October 15, 1940, will be marked by a march to Barcelona's Montjuic Castle, the site of the public act of punishment which still rankles deep in Catalans' historical consciousness. Accompanied by his entire cabinet, Mr Puigdemont will lay a wreath at the tomb of Companys, whose reported cry "For Catalonia!" as he faced the firing squad immortalised him as a martyr to the modern day independence movement.

As the Catalonia crisis deepens, -nationalist tempers are flaring and civil war insults flying in both directions, polarising Spain further into two -distinct realities where one side's -traitor is the other's hero.

"They criticise our schools and the way we teach history," said Elisenda Paluzie, economy professor at the University of Barcelona. "Who? Those who have political leaders who ignore the shooting of Companys."

As long-simmering resentments -surface, sights that many regarded as consigned to history are once again -being witnessed. Members of Franco's Falange - small but increasingly active - perform the fascist salute and sing the dictatorship anthem Cara al Sol at protests against Catalan independence.

Hopes of dialogue - always slim - fade further with each seething exchange. Mr Puigdemont has suspended Catalonia's declaration of independence to allow for talks, while Mr Rajoy holds out the prospect of national -constitutional reform if he retracts the declaration entirely.

But many on both sides feel they are past the point of no return, and the -suspension of Catalonia's autonomy looms. Experts lay at least some of the blame with Spain's failure to deal with the legacy of the dictatorship, hastily swept under an amnesty law after the death of Franco in 1977.

Goran Lindblad, president of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience, said Spain needed to take steps to address the lingering pain of the dictatorship years, adding: "There are always problems when a totalitarian past has not been properly managed."

As for Mr Casado's conjuring of -Companys' fate, he said: "It is not responsible to talk about executions in a democracy."

This is hardly a time to bare the bloody fangs of fascism of just a few decades past when Franco, backed by Hitler's Nazis, crushed the Republic and, over time, slaughtered 400,000 political opponents and dissenters.  That monstrous history is a stain seemingly worn with some pride by senior members of the royalist government in Madrid.

Scholars Gather to Lament the Decline of American Democracy. Relax Guys, That Horse Left the Barn Years Ago.

Last week 20 of America's top political scientists gathered at Yale to take the pulse of American democracy. Their conclusion? American democracy is declining socially, culturally and politically. Going, going, gone.

The scholars pointed to breakdowns in social cohesion (meaning citizens are more fragmented than ever), the rise of tribalism, the erosion of democratic norms such as a commitment to rule of law, and a loss of faith in the electoral and economic systems as clear signs of democratic erosion.

Then they began whistling past the graveyard, pretending that there's still time to pull out of the dive.

Yascha Mounk, a lecturer in government at Harvard University, summed it up well: “If current trends continue for another 20 or 30 years, democracy will be toast.”
Nancy Bermeo, a politics professor at Princeton and Harvard, began her talk with a jarring reminder: Democracies don’t merely collapse, as that “implies a process devoid of will.” Democracies die because of deliberate decisions made by human beings.

Adam Przeworski, a democratic theorist at New York University, suggested that democratic erosion in America begins with a breakdown in what he calls the “class compromise.” His point is that democracies thrive so long as people believe they can improve their lot in life. This basic belief has been “an essential ingredient of Western civilization during the past 200 years,” he said.

That pessimism is grounded in economic reality. In 1970, 90 percent of 30-year-olds in America were better off than their parents at the same age. In 2010, only 50 percent were. Numbers like this cause people to lose faith in the system. What you get is a spike in extremism and a retreat from the political center. That leads to declines in voter turnout and, consequently, more opportunities for fringe parties and candidates.

Political polarization is an obvious problem, but researchers like Przeworski suggest something more profound is going on. Political theorists like to talk about the “social compact,” which is basically an implicit agreement among members of society to participate in a system that benefits everyone.

Well, that only works if the system actually delivers on its promises. If it fails to do so, if it leads enough people to conclude that the alternative is less scary than the status quo, the system will implode from within.


Przeworski believes that American democracy isn’t collapsing so much as deteriorating. “Our divisions are not merely political but have deep roots in society,” he argues. The system has become too rigged and too unfair, and most people have no real faith in it.

Where does that leave us? Nowhere good, Przeworski says. The best he could say is that “our current crisis will continue for the foreseeable future.”

We’ve heard a lot of chatter recently about the importance of democratic norms. These are the unwritten rules and the conventions that undergird a democracy — things like commitment to rule of law, to a free press, to the separation of powers, to the basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property.

Daniel Ziblatt, a politics professor at Harvard, called these norms “the soft guardrails of democracy.” Dying democracies, he argued, are always preceded by the breaking of these unwritten rules.


Another startling finding is that many Americans are open to “alternatives” to democracy. In 1995, for example, one in 16 Americans supported Army rule; in 2014, that number increased to one in six. According to another survey cited at the conference, 18 percent of Americans think a military-led government is a “fairly good” idea.

Ziblatt identified what he calls two “master norms.” The first is mutual toleration — whether we “accept the basic legitimacy of our opponents.” The second is institutional forbearance — whether politicians responsibly wield the power of the institutions they’re elected to control.

As for mutual toleration, America is failing abysmally. We’re hardly better on the institutional forbearance front.

Most obviously, there’s Donald Trump, who has dispensed with one democratic norm after another. He’s fired an FBI director in order to undercut an investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Moscow; staffed his White House with family members; regularly attacked the free press; and refused to divest himself of his business interests.

The Republican Party, with few exceptions, has tolerated these violations in the hope that they might advance their agenda. But it’s about a lot more than Republicans capitulating to Trump.

The Breakdown of Basic Trust

Timur Kuran, a professor of economics and politics at Duke University, argued that the real danger we face isn’t that we no longer trust the government but that we no longer trust each other.

Kuran calls it the problem of “intolerant communities,” and he says there are two such communities in America today: “identitarian” activists concerned with issues like racial/gender equality, and the “nativist” coalition, people suspicious of immigration and cultural change.

Each of these communities defines itself in terms of its opposition to the other. They live in different worlds, desire different things, and share almost nothing in common. There is no real basis for agreement and thus no reason to communicate.

The practical consequence of this is a politics marred by tribalism. Worse, because the fault lines run so deep, every political contest becomes an intractable existential drama, with each side convinced the other is not just wrong but a mortal enemy.

Consider this stat: In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats objected to the idea of their children marrying across political lines. In 2010, those numbers jumped to 46 percent and 33 percent respectively. Divides like this are eating away at the American social fabric.

Trump and the Cult of Failure

Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian and author of the book On Tyranny, gave one of the more fascinating talks of the conference.

...Take Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. The slogan itself invokes a nostalgia for a bygone era that Trump voters believe was better than today and better than their imagined future. By speaking in this way, Snyder says, Trump is rejecting conventional politics in a subtle but significant way.

Why, after all, do we strive for better policies today? Presumably it’s so that our lives can be improved tomorrow. But Trump reverses this. He anchors his discourse to a mythological past, so that voters are thinking less about the future and more about what they think they lost.

Trump isn’t after success — he’s after failure,” Snyder argued. By that, he means that Trump isn’t after what we’d typically consider success — passing good legislation that improves the lives of voters. Instead, Trump has defined the problems in such a way that they can’t be solved. We can’t be young again. We can’t go backward in time. We can’t relive some lost golden age. So these voters are condemned to perpetual disappointment.


Trump’s nostalgia is a tactic designed to distract voters from the absence of serious solutions. Trump may not be an authoritarian, Snyder warns, but this is something authoritarians typically do. They need the public to be angry, resentful, and focused on problems that can’t be remedied.

Snyder calls this approach “the politics of eternity,” and he believes it’s a common sign of democratic backsliding because it tends to work only after society has fallen into disorder.

The Bottom Line

...people have gradually disengaged from the status quo. Something has cracked. Citizens have lost faith in the system. The social compact is broken. So now we’re left to stew in our racial and cultural resentments, which paved the way for a demagogue like Trump.
Our problems are deep and broad and stretch back decades, and the people who study democracy closest can only tell us what’s wrong. They can’t tell us what ought to be done.

Just Who Is Joshua Boyle?

I don't get it. A guy takes his wife, pregnant with their first child, backpacking through a Taliban controlled part of Afghanistan. They were on a mission, he says, to help, "the most neglected minority group in the world, those ordinary villagers who live deep inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan."

What did Joshua Boyle imagine might and probably would happen as he traipsed around ministering to these ordinary villagers deep inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan? What more probable outcome was there than that they would probably be kidnapped and possibly executed by the insurgents controlling the area? Res ipsa loquitor, the thing speaks for itself.

Boyle didn't provide specific details, but said the "stupidity and evil of the Haqqani network's kidnapping of a pilgrim and his heavily pregnant wife engaged in helping ordinary villagers in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan was eclipsed only by the stupidity and evil of authorizing the murder of my infant daughter, martyr Boyle, as retaliation for my repeated refusal to accept an offer that the criminal miscreants of the Haqqani network had made to me."

Boyle wasn't aware of the "evil of the Haqqani network"? Did that take him by surprise? Did he think that, as a self-described "pilgrim" he and his wife were untouchable? Did he not know that, like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Haqqani was a mujaheddin in league with the CIA during the Russian occupation in the 70s and afterwards a client of the princes, emirs and sheikhs of the Gulf States (or, as I like to call them, Canada's Middle Eastern allies)?

I'm sorry but I have a little trouble with our government's gushy elation at this guy's return.

"Today, we join the Boyle family in rejoicing over the long-awaited return to Canada of their loved ones," the ministry said in a statement that asked for privacy for the family.

Rejoice? This is a tragedy, an obscenity.  I think his in-laws are right on this call.

Coleman (the wife) is from Stewartstown, Pa. In an interview with ABC News on Friday, her father, Jim Coleman, said he is angry at Boyle for taking her to Afghanistan.

"Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me, and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable," he said.

This guy, Josh, set his family up. He set up his wife to be kidnapped, raped and held captive. He set up his first child to be murdered by his captors. Then he went ahead and had three more kids, all of them born into captivity with the very real prospect of dying in captivity.

After the rescue, a change in itinerary was reportedly required, at the behest of Joshua Boyle.

Jim Coleman said Friday he didn't understand why, according to reports, Boyle didn't let his family leave on a U.S. military plane. Coleman said if he saw an American aircraft, he'd be "running for it."

Boyle's father said his son was philosophically opposed to an initial plan that would have involved the plane landing at Bagram, Afghanistan, where the U.S. has held detainees for years without charge during its battles against the Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.

The plane instead was routed to Islamabad, Pakistan. They later travelled to England before continuing on to Canada.

A pilgrim? No, Josh, you're just a pompous dick who got his wife raped and his child murdered.

How Ottawa and Victoria Fed Vancouver to the Wolves.

Vancouver is reeling.

The first house I bought in Vancouver, 30+ years ago, illustrates the decay. It was a nice neighbourhood of 40s vintage, 'neat as a pin' bungalows in the 'desirable' west side. 50 X 100 foot lots where a 33 foot lot was standard. Clean, quiet, lovely. I picked it up for about 170 thousand.

Today that lot is worth well over two million, bare land value. Those bungalows are all gone. Honking big, lot-line to lot-line, multi-storey  McMansions own the neighbourhood now. Two mill for the land, another mill for the house, five car garages full of Mercedes, Beemers and exotics. And guess what? It's the poorest neighbourhood in Vancouver. The people who own those houses and drive those cars, they have no money or at least no declared income. The people who own those houses often don't even live in them. The kids may be there, going to school. The grandparents may be there, taking advantage of the health care regime. Just nobody making any income, not here anyway.  Poverty stricken multi-millionaires.

No gas stations anywhere in the downtown area these days. The guys who might have bought them in the 70s are retiring and, guess what, there is nobody who'll buy those properties except for redevelopment. The land cost means operating as a gas station is out of the question.

Lots of jobs. Jobs everywhere. Help Wanted signs abound in shop windows. Only nobody can afford to take those low-wage jobs. Vancouver is just too damned expensive.

The high-priced help is leaving too. My ex had a family doctor who hit 70 and felt he wanted to retire. So he scouted for a young doctor to buy his practice. By the time he turned 75 he looked into recruiting someone to take his practice, free of charge. Then, when he turned 80 he started offering cash to anyone who would take over his patients. Finally, just before he turned 85 he told his patients they would simply have to find new doctors on their own.

I ran into a thoracic surgeon in Nanaimo, freshly minted out of UBC medical school and internships. I asked her why she came to Nanaimo when there were so many openings in Vancouver. She said almost none of her classmates would consider Vancouver. She didn't want to have to work crazy hours for decades just to afford a decent house. She was able to settle in Nanaimo and buy a water-view home. She thought she would be old before she could afford that in Vancouver.

For some time there's been an exodus of retirees from Vancouver relocating to other cities, Victoria and environs, Kelowna and such. Why stay? Their kids would never be able to afford to live where they had been born and raised.

Now another ominous development. There's a class of Vancouverites who aren't waiting for the gold watch before they split. For a host of reasons from traffic congestion to the city's compromised livability, to housing prices, people at the peak of their careers - late 40s to mid 50s - are also cashing out and moving to other places more pleasant to live. They can collect the windfall profits from selling their homes and just move on, do something else, relax.

That's how a city gets hollowed out. Low-wage workers can't afford to live there. Young professionals look for better lives elsewhere. Retirees and high-wage types at the peak of their careers just cash out and relocate. Commercial land and the businesses once established there are cleared and redeveloped into more high-density residential properties.

It's like a castle with all the little people needed to keep the place running pushed out beyond the moat.

Slum has taken on a new meaning in Vancouver where even a rundown, east end crack house can fetch a million and a half, maybe two.  Anyone who can remember Vancouver from the 60s or 70s can't help but be saddened at what it has become. It's been fed to the wolves and they're staying because they're not finished with it yet.

Friday, October 13, 2017

My Take on the Assassination of John Kennedy

I remember the day when we were sent home from school early after John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas. A few of us were hanging out in the front yard when Larry, the milk man, came by and commiserated with us about the horrible events in Texas. I remember the photographs of the funeral in Life magazine. 1963, I was fourteen.

John Kennedy, John Connolly, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, Fidel Castro, Cuban exiles and the Bay of Pigs, mafia don Sam Giancana, the CIA, the Warren Commission. Abe Zapruder and his 8 mm. Kodachrome home movie, Walter Cronkite - claims and conspiracy theories, the whole thing was confusing.  It was hard to follow, too hard for me and so I left it as a sad memory.

Bits and pieces, theories and counter-theories have come out from time to time ever since, nothing conclusive. Now we're just two weeks away from the scheduled release of the remaining US government records on the events of that day.  Trump may seek to extend the classification of those documents but it's hard to understand why he would. There are about 3,000 documents, mainly FBI and CIA, that have been withheld from the public.  Will they shed any light on the culprits?

I never followed this closely but for a brief encounter during law school in Ottawa. Just for a lark I took a survey course in forensic science.  It taught the basics of document examinations, hair and fiber evidence, counterfeiting and handwriting analysis, firearms and ballistics, no end of forensic pathology including gruesome slideshows of the greatest hits from the morgue slab.

One, three-hour lecture was devoted to the science of blood spatter, what can be learned from blood evidence at crime scenes.  The lecturer they brought in, flew him all the way from Alaska, was a pioneer in blood spatter evidence. I guess he was the "Pro from Dover." 

Anyway, this fellow, whose name I've long forgotten, was involved in the Kennedy assassination investigation. He was summoned to Dallas only he arrived there to find most of the relevant evidence had been destroyed. Kennedy's suit had apparently gone into the hospital incinerator. The limo had been cleaned and repaired. Jacqueline Kennedy's pink dress wasn't there either. She had worn it on the flight back to Washington.

Eventually this fellow decided to scrutinize the Zapruder film. Kennedy gets shot from behind - in the throat - and clutches his hands to his neck. There's one more shot, the head shot. Everything happens in an instant but luckily the film captured the split second that Kennedy was hit. What's visible is a pink cloud of spray coming from his forehead. A chunk of Kennedy's skull lands on the limo trunk lid and Jacqueline scrambles out to retrieve it.

This blood spatter expert described how he set out to replicate that final round. He got the same model rifle that Oswald had owned, same sort of ammunition. He couldn't shoot humans in the skull so he arranged to test his theories on cattle in an abattoir. He used ultra high speed cameras to document the experiment.

The results? There was a consistent pattern. A pink cloud of spray coming from the entry wound and a chunk of skull coming from the exit wound. The impact of the bullet at high speed pressurized the brain by the entry hole and created the pink blood cloud. The remaining energy of the bullet created the much larger exit wound and skull fragmentation.  His conclusion? The head shot had been fired from the direction of the entry wound blood cloud, to the front of Kennedy. It could not have been fired by Oswald in the book depository behind Kennedy.

Was this guy right? Hell if I know. All I know is that the blood spray clearly came from the front of Kennedy's head and the major damage, including the piece of his skull blown out, the piece that Mrs. Kennedy scrambled to recover from the trunk deck, came from the back.  I also know that bullet entry wounds are always smaller than the exit wounds.

It's Friday and all so I'll spare you - and me - the gory photos. Let's see what comes out on the 26th.

When Professor Walt Looks at Trump He Sees - ?

When Harvard prof, Stephen Walt, looks at Donald Trump he sees - Silvio Berlusconi perhaps?  Close but no cigar.

Trump is frequently compared to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, another glib, unscrupulous, lying, preening sexual predator who managed to keep getting elected even though his personal conduct was deplorable and his policies were a disaster. Strutting and corrupt popinjays like Benito Mussolini, Carlos Menem, and Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic come to mind as well, along with other dictators who constructed cults of personality about themselves and treated their countries as a personal possession.

Well, if not Silvio, them whom? What, Willie, Kaiser Bill?

I’ve been struck by the parallels between POTUS 45 and the last Hohenzollern emperor: Kaiser Wilhelm II. I’m not the first person to notice the similarities — Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute wrote a nice piece on this topic back in January — but the common features go beyond their individual characteristics. Not only do Trump and the kaiser share some unfortunate personality traits, but there are also striking similarities between conditions in Wilhelmine Germany and the situation in the United States today. There are also some important differences, but they are not entirely reassuring.

Consider first the personalities of these two leaders. Wilhelm II was by all accounts a pretty smart guy, but he frequently acted like a spoiled teenager and was prone to rash and bellicose remarks that undermined Germany’s image and international position. In a notorious 1908 interview with the London Daily Telegraph, for example, he declared, “You English are mad, mad, mad, as March hares.” One wonders what he would have said on Twitter. Wilhelm also had little patience for domestic opposition, saying, “I regard every Social Democrat as an enemy of the Empire and Fatherland.” Not to be outdone, Trump has called the U.S. media the “enemy of the American people.”

Historian Thomas Nipperdey once described Wilhelm as “superficial, hasty, restless, unable to relax, without any deeper level of seriousness, without any desire for hard work or drive to see things through to the end, without any sense of sobriety, for balance and boundaries, or even for reality and real problems, uncontrollable and scarcely capable of learning from experience, desperate for applause and success — as Bismarck said early on in his life, he wanted every day to be his birthday.

Okay, fair enough. But what about pre-war Germany and today's pre-war America?

For starters, both countries exhibit the familiar warning signs of excessive military influence. In Germany, the Army was essentially “a state within the state,” and scholars such as Craig, Gerhard Ritter, Fritz Fischer, and Jack Snyder have all documented how military dominance distorted German thinking about its security and led to an overreliance on military power and an overly confrontational foreign policy. The German military used domestic organizations like the Navy League and the writings of co-opted academics to make its case to the German people; in America, the Pentagon runs its own public relations operations and weapons manufacturers give generously to think tanks that favor increased defense spending.

Moreover, Germany under Wilhelm abandoned Bismarck’s sophisticated reliance on diplomacy and subordinated that function to the dictates of the General Staff.

Berlin consistently exaggerated the actual dangers it faced, especially when one remembers that it eventually took on France, Russia, and Great Britain (and later the United States) and nearly won. Even worse, Germany repeatedly acted in ways that solidified the alliance that opposed them, instead of working assiduously to undermine it. When exaggerated German fears about a hypothetical future decline led its leaders to launch a preventive war in 1914, they were (as Bismarck might have put it), “committing suicide for fear of death.”

One sees a similar pattern in the United States today, where threat-inflation is endemic, the utility of force is exaggerated, and the role of diplomacy is neglected or denigrated. Professional militaries have powerful tendencies to inflate threats, because worrying about remote dangers is part of their job and doing so helps justify a bigger budget. As Britain’s Lord Salisbury observed more than a century ago, “if you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome; if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent; if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.” They are also prone to think that force can solve a multitude of problems, when it is in fact a crude instrument that always produces unintended consequences.

Consistent with this pattern, the United States routinely views third-rate powers like Serbia, Iraq, Iran, and others as if they were mortal dangers, treats problems like the Islamic State as if they were existential threats, and tends to assume these difficulties can be solved by blowing more stuff up or sending in another team of special forces. The results of these efforts have been mostly disappointing, yet hardly anyone in Washington is willing to question this approach or even ask our commanders why “the world’s best military” isn’t winning more often.

There's more?

Wilhelmine Germany and Trumpian America share another trait: an inability to get their finances in order.Germany was Europe’s most dynamic economy before World War I: It had overtaken Great Britain as an industrial power and was leaving France far behind. It also boasted outstanding universities and a world-class scientific establishment. Yet the German state was chronically starved for funds, even as it tried to maintain Europe’s most powerful army, build an expensive modern navy, and pay for social programs that were quite generous by the standards of the time.

And why was Germany in this pickle? Because neither wealthy Junker landowners nor rich German industrialists wanted to pay taxes, and both groups had the political influence to stop the government from raising them.

One critical difference.

Germany’s ruling elite understood Wilhelm’s deficiencies and did a good job of keeping him away from the actual levers of power. During the July Crisis that led to World War I, in fact, Wilhelm was staying at a palace outside Berlin and was for the most part out of the loop, in good part because Chancellor Theobald Bethmann-Hollweg knew the kaiser was a loose cannon and didn’t want him screwing up the chancellor’s own plans to exploit the crisis. Wilhelm scribbled lots of bellicose marginalia on diplomatic messages and conjured up various scenarios for resolving the crisis, but nobody paid much attention either to his rants or to his more sensible suggestions (such as the stillborn “Halt in Belgrade” proposal). Ironically, Wilhelm II bore little direct responsibility for the war, whatever his personal defects may have been.

By contrast, Trump is still in charge of the executive branch, and for the most part it is doing his bidding. The “adults in the room” (James Mattis, H.R. McMaster, John Kelly, etc.) may have been able to temper some of Trump’s worst instincts, but he’s still managed to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, alarm key allies, cause a precipitous drop in global confidence in the United States, undermine the Iran deal, fuel escalating tensions on the Arabian Peninsula, and repeatedly pour gasoline on the delicate situation with North Korea. Because top officials are still listening to him and still following his orders, Trump’s personality defects are more worrisome and consequential than Wilhelm’s were.

The good news? 

The Founding Fathers created a divided government because they understood deeply flawed people sometimes get elected, and they did not want the country to be overly vulnerable to one person’s flaws or ambitions. They also created mechanisms to remove such a leader when circumstances warrant. I hope it does not come to that, but for now I’ll take some comfort that such mechanisms exist.

Wolfgang, quick, fetch meine pickelhaube.