Saturday, February 25, 2017

Riding the Geezer Train to Nowhere

Sometimes You Have to Know When to Let Go.

If the Tories want to reclaim a respectable share of the youth vote before the Boomer generation dies off, they're barking up the wrong tree. That goes double for Kellie the Leech and O'Neill the Hustler.

Researchers brought a sobering message to the annual convention of the right-leaning Manning Centre Friday: most voters under 35 aren't connecting with the conservative movement, and if it wants to reach them, more than just messaging needs to change.

...findings presented Friday to attendees of the conference, organized by the right-leaning think tank named after and spearheaded by Reform Party founder Preston Manning, outlined the scope of the gap between the conservative movement and the bulk of this demographic, which currently makes up about a quarter of Canada's population and more than a third of its work force.

Social conservatism? Forget it, that's for baby boomers, explained Heather Scott-Marshall from Mission Research, taking the audience through the findings of a national political values study conducted last October.

While some candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party may think there's support to be gained by championing "Canadian values," that won't fly with this group, her research suggests.

"I think the message where we're declaring war on transgendered people and undocumented immigrants and religious minorities like Islamists is anathema to that group."
Conservatives often campaign on spending cutbacks and champion the virtues of small, unobtrusive institutions. But that's not where millennial heads are at.
"They still have an appetite for strong government," she said. "They believe that government has a role in stabilizing the economy, in their job and economic futures. They don't want to see government get so small that it's not able to intervene."
Scott-Marshall's research found trust in conservative political parties was low, with respondents reacting much better to the label "progressive" than the label "conservative."
Why? The conservative label makes them think of politics resistant to change, stuck in the past and favouring the rich, she said.
The news wasn't much better for the federal Conservatives when it came to current government policies: a majority of those surveyed favoured taxing the wealthy, legalizing marijuana and implementing a carbon tax.
Show up in the House of Commons and you'll hear Conservatives attacking the government for doing exactly those types of things

Ted Kouri, from the Edmonton-based marketing group Incite, said qualitative research his firm has done with interviews and group sessions in Alberta is consistent with Scott-Marshall's work.

Millennials are looking for positive, constructive messages, he advised, and they're turned off when criticism is offered without an alternative course of action.

Bill Maher's Hypocrisy On Paedophilia

Bill Maher thinks he did a great public service by inviting Milo Yiannopolous on his Real Time programme on HBO where the alt.right troll got into it for defending man/boy love he received as a youngster from "Father Mike." Gloating, Maher praised Bill Maher, saying that "Sunlight is the best disinfectant. You're welcome."

It turns out Maher has had a brush with this issue before and he came down on the same side as Milo.

Sure, Mary Kay Letourneau was a 35-year old teacher, like Father Mike in a position of authority and influence over the child she diddled, but, to Maher, it was not rape, it was love.

Coyne Pans the Manning Conference

Andrew Coyne sees Canada's Conservatives as heading down a dark road, one that may (hopefully) consign them to years in the political desert. He offers, as proof, this year's Manning Conference, now a love fest for right wing populism.

Consider what items might have been on the agenda. A forward-looking conference intended to help shape conservative responses to pressing national issues might have had sessions on how to address the sudden challenge to the international order, not to say the national interest, posed by Trump’s ascent.

It might have talked about how to preserve a world of open markets, and open societies, in the face of the populist-nationalist resurgence. It might have spent much time on the urgent problem of population aging, and the twin pressures — higher social costs, fewer workers to pay them — to which we will inevitably be exposed.

What, in fact, is on the agenda? There’s a session on Islamist extremism; another session on Islamist extremism; a session asking whether Trumpism can be exported to Canada, featuring a Trump campaign adviser; a session on how campus conservatives are being censored; another session on campus censorship; a session on the media; a session on the CBC (“Time to pull the plug?”).

It isn’t that these aren’t legitimate, even pressing issues in themselves — I’m hawkish on security myself, also hate political correctness, and have long called for the CBC to be defunded — or that the proposals under discussion are not valid.

But it cannot fail to be noticed that they are all pitched to a certain corner of the conservative tent, reflecting the particular obsessions of
the populist right
. Indeed, there’s also a session entitled “Down with the Elites? Understanding the rise in anti-establishment sentiment,”
featuring inter alia that voice of introspection and understanding, Doug Ford.

Ford is not the only conference speaker with a decidedly populist tilt. There’s a Brexit campaigner, a talk-radio host, the editor of the Toronto Sun, even a Rebel commentator or two, all capped by a session with the original bad-boy provocateur himself, Mark Steyn.

Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with inviting any or even all of them — I’m friends with some — nor could a conference on conservatism in 2017 fail to pay some heed to the populist insurgence. But the scale of it, the disproportionate emphasis, and the uncritical stance, is telling.

The Manning Conference may not have gone so far down the populist road as its U.S. counterpart, the American Conservative Union, whose own conference, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), is coincidentally on this week (it was the ACU that first invited Milo, then disinvited him in the storm over his latest norm-busting pose, on the blessings of pedophilia) but it is clearly less interested in resisting the populist wave than riding it.

But conservatism and populism make uneasy partners at best, and it is unclear what will be left of the former if the latter continues to go

The Age of Angst

I grew up in the 50s and 60s, the height of the Cold War. That was the time when the MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction paradigm hadn't yet quite taken hold. It was the Dr. Strangelove era when planners thought a nuclear first strike - by us - might just work.

Where I lived we got the air raid sirens ever Saturday at noon. The batteries of Nike Ajax nuclear-tipped surface to air missiles would gracefully emerge from the ground on their gantries to face skyward.

We didn't even get the "duck & cover" training in our schools. I suppose they figured we were just too close to a "ground zero" target to have any chance of survival. My buddies and I, all of 10 or 11 years old, deliberated and most of us decided that there was no point heading for the basement. Might as well just stand out in the front yard and get vaporized.  And, with that, life went on.

Sure it got a little tense during the Cuban missile crisis but that was the sort of thing that brought home the reality of maybe getting nuked. Life went on. There was a river to swim in during the summers. Backyard rinks to skate on in the winters. Ball games and bicycles. In terms of mental health I think we were coping admirably.

That was then. "Then" is no more. All we had to deal with back then was the risk of sudden nuclear annihilation. Compared to today, that was kids' stuff. It really was.

As The Guardian's Simon Copland writes, anxiety has become our way of life today and it's reached epidemic levels.

It always hits me in the gut first. I often feel it first thing, my stomach twisted in a knot, my brain deciding it doesn’t want to deal with the day before I even wake up.

Sometimes my anxiety will fester around a particular thing – a cascade of worry about my work, health, social life, or often a simple decision I have to make. This worry becomes totally paralysing, with hours spent focusing on nothing else but this one issue. At other times the anxiety hits for no reason, a desperate feeling of dread that I cannot explain, nor wash away no matter how much I try.


Consult the growing medical discourse around anxiety and you will get an increasingly clear picture of what causes the disorder. Beyond Blue states that factors such as a genetic predisposition, personality traits, the existence of stressful events, physical health problems and substance abuse can all lead to an anxiety disorder. Other research has also found biological causes, with an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and epinephrine in the brain likely being a trigger.

This research provides an essential picture of the nature of this growing epidemic– confirming anxiety as a core mental health issue and not just an “everyday event” that we all go through. For me it has created some comfort. I have a familial history of mental health problems, and at the times when I’m inexplicably paralysed with anxious thoughts it is often useful to tell myself that my neurotransmitters are simply firing a little funny that day. Yet it’s also clear that anxiety disorders are something much bigger than a simple biological condition.


As noted before, stressful life events – whether it is the loss of a job, the death of a family member, or the breakdown of a relationship – are one of the major causes of anxiety disorders. What’s changing is that these events are becoming a continuous existence for an entire generation. Increasing job insecurity, housing stress, economic and income instability, and a future of climate change, environmental destruction and conflict, have turned stress – and in turn anxiety – into a way of life.

Just as significant stressful events are shown to cause anxiety disorders, research suggests that this long-term stress has a similar impact. For example, research from the University of Michigan found in 2009 that stress from job insecurity is worse for your mental health than unemployment. Similar data has been found regarding housing, with research from the Swinburne-Monash Research Centrefinding a strong correlation between different forms of housing insecurity and mental health problems such as anxiety. Many researchers also believe that when it comes to climate change we are undergoing “a collective anxiety that is insidious, even if we haven’t managed to connect all the dots”.

Yet, as we face this epidemic we must also confront the social conditions behind it. Economic, income, and housing insecurity, alongside the plague of social isolation, is causing a generational mental health crisis, primarily situated in anxiety disorders. Finding long-term solutions therefore can only occur when we are willing to tackle these social causes.

George Monbiot sees the Era of Angst as an inevitable outcome of neoliberalism ushering in the fulfilment of social Darwinism.

A recent survey in England suggests that one in four women between 16 and 24 have harmed themselves, and one in eight now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety, depression, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder affect 26% of women in this age group. This is what a public health crisis looks like.

If social rupture is not treated as seriously as broken limbs, it is because we cannot see it. But neuroscientists can. A series of fascinating papers suggest that social pain and physical pain are processed by the same neural circuits. This might explain why, in many languages, it is hard to describe the impact of breaking social bonds without the words we use to denote physical pain and injury. In both humans and other social mammals, social contact reduces physical pain. This is why we hug our children when they hurt themselves: affection is a powerful analgesic. Opioids relieve both physical agony and the distress of separation. Perhaps this explains the link between social isolation and drug addiction.

Experiments summarised in the journal Physiology & Behaviour last month suggest that, given a choice of physical pain or isolation, social mammals will choose the former. Capuchin monkeys starved of both food and contact for 22 hours will rejoin their companions before eating. Children who experience emotional neglect, according to some findings, suffer worse mental health consequences than children suffering both emotional neglect and physical abuse: hideous as it is, violence involves attention and contact. Self-harm is often used as an attempt to alleviate distress: another indication that physical pain is not as bad as emotional pain. As the prison system knows only too well, one of the most effective forms of torture is solitary confinement.

Anyone can see that something far more important than most of the issues we fret about has gone wrong. So why are we engaging in this world-eating, self-consuming frenzy of environmental destruction and social dislocation, if all it produces is unbearable pain? Should this question not burn the lips of everyone in public life?

This does not require a policy response. It requires something much bigger: the reappraisal of an entire worldview. Of all the fantasies human beings entertain, the idea that we can go it alone is the most absurd and perhaps the most dangerous. We stand together or we fall apart.

Friday, February 24, 2017

America's Deep State - More and Less Than Meets the Eye

There's a lot of talk about America's "deep state." This supposed hidden government is the stuff of many conspiracy theories. Donald Trump is obsessed with the idea, wants them exposed. Foreign Policy's Steven Cook says the leakers are a last resort response to a rogue government gone amok.

American bureaucrats are doing something similar to what the Egyptian and Turkish deep states have done — protect a system. That is as far as it goes, however. In the American case, the bureaucrats themselves don’t control, or want to control, the system they are trying to protect. People in the White House, the Pentagon, the State and Justice departments, Congress, and the intelligence community are leaking to the press because they have no choice in an administration where officials have unexplained links with Russia, an array of conflicts of interest, and have promoted soft forms of white nationalism and fascism that threaten basic ideals of American democracy. On top of all of this, those same officials have openly expressed disdain for the professional bureaucracy. This is more than the mundane leaking of everyday Washington but only because the stakes are so high.

Nothing in any of what has transpired in the United States since Trump’s inauguration indicates the existence of an American deep state. The idea has emerged because, like Egyptians and Turks who live in societies where government is opaque, Americans, who are bereft of good explanations for the often bewildering turn of events in a highly polarized and charged political environment, have sought an easy interpretation: conspiracy.

Ah, Jeebus.

CNN is reporting that the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico and, of course, CNN have been denied access to the White House briefing room. From The Hill:

Among the outlets not permitted to cover the gaggle were news organizations that President Trump has singled out for criticism, including CNN.

The New York Times, The Hill, Politico, BuzzFeed, the Daily Mail, BBC, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Daily News were among the other news organizations not permitted to attend.

Several right-leaning outlets were allowed into Spicer’s office, including Breitbart, the Washington Times and One America News Network.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

"Trudeau Gave Us Hope."

The rest of Canada doesn't "get" British Columbia. I understand that. We're those odd people past the mountains, just beyond Alberta where Canada, in so many ways, ends.

Eastern prime ministers have been coming out here for ages but primarily for photo ops against majestic mountain\ocean backdrops and to sell us "rest of Canada" bullshit.

We pretty much had our fill of it with Stephen "Oil Patch" Harper but then along came this young guy with a legendary name and he brought a bag full of empty promises.

I'll let Michael Harris pick it up from here with his latest, "He's a liar: why the Left Coast may be writing off Justin Trudeau."

He starts with Grand Chief Stewart Phillip:

I am in the downtown Vancouver boardroom of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the gentle voice is saying some very tough things.

“My wife and I were scheduled to march in the Chinese New Year’s parade in Vancouver, until we found out that Trudeau was going to be there,” he says. “No way was I going to meet him unless I was on one side of the barrier, and he was on the other.”

“Trudeau made serious and solid commitments. He said no relationship was more important to him than the nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations. He was so convincing that our people went out to vote for him in unprecedented numbers,” Grand Chief Phillip says.

It sounded a lot better than the previous decade under PM Stephen Harper, a time of slashed funding and open insults.

“We were virtually at war with the Harper government for ten years,” Phillip says. “Harper inflicted great hardship on our people, openly attacking our communities and leadership. I woke up to that ongoing battle every single day.

“Trudeau gave us hope.”


All that changed when the Trudeau government gave the green light to British Columbia’s massive hydro development on the Peace River, the Site C Dam.

“It was late Friday afternoon when Ottawa made the announcement. This did surprise us. This was the acid test, that they would provide these approvals. Treaty Eight people had travelled to Ottawa and laid out the facts. We told them that this would have adverse affects on native people and the environment.

“The truth is, Trudeau lied to us. He is very close to violating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I describe him now as a serial liar.”

His point-blank verbal blast at Trudeau is echoed by an iconic figure in Canadian public life and letters — author, scientist and broadcaster David Suzuki.

“I’m going to be much more outspoken in the coming election cycle. Trudeau is a liar,” Suzuki says. “For me, that’s the charge. He’s an out-and-out liar. I don’t think he deserves a second chance.”

Like Grand Chief Phillip, Suzuki didn’t always see it that way. In fact, he voted strategically for Trudeau in order get rid of the only politician he says he has ever “hated” — Stephen Harper. At first, it seemed like a sound strategy.

“Justin came in and it was such a huge relief after Harper. As a father of four girls, I loved his initial actions — gender equity, then Paris, and of course a big, big commitment to First Nations.

“What the hell is going on now? Site C, Kinder Morgan, he even snuck in the southern line! My daughter and both her two kids were arrested protesting this stuff. His grade today? F. He has lost all credibility with me.”

To me,  Justin Trudeau represents the very best British Columbians can expect from our federal government. They need us. They need our taxes. They need our harbours. They need our coast. What do we get back? You heard it from Chief Phillip and David Suzuki - we are repaid in lies, in broken promises.

Against our clear will, Ottawa, Alberta, the rest of Canada, force us to submit, against our will, to more bitumen trafficking, an armada of supertankers plying our coastal waters, an oil spill hazard that you have no idea how to clean up.

Look, this is our coast. It's our history, our heritage, our legacy and you want to put it at mortal risk so that you can blindly ramp up the extraction and export of the world's highest cost/highest carbon ersatz petroleum, in quantities sufficient to subvert the Copenhagen and Paris climate agreements.

Read my previous post, "Stranger Things Have Happened." If America's Pacific coast states peeled away from the U.S.A., there's a good chance we'd be there - in a heartbeat.

I think we've had it.

Stranger Things Have Happened.

Could Donald Trump be the straw that broke the Union's back?  Could he cause the "left coast" of America (perhaps Canada too) to secede?

Across the Pacific Northwest there's been a movement to create a new country, Cascadia, out of a union of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The idea has been around quite a while going back to Thomas Jefferson who, in 1813, wrote of "a great, free and independent empire on that side of our continent."

While the idea isn't widely discussed among British Columbians, a poll in 2005 found that support for secession in B.C. approached 40 per cent. After being pushed around by the federal and Alberta governments on bitumen pipelines and an armada of supertankers, I expect that number would be a good deal higher today.

What unites these jurisdictions? Just about everything. We're all a bit left of centre. We share common industries - fishing, forestry, mining, and a lot of high tech. We're also rich in clean alternative energy resources including wind, tidal, hydro-electric and thermal-electricity. And, best of all, we also seem genuinely fond of each other, more so perhaps than our fondness for other parts of our respective countries.

Bit by bit it seems that Trump is driving a wedge between the Left Coast and the rest of America. Bear in mind that most of what Trump has up his sleeve hasn't even started yet.

However secession may not spring from Cascadia. It could be sparked by California moving to take its leave.

Drawing inspiration from breakaway groups in Europe, organizations like the “Yes California” movement and the California National Party want to peaceably, legally transform the West Coast of the United States into a “pragmatic progressive” paradise. From one angle, California nationalism, and this particular expression of it, makes perfect sense. Despite marked divides between its northern and southern halves, the Golden State has always nourished its own identity. That stamp was apparent even when Californians played a leading role in fueling all-American patriotism, from the early days of the space program to the closing days of the Ronald Reagan administration.

But now California’s cultural and political leanings have begun to shift away from most of the rest of the country. At a time when only five states in the union boast both Democratic governors and majorities in the state legislature, California is the last place in America where the political left rules unimpeded over a society and an economy large enough to prosper as a nation.

From climate law to immigration law (or the lack thereof), California’s elected Democrats see themselves rightly as the strongest center of opposition to American conservatives and to Trump alike, and the one with the deepest popular legitimacy.

California secessionists also understand that there are fewer practical hurdles, compared with other parts of the country, to parting ways with the USA. A smaller or more parochial corner of America would never contemplate secession, if only because the achievement of such willful idiosyncrasy would come at the cost of isolation and obscurity.

For California, however — approximately the sixth-largest economy in the world — independence wouldn’t necessarily bring economic hardship. Perennial worries about entertainment and tech flight to states dangling incentives might spike in the early days of a new California Republic. But citizens won’t blink at the inevitable higher subsidies lawmakers and a Democratic governor will be quick to offer those anchor industries. And the other pillars of California’s economy — tourism and agriculture — can’t be relocated by skittish investors.

It’s easy to let your imagination run away with itself. But one thing does seem clear: California secession wouldn’t be a one-way ticket to the one-party progressive utopia some frustrated Democrats seem to dream it could be. On the other hand, in an ever-more-hopelessly polarized America, it could encourage a nationwide embrace of those two quintessentially West Coast ideals — wishful thinking and conscious uncoupling. California Über Alles indeed?

Trump has become a burr under the Left Coast's saddle. He recently vowed to retaliate against US municipalities that chose to become "sanctuary cities" threatening to withhold federal funds. That has caused cities in California as well as Oregon and Washington to defy the Giant Orange Bloat. Imagine Trump penalizing California, the state that literally pours tax dollars into Washington's treasury. What could possibly go wrong?

Today, Trump's press secretary, Spicer, warned that Trump intends to use federal criminal powers to crack down on recreational marijuana use even in states such as (coincidentally of course) Washington, Oregon and California that have legalized weed. Already Washington's governor, Jay Inslee, and the state attorney general have vowed to resist any efforts by Trump to "undermine the will of the voters in Washington state."

A lot of British Columbians have about had their fill of being pushed around by the rest of Canada and it seems that West Coast America is coming to the same point with Washington.

It's still a very long shot but there's no sign that the discontent will do anything but worsen with Trump's rampages and Trudeau's indifference. Stranger things have happened.

BTW - for a humourous discussion of an American secession check out Chuck Thompson's "Better Off Without' Em."

BTW - if you doubt me take on how fed up we are with Trudeau and the "Rest of Canada." Michael Harris has a few thoughts.

Rasputin Speaks

To Steve Bannon, Trump, on the campaign trail proved to be the greatest public speaker since William Jennings Bryan. To anyone who sat through some of Trump's campaign speeches, that should tell you a very great deal about Bannon's sensibilities. Anyway, here he is in the flesh at the CPAC conference.

The Tyranny of the Minority

America didn't get where it is today overnight. It took the better part of 60-years. Writing in Harper's, Rebecca Solnit traces how the "Tyranny of the Minority" came to be.

The dismantling started in the 1960s, when the two main parties reversed positions on civil rights. Lyndon Johnson led the Democrats toward stronger alliances with people of color and with women. The Republicans, meanwhile, won the South with the Southern Strategy, that euphemistically named program to gain the support of white Southerners by stoking their racial fears. Justification for the approach had been offered years earlier by William F. Buckley Jr. “The White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically,” Buckley wrote in 1957. “For the time being, it is the advanced race.” On the basis of that “advanced” status, Buckley decided, a decision to wrest control from the majority “may be, though undemocratic, enlightened.” At its most ideological, the withdrawal from the democratic experiment has served white supremacy; at its least, it has been a scramble for power by any means necessary. Even as the civil-rights movement and the Voting Rights Act sought to undo Jim Crow, a new, stealthier Jim Crow arose in its place.

Writing in The New Republic, the journalist Jeet Heer explains that Buckley’s fledgling conservative movement recognized that by persuading disgruntled whites across the country to vote according to their racial and ideological rather than economic interests, it could gain “reliable foot soldiers” in its larger project of undermining the left. In wooing white voters, Republicans rejected — indeed, ejected — non-white constituencies, who found their only and imperfect home with the Democrats. And where Democrats have been wavering and inconsistent in their desire to expand democratic participation, Republicans have been firmly committed to limiting it: rather than attempting to win the votes of people of color, they attempt to prevent people of color from voting.

They have not been particularly secretive about their goals. Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire who was an early supporter of Donald Trump, has deplored the effects of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, because women tend to vote in favor of social programs. Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist and adviser, once “mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners,” according to the New York Times. His interlocutor noted that such a move would exclude a lot of African Americans. “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing,” Bannon replied. Trump, meanwhile, has openly gloated over the number of black people who didn’t vote in 2016.

Republicans’ furious and nasty war against full participation has taken many forms: gerrymandering, limiting early voting, reducing the number of polling places, restricting third-party voter registration, and otherwise disenfranchising significant portions of the electorate. Subtler yet no less effective have been their efforts to attack democracy at the root. They have advanced policies to weaken the electorate economically, to undermine a free and fair news media, and to withhold the education and informed discussion that would equip citizens for active engagement. In 1987, for example, Republican appointees eliminated the rule that required radio and TV stations to air a range of political views. The move helped make possible the rise of right-wing talk radio and of Fox News, which for twenty years has effectively served the Republican Party as a powerful propaganda arm.


Some Republicans have argued for a more inclusive approach, but they are not leading the way. The party isn’t changing its strategy in order to win a majority; it is intensifying its efforts to suppress that majority. It has committed itself to minority rule. As the non-white population swells, Republican scenarios for holding power will look more and more like those of apartheid-era South Africa — or even the antebellum South. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, is infamous for his efforts in the 1980s to persecute black voting-rights activists and intimidate hundreds of black voters. In the next decade, either the Party of Lincoln will force us to backtrack for decades, perhaps a century, or we will overcome its obstructionism and walk forward. If anything redeems this nation, it’s the idealism that has for centuries moved abolitionists, suffragists, Freedom Riders, and their like to stand up for the country’s principles — to risk, sometimes, their lives. Hundreds of activist groups have formed in the wake of the election, beginning projects to register voters, renew voting-rights campaigns, and organize local power to influence national policy. The NAACP’s Barber calls this era the Third Reconstruction.

A Wetter Wet Coast

Floods we get. Drought, we're not so sure.

A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters finds that the entire west coast of North America is in for a lot more rain - and flooding - caused by atmospheric rivers of the sort that's been hammering California.

It's a matter of physics.  Warmer temperatures increase evaporation. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapour. A warmer, wetter atmosphere is more energized, powerful, and leads to the creation of atmospheric rivers.

From Climate Central:

Days on which atmospheric rivers reach the West Coast each year could increase by a third this century, if greenhouse gas pollution continues to rise sharply, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers concluded after running model simulations.

Currently, the West Coast is likely to receive rain or snow from atmospheric rivers between 25 and 40 days each year, the analysis concluded. By century’s end, that’s expected to rise to between 35 and 55 days annually.

Meanwhile, the number of days each year on which the atmospheric rivers bring “extreme” amounts of rain and snow to the region could increase by more than a quarter.

The good news is that there's not a lot of level land along the coast. Unfortunately the exceptions include estuaries such as the Fraser Valley, including the densely populated Lower Mainland. Already susceptible to sea level rise and storm surge, heavy mountain runoff overwhelming the banks of the Fraser present another major flooding risk.

Does this mean that west coast droughts are solved? Not so much. Today we're seeing a new phenomenon sometimes called "flash droughts" or "hot droughts." These are destructive, seasonal droughts marked by an interruption of precipitation coupled with intense heat waves, conditions that can impair crop growth.

Recent research has suggested that higher temperatures linked to global warming exacerbated the intensity of California’s ongoing drought, by drying out the state. It’s far less clear what effect climate change had on the likelihood that such a drought would occur.

“The role of anthropogenic influences on the lack of precipitation is still an open question,” said Kevin Anchukaitis, a paleoclimatologist and earth systems geographer at the University of Arizona. “Different research groups have come to different conclusions.”

Rising temperatures are expected to accelerate evaporation and lead to drier conditions across the West — producing what scientists call hot droughts.

Anchukaitis said atmospheric rivers don’t necessarily affect the conditions that produce hot droughts.

But the “severity and duration” of droughts, Anchukaitis said, “will depend on a complex interplay between temperature increases, uncertain long-term precipitation trends and the punctuated role of drought-busting atmospheric rivers.”

Climate Change Displacing Canada's Bison

It's a clear cut problem. Since 1986 lakes in Canada's north have doubled in area. That additional water has encroached on natural habitats including the Mackenzie bison preserve. This is being blamed for the migration of wood bison out of the Mackenzie preserve.

Lakes in the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary off the northwest shore of Great Slave Lake are now bigger than any time in at least the last 200 years, said Josh Thienpont, a University of Ottawa scientist and a lead author on the paper, published Thursday in the journal Nature.

“The whole landscape does appear to be getting wetter,” he said.

Thienpont and his colleagues grew intrigued with the 10,000-square-kilometre sanctuary after people from Fort Providence, N.W.T., pointed out things were changing.

“Some of the local community had noticed that it was more difficult to travel on the landscape because it was wetter,” Thienpont said.

Thienpont and his colleagues examined satellite imagery of the area between 1986 and 2011. They found the proportion of the land covered by water had almost doubled, from 5.7 per cent of the total area to as high as 11 per cent.

What’s happening in the sanctuary is unusual. Many northern areas are responding the climate change by getting drier, with lakes draining away as permafrost melts beneath them.

The sanctuary is a reminder that climate change impacts vary, said Thienpont.

“It shows that the same stressor can have varying impacts in different landscapes. It shows the responses of ecosystems are complex and the consequences of climate warming can impact every component of an ecosystem – not just the terrestrial, but also the animals living in an area.”

There Is No Escaping Donald Trump But We Have to Try

Well that's not quite true. If you've got some floating fishing cabin in a sheltered remote cove somewhere up the coast you might be able to escape the constant presence of the Great Orange Bloat. For the rest of us, it's game over.

An op-ed from the New York Times reveals the futility of hoping for Trump-free serenity. Farhad Manjoo tried it for a week. What he discovered is unsettling.

I spent last week ignoring President Donald Trump. Although I am ordinarily a politics junkie, I didn't read, watch or listen to a single story about anything having to do with America's 45th president.

It wasn't my aim to stick my head in the sand. I did not quit the news. Instead, I spent as much time as I normally do online (all my waking hours), but shifted most of my energy to looking for Trump-free zones.

My point: I wanted to see what I could learn about the modern news media by looking at how thoroughly Trump had subsumed it. In one way, my experiment failed: I could find almost no Trump-free part of the press.

But as the week wore on, I discovered several truths about our digital media ecosystem. Coverage of Trump may eclipse that of any single human being ever. The reasons have as much to do with him as the way social media amplifies every big story until it swallows the world. And as important as covering the president may be, I began to wonder if we were overdosing on Trump news, to the exclusion of everything else.
The new president doesn't simply dominate national and political news. During my week of attempted Trump abstinence, I noticed something deeper: He has taken up semipermanent residence on every outlet of any kind, political or not. He is no longer just the message. In many cases, he has become the medium, the ether through which all other stories flow.

It wasn't just news. Trump's presence looms over much more. There he is off in the wings of The Bachelor and even The Big Bang Theory, whose creator, Chuck Lorre, has taken to inserting anti-Trump messages in the closing credits. Want to watch an awards show? Say the Grammys or the Golden Globes? Trump Trump Trump. How about sports? Yeah, no. The president's policies are an animating force in the NBA. He was the subtext of the Super Bowl: both the game and the commercials, and maybe even the halftime show.

Where else could I go? Snapchat and Instagram were relatively safe, but the president still popped up. Even suggested I consider Trump toilet paper for my wife's Valentine's Day present. (I bought her jewellery.)

On most days, Trump is 90 per cent of the news on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and probably yours, too. But he's not 90 per cent of what's important in the world. During my break from Trump news, I found rich coverage veins that aren't getting social play. ISIS is retreating across Iraq and Syria. Brazil seems on the verge of chaos. A large ice shelf in Antarctica is close to full break. Scientists may have discovered a new continent submerged under the ocean near Australia.

Unlike old-school media, today's media works according to social feedback loops. Every story that shows any signs of life on Facebook or Twitter is copied endlessly by every outlet, becoming unavoidable.

Every new story prompts outrage, which puts the stories higher in your feed, which prompts more coverage, which encourages more talk, and on and on. We saw this effect before Trump came on the scene - it's why you know about Cecil the lion and Harambe the gorilla - but he has accelerated the trend. He is the Harambe of politics, the undisputed king of all media.

In previous media eras, the news was able to find a sensible balance even when huge events were preoccupying the world. Newspapers from World War I and World War II were filled with stories far afield from the war. Today's newspapers are also full of non-Trump articles, but many of us aren't reading newspapers anymore. We're reading Facebook and watching cable, and there, Trump is all anyone talks about, to the exclusion of almost all else.

There's no easy way out of this fix. But as big as Trump is, he's not everything - and it'd be nice to find a way for the media ecosystem to recognise that.

Remember, This Didn't Start in Washington

Modern radical right populism predates Donald Trump by a good few years. Turkey, Poland, Hungary all came first and rightwing populism has been alive and well in France, the Netherlands and Britain among others long before Trump entered the Republican nomination race.

You could say this contagion is in its infancy in America although there's no way of knowing how rapidly that could change. For example, it's changing fairly quickly in Turkey and now Poland.

The defence ministry in Warsaw announced that 90 per cent of Poland's top military brass have been removed, replaced. A purge of the general staff, however, is not the creepiest part. year ago, ...Poland’s minister of defense, Antoni Macierewicz, was quoted as saying he wanted to grow Poland’s army from 100,000 to 150,000. He called it “the minimum which is necessary to respond to military threats.”

Macierewicz did add 50,000 troops. But they did not join the military, per se. Rather, they were considered a separate entity — volunteer troops to trained and ready in three years and equipped with Polish-made materials; who focus not on operational maneuvers, but on local tasks; and who are not in the military structure, but are answerable to the Ministry of Defense

It sounds a bit like a pretty hefty Praetorian Guard or, as Saddam called his, the Republican Guard. Okay, it's a bit like the SS, the Shutzstaffel of infamy.  A large contingent of troops that answer to political masters, not the military brass. And the move to politicize Poland's military has extended to weapons production and acquisition.

...the current government “almost turned upside down what is being procured,” [defence analyst Marek] Swierczynski said in an interview with Foreign Policy. It postponed and reduced, for example, the purchase of search and rescue helicopters for the Navy (and will now likely not meet NATO and the EU’s search and rescue requirements), and will instead focus on the purchase of small drones.

This is in part because of the extensive social programs promised by the Law and Justice party, which probably cannot be enacted if the government is also spending 8 to 10 billion zloty annually on new military equipment. Moreover, the military equipment being bought can be made in Poland — specifically, in eastern and central Poland, home to the Polish defense industry, and also to many Law and Justice voters.

It’s “very much like Donald Trump, actually,” Swierczynski explained — Law and Justice is making Poland great again, one small Polish drone at a time. But they are doing so for political reasons, and not, necessarily, because that is will best serve the army or, by extension, the safety and security of Poland.

Macierewicz and the Defense Ministry spent the past year making changes to the army without consulting its most senior personnel. The chief of defense was not consulted when the ministry replaced his deputies. People are appointed to positions without the necessary ranking required. The NATO-Corps deputy commander is supposed to be a two-star general, but a colonel was given the post instead. The Washington military attache — also at least a one-star position — has been empty since April.

But Macierewicz has the mentality that professionalism is not of the utmost importance. His belief is that “You can gain professionalism in due time,” Swierczynski said. “First, you have to be loyal.”

That’s what was seen in 2016. Whether the Polish military will be better served by loyalty than it was by professionalism in the age of a potential alliance between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be seen in the year, and years, to come.

It's worth remembering what else has transpired in Poland since the Law & Justice party took over. It echoes today in Washington.

First came an attack on Poland's judiciary, notably the troublesome Constitutional Court. But wait, there's more. How about press freedom? Sound familiar? In December, Polish pro-democracy protesters swarmed the legislature for three days.

Protests in the Polish capital Warsaw against government plans to restrict journalists' access to parliament have continued for a third day.

Protesters gathered outside parliament, where opposition MPs have been holding a sit-in since Friday.

Press freedom and judicial independence are also being suppressed in Hungary where strongman, Viktor Orban, has vowed to pursue illiberal democracy.

Then there's Turkey where, under Erdogan, press freedom and judicial independence seem closer to South Vietnam under Diem.

The thing is, much as critics like to cast Trump's senior advisor, Steve Bannon, as some latter day Machiavelli of the Dark Side, he is actually following the playbook written elsewhere. We have the benefit of plenty of recent history to see how this can play out. We can see how the radical right goes about dismembering the democratic state, particularly by attacking judicial independence and press freedom, both of which are well underway in America today.

And, in case you're breathing a smug sigh of relief that we're in Canada, not the United States, you might want to read the National Observer's interview with Chris Hedges. Here's a bit of the Q & A:

What are your thoughts on Canada’s role in this and how Canada could be affected?

Canada’s always a few years behind. Trudeau functions much like Obama. That kind of liberal veneer, while pushing through corporate interests and power at the expense of the citizenry. He’s done nothing to disrupt the surveillance apparatus.

Wouldn't you rather have Trudeau than Trump?

Eventually you end up with a Trump. These are liberal democracies that cease to function. The institutions that address the most basic rights and grievances of the citizens don’t work. They serve corporate power.

Feel better now? I hope not.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

You Can't Blame It All on Trump & Company.

Foreign Policy editor, David Rothkopf, explores America's "shallow government" and the role ordinary Americans, Trump supporters, play in empowering it.

The shallow state is in many respects the antithesis of the deep state. The power of the deep state comes from experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, traditions, and shared values. Together, these purported attributes make nameless bureaucrats into a supergovernment that is accountable to no one. That is a scary prospect. But the nature of bureaucracies, human nature, inertia, checks and balances, and respect for the chain of command makes it seem a bit far-fetched to me. (The bureaucracy will drive Trump, like many presidents, mad, and some within it will challenge him, but that’s not the same thing.)

The shallow state, on the other hand, is unsettling because not only are the signs of it ever more visible but because its influence is clearly growing. It is made scarier still because it not only actively eschews experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, tradition, and shared values but because it celebrates its ignorance of and disdain for those things. Donald Trump, champion and avatar of the shallow state, has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand is almost everything. Indeed, from evolution to data about our economy to the science of vaccines to the threats we face in the world, they reject vast subjects rooted in fact in order to have reality conform to their worldviews. They don’t dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills, and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy.The commander in chief of the shallow state, for example, does not have much use for reading. Or briefings. Or experts. He is famously driven instead by impulse, instinct, and ideology. He and the team around him care very little for facts. (The Washington Post has been tracking his performance, and so far the president has not let a day go by without a major lie.) Indeed, as we have seen, Trump & Co. are allergic to demonstrable, proven facts whether they be of the scientific, political, social, cultural, or economic variety. With leaders like these, the shallow state exists only on the surface, propelled only by emotion and reflex. Therefore, anything of factual weight or substance disturbs, disrupts, or obliterates it much as a rock does when dropped onto an image reflected in a pond.

We have seen shallow leaders before. Abraham Lincoln decried the Know-Nothing party and its adherents, who were a notable movement on the U.S. political landscape in the middle of the 19th century. Recent leaders like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were not seen as leading intellectual lights. But the Trump phenomenon is more extreme. The president of the United States with all the resources available to him wouldn’t offer up major distortions of the truth every day for more than a month absent a deep disinterest in learning or a recognition that lies may be more supportive of his positions than the truth (and that his followers are perfectly happy accepting lies). Or both. In my view, it is both. Further, Trump’s team has seemed much more focused on offering up something that is more like a television show about a president than actual governance. It plays not to newspapers — which it seeks to discredit — but to social media, animated by the belief that the actions of a government can not just be explained in 140 characters but can consist largely of tweets and photo ops and packaged images. When things require real work behind the scenes but are hard to translate to tweets or chat TV, they just don’t seem to be prioritized (like nominating people for the almost 600 open Senate-confirmable positions) or get done (like anything hard with regard to legislation).

It is convenient to blame Trump and write this off as a flaw in his character and that of his acolytes and enablers. But, honestly, you don’t get a reality TV show president with no experience and no interest in big ideas or even in boning up on basic knowledge (like the nature of the nuclear triad — after all, it has only three legs) without a public that is comfortable with that … or actively seeks it. Think about the fact that two out of the last four Republican presidents came from show biz (and a third gained a chunk of his experience as a baseball executive). There is no doubt that the rise of the cage-match mentality of cable news has undercut civility in American political discourse, but it has also made politics into something like a TV show. You switch from the Kardashians to Trump on The Apprentice to Trump the candidate in your head, and it is all one. Increasingly shows are about finding formulas that produce a visceral reaction rather than stimulate thoughts or challenge the viewer. That’s not to say that not much is wonderful in the world of media today … but attention spans are shrinking. Social media contributes to this. But the way we consume even serious journalism does, too. Much of it is reviewed in quick snippets on a mobile device. The average visit to a news website is a couple of minutes, the average time spent with a story shorter still. We skim. We cherry-pick.

Life is once again imitating art. Actually, it’s worse than that.
No Now this president has decided that if he is shallow and his followers are shallow, he shall do what he can to make our society shallower. Perhaps that’s his most ambitious goal given the level to which we have sunk. But he is doing so nonetheless, now offering up a budget that would eliminate those small pockets within the U.S. government that promote depth or real knowledge. Scientific and economic data that undercuts his theories is being suppressed. Dissent, even from within his own ranks, is being met with firings.

...That is why, while it is easy to simply be angry or to laugh at a president who doesn’t read or to be distracted by half-baked conspiracy theories like the deep state, we must recognize that the shallow state is much more pernicious. This administration has come to power because America has allowed public discourse, the quality of education we give our kids, and the standards we set for ourselves to decline. Trump seeks to institutionalize that decline. He is at war with that which has made our society great. He seeks to eviscerate the elements of our government and discredit those within our society who are champions of the depth on which any civilization depends.
And we cannot switch the channel. We cannot tweet this out of existence. We cannot unfollow him. We must fight, or we will lose that which is best about ourselves and our country.

It's Not Easy Being a Liberal (or a Tory). It Shouldn't Be.

Three facts that reflect what it's like to support the Trudeau government.

Canadians are now one of the world's largest extractors of climate pollution, per capita

We're planning one of world's biggest increases through 2030

Our relentlessly increasing extraction has become a supersized gamble that threatens both climate hope and our economic stability

Trudeau talks about "phasing out" bitumen production, sort of turning off the tap. That sounds very green. Then again he says this even as his hand is opening that tap just as fast as he can. There's really no polite way to say this. He's a liar and he's lying about the very thing that's now imperilling human civilization, that's beginning to exact an ever increasing toll of lives in other corners of the planet.

Barry Saxifrage has a terrific essay in the National Observer that puts the hard truth into perspective and asks the questions we're ducking. He's even provided a couple of charts that present a stark picture of where we're actually heading.

The first chart reveals that Canada's fossil energy extraction represents 32 tonnes of CO2 per capita. That number is kind of meaningless until you compare Canada's performance against other leading economies. Then it becomes an eye opener.

The second chart shows how we stack up against the Americans now and into the near future.

Something to note here.  Even as America's extractive numbers, per capita, decline moderately to 2030, so too do Canada's - except for bitumen production. It's bitumen, good old Alberta Tar Sands crud, that drives our numbers ever upward. Is that what Trudeau means by "phasing out"? Has he succumbed to Trump Syndrome where fantasy overrides reality?

A new report from Oil Change International (OCI), "Climate on the Line", surveyed global projections and concluded:

"Over the next twenty years, the industry is set to expand oil production by more in Canada than in any other country. If it continues on this course, Canada could become one of the world’s largest extractors of the new carbon that would drive the atmosphere over the edge."

The numbers show that when it comes to pulling climate pollution out of the ground, Canadians are already among the most extreme in the world. And our future plans are shown to be equally extreme. Unfortunately, such supersized carbon levels also come with supersized risks to our climate and our economy.


The OCI's report did the carbon budget math and concludes starkly:
"Canadian government simply cannot have it both ways. There is no scenario in which tar sands production increases and the world achieves the Paris goals."

The report "Extracted Carbon" from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) comes to the same conclusion. It shows that Canadian plans vastly exceed our largest plausible slice of the world's remaining safe carbon-extraction budget. By refusing to live within our share of a safe carbon-extraction budget it says we are pushing global climate safety out of reach.

In addition, the CCPA report says that that we are holding back needed climate action in another way. Our surging levels of extracted carbon are helping to create a global oversupply. This in turn is pushing fossil carbon prices lower. Falling prices for climate-polluting fuels undercut the economics of transiting to climate-safe alternatives in time. As a result, our expansion plans are "locking in" climate failure by "locking in" long lived carbon infrastructure which will continue pumping out climate pollution long after global climate emissions must go to zero.

Finally, Saxifrage poses the question we all need to put to our elected representatives, starting with the current prime minister.

Some people I talk to about our extreme carbon-dependency say it is just "politically impossible" for our political leaders to transition our economy to one that aligns with a safe climate. My response is: "how do we know? No leader in power has really tried to explain the situation to Canadians and then lead discussions on alternatives. Where are the speeches and reports and commissions? Where is the forum to discuss and evaluate alternatives? Where is the analysis of the risks we face on our current hyper-extraction path?"

Trudeau has told Canadians his government will heed the science. We're going to have a government that operates on knowledge, facts, not belief, faith like the last bunch. So where's this vaunted science on bitumen expansion and on pipelines? I think that might have to go into the "even more bullshit" file.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Sure, Go For It. Let's Re-Freeze the Arctic.

There's an ambitious proposal being floated to restore the Arctic Ocean sea ice. It entails deploying 10-million pumps powered by wind turbines. The pumps would draw sea water and spray it over the existing ice to build it up layer by layer.

The cost would be somewhere between $500 to $700-billion, USD. Yeah, that's upwards of half a trillion dollars.

Only it's an idea that's going nowhere. Even if it could be shown to work without creating problematic side effects, that's an awful lot of money for cash strapped, "everyday low taxes" governments to cough up. What's Libya's share or Spain's or Ukraine's?

A second huge problem is that there's no point putting that kind of investment into restoring the Arctic sea ice unless you simultaneously transition off fossil energy. The influential fossil energy giants aren't interested in anything that might write off their $27-trillion worth of proven energy reserves. Does this sound like something that would be supported by the current occupant of 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue?

The third big problem is that this idea won't stop climate change. It might help reduce the rate of onset but that's about it. It buys time, sort of. It also does nothing to address either overpopulation or overconsumption, the other two existential threats to human civilization.

The Heart of Darkness, a.k.a. The Trump Administration

Foreign Policy's Max Boot captures the extreme dysfunction inside the Trump White House.

...the United States under President Donald Trump does not actually seem to have a foreign policy. Or, to be exact, it has several foreign policies — and it is not obvious whether anyone, including the president himself, speaks for the entire administration.

On Feb. 15, for example, Trump was asked, during a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whether he still supported a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. His insouciant reply? “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.” This immediately prompted news coverage that, as a New York Times article had it, “President Trump jettisoned two decades of diplomatic orthodoxy on Wednesday by declaring that the United States would no longer insist on the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.”

But had Trump meant to do that? His remarks sounded as if they were being improvised off the top of his head. Did they actually denote a change of policy? Sure enough, 24 hours later, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told reporters that “the two-state solution is what we support. Anybody that wants to say the United States does not support the two-state solution — that would be an error,” thus suggesting that the president was mistaken about his own administration’s policies. It soon emerged, thanks to Politico’s reporting, that the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had not been consulted or even informed beforehand about what was, in theory at least, a momentous policy shift: “At the White House, there was little thought about notifying the nation’s top diplomat because, as one senior staffer put it, ‘everyone knows Jared [Kushner] is running point on the Israel stuff.’”

Bannon sidelines the A-List Talent.

So much for the hopes that Trump’s seasoned cabinet appointees — especially retired Gen. John Kelly at Homeland Security, retired Gen. James Mattis at Defense, and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson at State — could direct administration policy on a more mainstream course. Perhaps they will exert a bigger influence down the road, especially now that they will have a valuable ally in the new national security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, but so far their impact has been decidedly limited. They have had to fight for influence with Steve Bannon, the white nationalist ideologue who has been inexplicably granted a place on the National Security Council’s top-level Principals Committee, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law who has been granted nebulous authority over areas such as Mexico and Israel. Bannon has even created his own shadow NSC, called the Strategic Initiatives Group, staffed by people such as the anti-Muslim extremist Sebastian Gorka.

Bannon showed just how much power he wields when he vetoed Tillerson’s choice for deputy secretary of state — Elliott Abrams. One suspects that, from Bannon’s standpoint, Abrams had multiple strikes against him: Not only is he Jewish and a “neocon,” hence hostile to isolationism and nativism, but he has vast policymaking experience stretching back to the Ronald Reagan administration. Bannon, who has never served in government outside his time as a junior naval officer decades ago, must have known Abrams would be a formidable bureaucratic adversary — one who could make up for Tillerson’s own lack of policy making background. So Bannon apparently sabotaged Abrams’s nomination by putting before Trump a single article that Abrams had written last year critical of him. That this is not just about loyalty to the president is obvious from the fact that Rick Perry, who once called Trump a “cancer on conservatism,” was appointed as energy secretary. But then nobody in the White House cares who runs the Energy Department or considers Perry any kind of threat. Abrams was different — and thus he could not be allowed to join the administration.

President Bannon’s insistence on maintaining control also appears to be behind the problems the administration is having in finding a new national security advisor to replace Flynn. The first choice — retired Vice Adm. Bob Harward — turned down the post after Trump made it clear that he would not be allowed to pick his own deputy (for some reason Harward did not think that K.T. McFarland was qualified despite her years of pithy Fox News commentary) or to get any guarantees of a clear chain of command that would exclude interference from Bannon and Kushner. This was, among other things, a message that Mattis, who is close to Harward and recommended him, does not exercise any more sway than Tillerson over key administration appointments.

Trump's Fog of Uncertainty and Confusion

Foreign officials watching this amazing and dispiriting spectacle are left in the uncomfortable position of not knowing who if anyone actually speaks for the United States. This became obvious over the weekend when Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense Mattis, among others, traveled to the Munich Security Conference to offer reassurance that the United States would remain committed to NATO and opposed to Russia. But of course European officials are well aware that Trump has repeatedly expressed his own skepticism of NATO and admiration of Vladimir Putin and has spoken longingly of doing a “deal” with Russia. Indeed, Time magazine reported that Bannon’s Strategic Initiatives Group is generating “its own assessment of Russia-policy options,” including concessions such as “reducing or removing the U.S. anti-ballistic-missile footprint in Central and Eastern Europe, easing sanctions imposed for election meddling or the invasion of Ukraine, or softening language on the Crimean annexation” — all options far removed from the tough talk in Munich.

Thus Germany’s defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, pointedly replied to Mattis’s pro-NATO speech by expressing appreciation for the “secretary of defense’s strong commitment to NATO.” Not America’s strong commitment or the Trump administration’s strong commitment. Because who the hell knows anymore who actually speaks for America?

What a mess. Trump doesn't understand the significance of his own words or how his off-the-cuff comments undermine his own administration. Worse still, when he does manage to get people of experience and proven talent, his in-house Rasputin, Steve Bannon, sidelines them, usurping their powers for himself.

God save America - from Donald Trump.

Monday, February 20, 2017

C'mon, Really. When a Thug Like Robert Mugabe Claims Kin With Your President, You Need to Ask Just What You've Gotten Yourself Into.

Leaving the bragging rights aside, I was astounded to learn today that I wasn't the only one who found similarities between America's new president and Zimbabwe's bad boy, Robert Mugabe.

I didn't expect it, the more so when I found myself agreeing on the point with - Robert Mugabe himself.

Mugabe sees much of Trump in himself because, in some critical ways, they're cut from the same cloth.

We know a lot about Bob Mugabe, plenty enough. Since he rose to power in the former Rhodesia in 1980, this narcissistic megalomaniac has brought wave upon wave of ruin to his land, his thin gruel spiced up with bouts of murderous brutality.

His current wife, Zimbabwe's Melania so to speak, recently announced that, should her lacquered 93-year old boy toy/sugar daddy croak before the next election, she'll have him embalmed/preserved (think Lenin) and run him for president anyway.That sounds decidedly Trumpian, don't you think?

President Bob is right. In many ways, he is the revolutionary African forerunner of the Great Orange Bloat. Americans, including Trump supporters, would do well to think that one through.

Nailed It!!!

Like some people, I've been trying to divine just whom Trump most closely resembles. There've been plenty of people claiming he's another Hitler or a new Mussolini. Not me.

Then it finally dawned on me. Trump is America's Robert Mugabe. He wants to turn America into the United States of Northern Zimbabwe.

Miracle of miracles. Friend Dana responded with a link to an item from The Independent.

Robert Mugabe has claimed he has similarities with US President Donald Trump.

The President of Zimbabwe said he had no issue with Mr Trump’s American nationalism and had the same view about his own country.

“…When it comes to Donald Trump, on the one hand talking of American nationalism, well America for America, America for Americans – on that we agree. Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.”

Mugabe thinks he and Trump are such presidential peas in a pod that he's hoping the Great Orange Bloat will lift sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by Barack Obama.

Closing In on Donald Trump

The missing link is - Deutsche Bank.

Investigators want to know why the troubled Deutsche Bank got into Donald Trump's companies for $1.3 billion when American banks wouldn't touch anything to do with Trump?

This is the same bank that had to cough up a staggering $7.2 billion to the US Department of Justice for its part in a toxic bond scandal. Since the pre-Christmas bond scandal settlement, Deutsche Bank has also been hit with over $630 million in fines by British and U.S. regulators for its role in laundering dirty money from Russia.

The penalties relate to the bank failing to obtain information about its customers involved in mirror trades – ones which “mirror” each other and have no economic purpose – which allowed Deutsche Bank’s Russia-based subsidiary (DB Moscow) to execute more than 2,400 pairs of trades between April 2012 and October 2014.

Shares in major Russian companies were paid for in roubles through the Moscow office and then the same stock would be sold through London, sometimes on the same day, for a related customer, the New York regulator said. The sellers were registered in offshore locations and received payment for the shares in dollars. A dozen entities were identified.

The FCA said the purpose of $6bn mirror trades was the conversion of roubles into US dollars and the “covert transfer of those funds out of Russia, which is highly suggestive of financial crime”.

The regulators found almost $3bn in 3,400 suspicious“one-sided trades” also occurred. The FCA believes that some, if not all, of these formed one side of mirror trades. They were often conducted by the same customers involved in the mirror trading.

“This Russian mirror-trading scheme occurred while the bank was on clear notice of serious and widespread compliance issues dating back a decade. The offsetting trades here lacked economic purpose and could have been used to facilitate money laundering or enable other illicit conduct, and today’s action sends a clear message that DFS will not tolerate such conduct,” said New York’s financial services superintendent, Maria Vullo.

All of which leads us to a quiet meeting last Friday involving Republican and Democrat members of the Senate Intelligence Committee with FBI director James Comey in a basement meeting room. That was followed by the now predictable leak from the intelligence community.

Today’s latest leak from the U.S. intelligence community to the media reveals that the FBI is knee deep in an investigation into middlemen and front companies which connect Donald Trump and his associates financially to Russia. Trump has long claimed he has no financial connections to Russia whatsoever, although his son Donald Jr. causally admitted otherwise years ago. It was already known that the FBI was investigating Russian election hacking, and also investigating four Trump campaign advisors who colluded with Russian intel officials the election. But word of an FBI investigation into Trump’s financial ties to Russia is new, and marks a significant turn in the Trump-Russia scandal.

Given the timing of the leak, it seems probable, though not conclusive, that this is the information which FBI Director James Comey shared with with the Senate Intelligence Community yesterday. Whatever Comey shared with them, it was substantial enough that the Democrats on the committee appeared to finally decide they were satisfied with the effort Comey and the FBI were making on the matter, thus calling off their ongoing complaints to the media about him.

Reuters was the first to report on this newly uncovered FBI investigation into Trump’s financial ties to Russia, which is being run out of the FBI’s Washington DC field office. Republicans on the Senate Intel Committee appear to have found Comey’s briefing to be so definitively damning of Trump that they’re now moving ahead with securing the Trump-Russia evidence in order to prevent Donald Trump from shredding it.

A lot of smoke but no discernable fire, not yet at least. This could explain, however, Trump's desperation to staunch the leaks from his avowed foe, America's intelligence community.

Congratulations, Donald. One Month and Counting.

Dear Donnie:

It hardly seems like you were sworn into office a month ago. Hard to believe. It seems like so much longer.

Who can forget your predecessor, Barack "No Drama" Obama? Boy you sure have made him look good, no great, very, very great.

I hope you've learned a lot from your first month. But you could use a style point or two. There's nothing that says "presidential" less than a whiny bitch. That's what you've become, Don, a non-stop, relentless, whiny bitch. We get it. You're insecure. Totally insecure. You might be the most insecure president ever. No one does insecure better than you. No one. You are the whiniest bitch to ever get the keys to 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue.

America's rivals and her adversaries are watching you 24/7. They're busy unpacking your insecurities, your flaming narcissism, your cloying need for unearned adulation. They've done their homework on the Trump you claim to be versus the Trump you are. They know why you can never quite exit the warm womb of delusion that manifests in your inability to separate reality from fantasy.

They're going to test you, Donald. They're going to test America. That's what these occasions invite, even demand. They're going to test you in ways that play on your vulnerabilities - your insecurity, your narcissism, your general ignorance and your indifference to reality versus fantasy. There's a lot to play with there - it's yuuuuge.

They probably won't provoke you militarily. There's no need. The Deep State is already moving on you. They might give them a nudge, some more pressing, urgent reason to take you down. How about egging you into some full blown constitutional crisis? The impeachment option or the 25th Amendment removal power?

You've had a month but all you've shown is how pitifully weak you are at your core, behind the bluster. At 70 years old that's not something you grow out of. You're toast.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hey, Sal. This One's For You.

For our friend, the Salamander. Here's your namesake, the biggest of them all.

The Best Weapon to Fight Right Wing Populism - Progressive Populism From the Left

The era of Everyday Low Taxes, especially for corporations and the rich, has brought us low.

Why, in a piece on rightwing populism did I open with a line about taxes? It's because we have to get out from under ill-conceived tax policies that have fueled inequality and social unrest now being exploited by rightwing populists.

You can go from Reagan to Trump, from Thatcher to May, from Mulroney to Trudeau, and we're still living under this farcical myth of "trickle down" prosperity for all. We've been waiting for more than three decades for that to happen and it turns out that what we've had instead is a "trickle up" economy facilitated by a political caste in service to narrow interests at the expense of the public interest.

There's an old line about people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The political equivalent of that are politicians who fixate on GDP, Gross Domestic Production, as the yardstick to gauge their performance. It's all about growth with little to no regard for where that growth winds up, how it impacts society. Growth can be a double-edged sword, dangerous if it's wielded carelessly as it has been routinely in recent decades. We have deep wounds to our social cohesion to show for it.

Now right wingers - Erdogan, Orban, Wilders, Trump are examples - are exploiting the discontent to ride a wave of faux populism much as some pretty horrible people have in the past. They purport to empathize with Joe Lunchpail's problems, promise to bring back some golden era past, all the while consolidating ever more power.

In Trump's case he promises to bring back the good old days of the 60s, 70s and 80s America when the middle class prospered and flourished. Only he's lying. He's lying because his base of Gullibillies don't know any better. They're Gullibillies who need to believe and don't care if tells the truth.

How do I know Trump's lying about bringing back the good old days? That's easy. Take a look at those good old days and see what he would have to reinstate to bring them back. That would begin with heavy taxation of higher bracket incomes. That would demand taxation of high incomes and taxation of wealth just like America used to have back when the government had funds to pay for infrastructure projects, a social safety net and so on. Trump is not going to do that.

In the postwar era of prosperity, every president, Republican and Democrat alike, managed to reduce America's federal debt as a percentage of GDP until the election of Ronald Reagan. In just 8 years, Reagan transformed America from the world's largest creditor state to the world's largest debtor nation. The U.S. has never been the same since.

Bush/Cheney enacted two massive tax cuts for the rich and launched two protracted foreign wars. There wasn't money in the treasury for any of that. That funding had to be borrowed from foreign lenders. That is the reality of everyday low taxes, the blood oath of the neoliberal era.

Trump promises the Gullibillies that he'll bring back their offshored jobs. That's nonsense. Those jobs were first outsourced to Mexico and then moved to China. Now China can't compete for the low cost labour. Running shoes are now being produced in Ethiopia.

Nobel laureate economist and former World Bank chief economist, Joe Stiglitz, has written a very insightful piece in the latest Vanity Fair in which he unpacks Trump's economic fantasies.

Trump, it would seem, believes that we can go it alone, that we don’t need the cooperation of China or any other country, or that if we did, we could buy it when we need it. He believes that everything and everybody has a price—that when and if we need cooperation, we can buy it off the shelf. Like the real-estate developer that he is, everything is transactional.

While there is some debate about the extent to which Trump is a “successful businessman,” there is no successful country that is grounded on the principles—or the lack of principles—upon which he has grown his businesses. Economists believe that a successful economy is based on trust, backed up by the rule of law. His standard business practice has been to stiff his suppliers, knowing that recourse to courts is expensive. Of course, over the long term, honest suppliers know this, and refuse to deal. Less scrupulous vendors overcharge and cheat, taking advantage too of the imperfections in our judicial system. But there is no successful economy based on the Trump model.

Trump supporters who eagerly await the return of $40 per hour plus benefits jobs are going to come up empty. Those jobs aren't coming back, not unless America's workers accept Ethiopian wages. That door has been nailed shut not just by Third World wage rates but by automation, robotics. It's simply cheaper and more profitable to rely on expensive robots than to return to the labour market Trump's Gullibillies imagine.

Trump is selling faux populism. There are things he says he'll do but simply can't. The other things - things he can do - he won't. And as he comes up empty handed he'll find someone or something else to vilify. The Gullibillies have an insatiable appetite for vilification. That's why they're Trump's lawful prey.

Does that mean that there's no place for populism? Hardly. There is both a place and an urgent need, just not for right wing, faux populism. Now more than ever. But what is populism, progressive populism? It's more than a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage. It's a formula of principles on which to found a relationship between the state and the individual, the nation and its people. Some of these are ancient principles that trace back to the beginning, Athenian democracy.

As Stiglitz observes, Trump's farcical promise is grounded on a freewheeling, lack of principles which, by itself, dooms it to fail. Principles guide policy. Without essential principles policy becomes incoherent, contradictory, even self-defeating.

Progressive populism is founded on principles that where and as possible should be expressed in policy. There is no magic bullet. Policy has to reflect limits and changing circumstances just as it reflects opportunities. Policy should be the practical embodiment of principle.

There can be no exhaustive compendium of progressive principles. But there are a number of core principles, tested and proven over generations, even centuries. A number of them are restated in Teddy Roosevelt's "Square Deal" speech of 1910 and I think you will find them suitable to our world today.

1. Balancing the rights of Labour and Capital.

Of that generation of men to whom we owe so much, the man to whom we owe most is, of course, Lincoln. Part of our debt to him is because he forecast our present struggle and saw the way out. He said: —

“I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind.”

And again: —

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

2. Restraint of Special Interests and the Inequality These Interests Create

In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows.

At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth.

Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.

Now, this means that our government, national and state, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. ...We must drive the special interests out of politics. That is one of our tasks to-day. Every special interest is entitled to justice — full, fair, and complete —  For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.

There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.

We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that the people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.

3. Corporate Accountability and Regulation

We have come to recognize that franchises should never be granted except for a limited time, and never without proper provision for compensation to the public. It is my personal belief that the same kind and degree of control and supervision which should be exercised over public-service corporations should be extended also to combinations which control necessaries of life, such as meat, oil, or coal, or which deal in them on an important scale. I have no doubt that the ordinary man who has control of them is much like ourselves. I have no doubt he would like to do well, but I want to have enough supervision to help him realize that desire to do well.

I believe that the officers, and, especially, the directors, of corporations should be held personally responsible when any corporation breaks the law.

4. Effective Progressive Taxation of Income and Wealth

The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need to is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows.  ...It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.

 No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered — not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective — a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

5. Conservation and Securing Posterity

Of conservation I shall speak more at length elsewhere. Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. I ask nothing of the nation except that it so behave as each farmer here behaves with reference to his own children. That farmer is a poor creature who skins the land and leaves it worthless to his children. The farmer is a good farmer who, having enabled the land to support himself and to provide for the education of his children, leaves it to them a little better than he found it himself. I believe the same thing of a nation.

...Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.

We are face to face with new conceptions of the relations of property to human welfare, chiefly because certain advocates of the rights of property as against the rights of men have been pushing their claims too far. The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.

6. Upholding and Advancing Labour and the Public Interest

The right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest is universally admitted. Let us admit also the right to regulate the terms and conditions of labor, which is the chief element of wealth, directly in the interest of the common good. The fundamental thing to do for every man is to give him a chance to reach a place in which he will make the greatest possible contribution to the public welfare. ...No man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living, and hours of labor short enough so after his day’s work is done he will have time and energy to bear his share in the management of the community, to help in carrying the general load. We keep countless men from being good citizens by the conditions of life by which we surround them.

This New Nationalism regards the executive power as the steward of the public welfare. It demands of the judiciary that it shall be interested primarily in human welfare rather than in property, just as it demands that the representative body shall represent all the people rather than any one class or section of the people.

I believe in shaping the ends of government to protect property as well as human welfare. Normally, and in the long run, the ends are the same; but whenever the alternative must be faced, I am for men and not for property, as you were in the Civil War. I am far from underestimating the importance of dividends; but I rank dividends below human character. Again, I do not have any sympathy with the reformer who says he does not care for dividends. Of course, economic welfare is necessary, for a man must pull his own weight and be able to support his family. I know well that the reformers must not bring upon the people economic ruin, or the reforms themselves will go down in the ruin.

7. Upholding the Moral and Material Welfare of all Citizens.

One of the fundamental necessities in a representative government such as ours is to make certain that the men to whom the people delegate their power shall serve the people by whom they are elected, and not the special interests. I believe that every national officer, elected or appointed, should be forbidden to perform any service or receive any compensation, directly or indirectly, from interstate corporations; and a similar provision could not fail to be useful within the States.

The object of government is the welfare of the people. The material progress and prosperity of a nation are desirable chiefly so long as they lead to the moral and material welfare of all good citizens. Just in proportion as the average man and woman are honest, capable of sound judgment and high ideals, active in public affairs, — but, first of all, sound in their home, and the father and mother of healthy children whom they bring up well, — just so far, and no farther, we may count our civilization a success.

To Roosevelt's maxims of progressive populism I would add the "precautionary principle." In another time there might have been less need for it but that is not the era in which we now live.

I'm convinced that progressive populism is the only form that can work to the benefit of the public interest rather than the special interest. It seems radical only in contrast to the unquestionably radical neoliberal order that has already failed us but persists as our political caste's default operating system. Something will replace the neoliberal order. At the moment that includes this evolving autocracy and a form of neo-feudalism. Let's find a better path.