Monday, February 19, 2018

What Is Trump Hiding?


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


Our democracy is in serious danger.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Yeah, it makes sense. You know it does.

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




The Social Pathologies of Collapse


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

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

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

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

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


And Haque has a warning for the rest of us.

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

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

Requiem for American Democracy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Rise of the Corporate State

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

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

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

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


The Oligarchs Move In For the Kill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Age of Graft

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

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

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

Jimmy Carter Says:

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

Fixing It Won't Be Easy

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

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

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

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





 Amendment. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Brain Candy - Can We Break Our Smartphone Addiction?


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



Doidge:

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



Balsillie:

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


Doidge:

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


Balsillie:

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


Doidge:

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: It's Better than Sleeping Under a Bridge

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


Saturday, February 17, 2018

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


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




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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C'mon, it's win-win.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Speaking of Bill "Job Churn" Morneau, How Do You Talk Someone Out of Their Health, Wealth and Happiness. It's Easy.



A chilling report from Britain's New Economics Foundation entitled, "Framing the Economy," examines how Brits were smooth talked into accepting brutal austerity.

From The Guardian:

What do people think the economy is? How do they think it works? How do you think it works, if you think it works at all? The New Economics Foundation, in its report, Framing the Economy, conducted 40 in-depth interviews in London, Newport, Glasgow, Wolverhampton and Hull, with the aim of finding points of common understanding. Though 40 is a relatively small number, the researchers were looking for images, metaphors, certainties and black holes that came up again and again, across regions and demographics.

From these tropes, they’ve been able to plot how, from 2010, the coalition government’s austerity agenda played so well into people’s hopes and fears; how the public attachment to it was so tenacious. How, even as the policy was failing to stimulate the economy in the way that had been promised, it was still seemingly resistant to counter-argument. Even once it was plainly, across the country, having devastating impacts on people’s lived experience (disabled people having their benefits removed and dying weeks later, the victims of the universal credit experiment evicted from their homes), the notion itself – that we all had to tighten our belts, and that was the responsible thing to do – was curiously buoyant.


If anything, the more hardship it caused, the more necessary it was for many to cling to the narrative. And this was all underpinned by deeply held notions about how things “work”. The economy was seen as a container, the most frequent metaphor was a bucket: some people put in, and others took out. It was also seen as cash, almost exclusively, with other frames – productivity, investment – rarely getting a look in. By the bucket definition, the economy was finite, and economic disasters were the result of too many people taking out, and not enough people putting in.
...

Dora Meade, the lead researcher, was shocked by the “ubiquity and level of fatalism”. If you combine the feeling that the economy is something beyond a normal person’s understanding or control, with the sense that the system is rigged, “people are left feeling there is very little they can do. There’s no role for the general public, even if they believe it’s broken and unfair.”

The New Economics Foundation does, however, say that we have an opportunity to reverse this, to shatter the dogma fed to us by these neoliberals.

These are times of great danger but also of great possibility. For the first time in decades, there is a sense that the economic consensus is fracturing, that a change must and will come. A space has opened up to talk and think differently about the economy. The question is what this space will be filled by: a narrow, nationalistic story which scapegoats outsiders, or a positive vision for a just and sustainable future? It is imperative that civil society rises to the challenge.

The energy, the momentum for this has to come from us. It's pointless for us to rely on today's Liberals or Conservatives or even New Democrats. Trudeau talks shiite all the time and his dutiful followers swallow every spoonful of it. Politicians, especially in the States, masterfully manipulate the narrative to get people to vote directly against their own self-interest.

Hey, Yeah You, Holland. Cut the Crap!


This is the sort of thing you've got to expect in a massively overpopulated world. The Dutch are up to their dikes in cow shit.


There is a dirty stench emanating from the Dutch dairy sector. The industry is, by most measures, hugely successful: despite the small size of the country, it is the fifth largest exporter of dairy and has a much-touted reputation as the tiny country that feeds the world.

But there’s a catch: the nation’s 1.8 million cows are producing so much manure that there isn’t enough space to get rid of it safely.

As a result, farmers are dumping cow poo illegally, the country is breaking EU regulations on phosphates designed to prevent groundwater contamination, and the high levels of ammonia emissions are affecting air quality.

About 80% of farms in the Netherlands produce more dung than they can legally use on their farm. To get around the limits, farmers pay an estimated €550m a year to get the manure removed. A recently uncovered fraud found a number of them had been avoiding the cost altogether by transporting the manure off-farm on paper, but in reality dumping it on farm fields.

The Dutch are already allowed to spread more manure on land than the rest of the European Union, but a large expansion in the sector in recent years has seen phosphate levels repeatedly exceeded. Under pressure from the EU, the Dutch government has now been forced to pay farmers compensation to try to get them to reduce cow numbers.

There was a time, when mankind's numbers were at least a third, probably half of what they are today, that we were living in balance with our very finite ecosystem. Those days are over, even for the incredibly tidy Dutch. The Netherlands produces too much phosphate, a great destroyer of marine life in both fresh and coastal salt water. In many other countries, industrial agriculture is rapidly degrading farmland and threatening global food security. The thing is, we just can't keep going this way. 

All of our leaders are disciples of endless, exponential growth. Yet our planet's ecosystem is like a child's party balloon. There's a limit to how much air you can blow into it and, when you pass that limit, well, you know. If you don't, feel free to ask the Dutch.



If This Keeps Up, I Might Start Feeling a Bit Sorry for Donald Trump.



Former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal is spilling the beans on Cap'n Hands, Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America.

President Donald Trump and his allies concealed an affair with a former Playboy model through secret meetings, payoffs and legal arrangements, according to a report published Friday inThe New Yorker.

Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate of the Year, documented her alleged nine-month affair with Trump in an eight-page handwritten note shared with The New Yorker.

McDougal, 46, claims Trump once offered to pay her after they had sex in a private bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where many of their purported liaisons took place. She alleges Trump tried to avoid creating a record that might expose their relationship by having her pay for her own flights and then reimbursing her.

Enter the unfortunately named Mr. David Pecker.

McDougal confirmed to The New Yorker a Wall Street Journal report that said American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, agreed to pay her $150,000 for her story but then did not publish it.

David Pecker, the CEO and chairman of AMI, is a Trump supporter who has reportedly described the president as a “personal friend.” Six former AMI employees told The New Yorker that Pecker often purchases a story in order to bury it — a tabloid industry practice called “catch and kill.”

In a statement provided to NBC News, AMI appeared to dismiss the report: "The New Yorker and Ronan Farrow's suggestion that AMI engages in any practice that would allow it to hold influence over the President of the United States is laughable."

We're Slipping. Canada's Climate Change Survival Rating is Slipping


The University of Notre Dame's latest Gain Country Index ranks the world's nations on their ability to withstand the impacts of climate change.

The index keys on two factors. The first is a country's vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges. The second is the measures being taken to enhance resilience.

Those at the top are expected to be the last and, at least initially, least impacted. At the other end, the least fortunate countries are collected into groups. The very worst, "Oh my God, we're So Screwed." Then there's the "We're So Screwed" group who rank just behind the "We're Screwed" nations.

Canada? We're at an underwhelming 13th place. It's like we landed in the 13th slot despite ourselves. But there is hope. Canada is shown as trending down and our 68.9 rating isn't that much higher than the U.S. rating of 68.0. Norway topped the ratings, naturally, at 76.

Among the Mushroom Cloud Club we have Pakistan in 138th holding steady with a 38.8 score, India at 118 with a 42.2 score, and China in 59th with a 53.5 rating. In 29th, Israel does better with a 61.4.

More Mueller Indictments


NBC News reports that special counsel Robert Mueller has issued indictments against thirteen Russian citizens and three Russian entities in connection with the tampering of America's 2016 election.

The indictments — part of Mueller's ongoing investigation — are the first criminal indictments tied directly to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The indictment charges all of the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., charges three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and charges five defendants with aggravated identity theft.

"From in or around 2014 to the present, Defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016," the indictment states.

According to the indictment, some defendants traveled to U.S. under false pretenses to collect intelligence and to "reach significant number of Americans for purposes of interfering with the US political system, including the presidential election of 2016."


Now we wait for the other shoe to drop. That will be when indictments are issued against those "significant number of Americans" who colluded with the Russians. It's probably not going to be a pleasant weekend for Don Jr., a.k.a.
"Fredo" Trump, and Jared may be busy getting the lowdown from his dad on prison shower etiquette.

It's a shrewd move on Mueller's part. The grand jury indicts the Russians. It's announced on a Friday. A whole weekend to soak in. No one on Capitol Hill or in the White House will be rallying to their defence. Those Russian indictments then provide a solid anchor for the next tranche of indictments, the Americans with whom they colluded. If you're okay with indicting the Russians, you're going to have a hard time getting shirty when their American play pals get the same treatment.

Well played, Robert Mueller.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Tar Sands Are a Big Loser. When Will Trudeau Wake Up to Reality?



Last week it was renowned Alberta ecologist, University of Alberta prof Dave Shindler, who along with Trudeau's own Environment Canada and the Royal Society of Canada, demolished Alberta's and Ottawa's laughable claims that their bitumen pipelines and supertanker scheme is safe. They haven't done the core research, the really important science. They haven't even started.

Now their economic case for the Tar Sands is gutted by David Hussey, a political economist at the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute.  Hussey sets out his case in an op-ed in the latest Tyee. Here's an excerpt.


While the benefits of the oil and gas industry have declined, the cost of carbon pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels has increased. The price of carbon across Canada will reach $50 per tonne in 2022, which economists consider a very conservative estimate of the social and economic costs imposed on the world by carbon pollution.

A report published last week by the Parkland Institute looked at the effect of a $50-per-tonne carbon price based on the proven oil and gas reserves of those big five oilsands producers.

Even using this low carbon price, the cost associated with these reserves being combusted ($320 billion) outweighs not only the total assets and stock value of the big five (about $250 and $190 billion, respectively), but also Alberta’s entire economy (about $310 billion).

The actual costs of burning these fossil fuels will be much greater through their contribution to global climate change. Indeed, the consequences of extracting and burning the proven reserves of the biggest oilsands producers would be catastrophic, and would be felt by people and environment through the increased frequency of extreme weather events, such as floods and wildfires, as well as negative health effects and coastal damage.
...

The benefits of the oilsands are declining, and the effects and costs of climate change are increasing. The economic opportunities from phasing out the industry — cleaning up oil wells and toxic tailings and ratcheting up our renewable energy and clean technology industries — are enormous.

What are we waiting for?


Look, I know you love him as I never shall but Trudeau is bad for our country, he's worse for our kids and worse yet for our grandchildren's future. He's recklessly indifferent to what he's doing to this country, what he's bequeathing to our grandchildren and for him, his political interests trump our grandchildren's future.

It's plain as day. With Justin Trudeau, just as with Stephen Harper before him, partisan politics comes before this country.

Schiff Lifts the Carpet, Gives the Public a Glimpse of What Lies Beneath.


The ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, says they've uncovered an abundance of evidence of collusion with the Russians and obstruction of justice involving Donald Trump.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Wednesday that the panel had seen an “abundance” of evidence of collusion with Russia and obstruction by Donald Trump’s campaign and administration that is not yet public.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Schiff said a lot of information was already in the public domain that pointed to extensive contacts between the Trump campaign team and the Kremlin, and later efforts by the Trump entourage to cover up those contacts. But Schiff said there was much more to come out.

He said: “There is certainly an abundance of non-public information that we’ve gathered in the investigation. And I think some of that non-public evidence is evidence on the issue of collusion and some … on the issue of obstruction.”


Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, rushed to release a report that seemed aimed at undermining the FBI and the Mueller investigation. Trump didn't hesitate to authorize its release even over the objections of the FBI and national security agencies. The Democrats, including Schiff, ridiculed the Nunes report as cherry-picked and deliberately misleading. The Dems on the committee drafted a minority report, one that Trump has predictably buried.

Adam Schiff has to be one of the most soft-spoken, understated members of Congress I can recall. He's not given to hyperbole. If he's said there's an abundance of evidence against Trump within the House intelligence committee it's a safe bet that Robert Mueller and his team of A-list investigators are sitting on something very special indeed.

It Wasn't Just a Crazed Kid with an Assault Rifle At that Parkdale High School Yesterday. He had Company, America's "Bought and Paid For" Congress Were In That School At His Side..



I watched Lawrence O'Donnell interview a father whose 15-year old daughter was at the Parkdale, Florida high school where 17 people, mainly students, were gunned down yesterday. The man's daughter had not been harmed but he was visibly upset by the event and what she had gone through as she and her classmates huddled to the sound of rapid gunfire.

O'Donnell asked the dad what he wished to say to America's senators and representatives. It was pretty blunt. "Stop taking the blood money." He wanted them to stop taking money from the gun lobby, especially the National Rifle Association.

Poll after poll have shown that the American people support gun control by a solid margin but the public will and the public interest cannot overcome the powerful combination of the gun lobby, particularly the NRA, and a "bought and paid for" Congress that wallows at the nadir of moral and ethical corruption.

Last night Jimmy Kimmel looked at a few congressmen and the NRA cash they have pocketed over the years.  Here are a few:  Richard Burr, R., senator North Carolina, $6,986,620; Roy Blunt, R., Mo., senator, first elected 2011, $4,551,146; Marco Rubio, R., Fla, $3,303,355; and my favourite, Joni "Cut their Balls Off" Ernst, R., Iowa, and just into her third year in the Senate, a whopping $3,124,273. That's a million NRA clams a year for reformer Joni. Not bad for a girl who boasts that she grew up on a farm castrating hogs. You go girl.

Now that's not to say that Rubio hasn't done well from the NRA and yesterday, as his state ran red with the blood of his dead highschool constituents, Rubio fended off demands for gun control with the now standard, "it's too soon to be having this conversation."

It was just two weeks ago that The Economist released a survey of the world's true democracies. The United States didn't make the cut.

The US was downgraded from a "full democracy" to a "flawed democracy" in the same study last year, which cited the "low esteem in which US voters hold their government, elected representatives, and political parties."

The study has five criteria: Whether elections are free and fair ("electoral process and pluralism"), governments have checks and balances ("functioning of government"), and whether citizens are included in politics ("political participation"), support their government ("political culture"), and enjoy freedom of expression ("civil liberties").

Let's put it this way. The Economist reviewers obviously bent over backwards to give the U.S. even a "flawed democracy" rating.  "Free and fair elections." Really, are you kidding? Political participation?  No, no, no. The NRA politically participates. The Koch brothers politically participate. The people? Not a chance.
Political culture, popular support for the government? Trump's numbers are in the ditch. Public support for Congress is in the toilet. Did they even look at the rise of extremist, fringe politics in America?

America is not a democracy. It was founded as a republic, not a democracy. While it developed pretty strong democratic aspirations during the 20th century, Reagan and his successors collectively put that nonsense back in the box, in part by ushering in the age of neoliberalism. America is a plutocracy and the popular vote doesn't matter, not until those voters throw out their vile, corrupted government. And, until they do, rivers of blood will continue to roll down the hallways of their kids' schools.

N.B. That pink AR above? That's a little girl's toy. However - wait for it - you can also buy the real thing, a fully functional AR-15 in hot pink. God Bless Amerika.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Once Again the NRA, the Gun Lobby and America's "Bought and Paid For" Congress Deliver Living Hell to an American School.



For the record, we're halfway into February of 2018. Today, Valentine's Day, Florida chalked up America's 18th school shooting of the year.

At least 17 dead, most of them freshman students of a highschool in Parkland, Broward county. The 19-year old gunman used the school fire alarm to draw his victims into the hallway where it was easier to gun them down.

Initial reports suggest the weapon used was America's schoolhouse slaughter weapon of choice, an AR-15. The shooter was old enough he could have walked into any sporting goods store and got one plus a rampage-load of ammo.

And Trump has the audacity to call other nations "shitholes."

The Onion responded with its now familiar massacre headline: "'No Way to Prevent This, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens."

The Dauphin Speaks - With Forked Tongue


It's so typical of this government. In the wake of the controversial aquittal of a Saskatchewan farmer who shot and killed a young First Nations man on his land, Justin Trudeau has vowed a major overhaul of the criminal justice system, even a new legal framework for indigenous people.

I agree that something needs to be done but I have no confidence that school marm Trudeau is the person to make that call.

There's a time honoured legal maxim or adage that states, "hard cases make bad law."

In one of the most quoted statements in American law, legendary American Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, proclaimed that “great cases, like hard cases make bad law.” He explained that this was so because the “hydraulic pressures” of the great case tend to distort the judgments of the justices.

Laws written in the heat of a hard decision tend to be excessive, ill-conceived and ultimately ineffective. Then again, calm, dispassionate deliberation isn't exactly this prime minister's forte.

Trudeau is an emotional man. His father's motto, "Reason over Passion," wasn't passed along in the gene pool.

In a 15-minute speech in the House of Commons — an address short on concrete details — Trudeau said he wants to give new life to Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Trudeau said governments have ignored these rights entirely for too long, leaving it to the courts to define them.

"Instead of outright recognizing and affirming Indigenous rights, as we promised we would, Indigenous Peoples were forced to prove, time and time again, through costly and drawn-out court challenges, that their rights existed, must be recognized and implemented," Trudeau said.

I wonder if he'd like to begin by respecting Aboriginal rights in opposition to Kinder-Morgan. Oh no, that's already been sold out from under them. A little hypocritical? No, not a little. A lot.

This Tells You a Lot About Today's Economy


Washington-based Amazon has displaced Washington-based Microsoft to become the world's third largest company (by market valuation).

Here are the current standings;

1. Apple - $849 billion

2. Google - $746 billion

3. Amazon - $ 702 billion

4. Microsoft - $699 billion

5. Facebook - $521 billion.

Boeing, which chose to leave Washington for Chicago, comes in at a paltry $205 billion.

By contrast, Canada's top 3 are banks: RBC, TD and Bank of Nova Scotia, at $113, $102 and $74 billion (Canadian) respectively. Pretty small potatoes and not an innovator or tech giant among them. Hewers of wood, drawers of water and bank tellers. Great.

The other thing worth noting is that Amazon and Microsoft are Washington state companies.  Apple, Google and Facebook are based on California. It's all west coast. All of it. The five biggest companies, not just in the U.S., in the world.

While Amazon and Microsoft combined tally $1.4 trillion USD in value, all other public companies in Washington state account for just $400 billion in value.

"What a Tangled Web We Weave... " More Stormy Weather Heading Trump's Way.


That old orange bugger just can't catch a break.

Porn queen, Stormy Daniels, says that Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen's admission that he paid her $130,000 in hush money not to talk about her fling with the now President of the United States of America breaches their agreement and she's now free to talk.

It seems that Stormy and her lawyer are open for business and waiting to entertain offers for an exclusive on her tawdry Vegas hotel room lap dance with the Cheeto Benito.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, believes that Trump attorney Michael Cohen invalidated a non-disclosure agreement after two news stories were published Tuesday: One, in which Cohen told The New York Times that he made the six-figure payment with his personal funds, and another in the Daily Beast, which reported that Cohen was shopping a book proposal that would touch on Daniels' story, said the manager, Gina Rodriguez.

"Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story," Rodriguez said.
...

[I]n a 2011 interview with the gossip magazine In Touch Weekly, the actress -- who the magazine said passed a polygraph exam -- said the two had sex and she described a subsequent yearslong relationship. The AP has previously reported that In Touch held off on publishing her account after Cohen threatened to sue the publication. It published the interview last month.

In recent weeks the actress has played coy, declining to elaborate when pressed on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

Rodriguez said her client will soon announce how and when she will tell her story publicly. The celebrity website The Blast first reported the contention that Cohen's comments freed Clifford from her non-disclosure agreement.

"What a tangled web we weave when first we learn to deceive." I'll bet Walter Scott never imagined when he penned that line that it would become so eternal.



Monbiot Warns Britons About the Trojan Horse Lurking Inside a Trade Deal With the U.S.



To Guardian enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, there's danger lurking for the UK in any free trade deal with the United States: livestock laced with antibiotics.


It looks like a proper zombie apocalypse. Bacteria we thought we had conquered are on the march again, defeating almost all attempts to slaughter them. Having broken through the outer walls, they have reached our last lines of defence. Antibiotic resistance is among the greatest threats to human health.

Infections that were once easy to quash now threaten our lives. Doctors warn that routine procedures such as caesareans, hip replacements and chemotherapy could one day become impossible due to the risk of exposing patients to deadly infection. Already, in the European Union alone, 25,000 people are dying each year because of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Yet our last defences – the rare drugs to which bacteria have not yet become immune – are being squandered with wild abandon. While most doctors seek to use them precisely and parsimoniously, some livestock farms literally slosh them around. They add them to the feed and water supplied to entire herds of cattle, pigs and poultry: not to treat illness, but to prevent it.

Or not even that. In the 1950s, farmers discovered that small quantities of antibiotics added to feed made animals grow faster. Using antibiotics as growth promoters – low doses routinely applied – is a perfect formula for generating bacterial resistance. Yet many countries continue to permit this reckless practice. The US Food and Drug Administration asks drug companies voluntarily to refrain from labelling antibiotics as growth promoters, suggesting they be rebranded for “new therapeutic indications”. Around 75% of the antibiotics used in the US are fed to farm animals. Our city is under siege, and we are knocking down our own defences.

This graphic illustrates what's happening and not just in the United States. I had to make it full size for legibility.


This chart, from Pew, shows antibiotic use in the United States for 2011.




They're Calling It "Snow Washing." Money Laundering, Canadian Style.



Is Canadian corporate law a money launderer's dream? According to The Guardian, we're right up there with Kenya.

Canada is one the world’s most opaque jurisdictions when it comes to identifying the owners of private companies and trusts, according to anti-corruption campaigners who say that more rigorous checks are required to obtain a library card than to set up a company in the country.

“Anyone can start a company in Canada. It costs about C$200 and the owner of the company can remain completely anonymous,” said lawyer Mora Johnson, who recently authored a report detailing the country’s lax rules around corporate registration. 

...

Most provinces allow nominee directors and shareholders and do not require them to disclose that they are acting on behalf of another person. “Privately-held companies can easily be abused for tax evasion, for money laundering purposes and to stash the proceeds of crime,” said Johnson.

How Canada stacks up against other countries – including known tax havens – was suggested in a 2013 study by American researchers. After sending out thousands of queries about setting up anonymous shell companies, researchers ranked Canada among the easiest of 60 countries to set up an untraceable company, along with Kenya and a few US States.

This opacity – described in a recent Transparency International report as the “getaway car of financial crime” – has become the perfect vehicle for “snow washing”: the use of Canada’s positive image to tout the country as an offshore destination where suspect transactions can be legitimised.

...

A 2016 report found that nearly half of the 100 most expensive homes in Vancouver – which ranks among the world’s least affordable housing markets – were bought using shell companies, trusts or nominees.

“Is it a wealthy person who earned that money? Or is it the Hells Angels?” Johnson asked. “An Iranian or North Korean under US sanctions? We have no idea.”

Files from Mossack Fonseca, leaked in 2016 as part of the Panama Papers revealed another consequence, said Transparency International Canada’s James Cohen. “Canada is being sold through snow washing by foreign intermediaries, who are telling their clients that you can bring your illicit finances into Canada and they’ll be cleaned like the pure white snow.”

Jurisdiction over corporations in Canada is shared. There are federal corporations and provincial companies and a variety of factors that can make one preferrable to the other.

But, never fear, our federal government's tax sleuths at the Canada Revenue Agency are all over this. Friend, Lorne, referred me to another article from The Guardian detailing how the CRA is auditing food servers in Prince Edward Island who might have been dodging tax on their tips. The Trudeau government. They're sure cleaning house. Unless your house is really big and stashing cash in the Isle of Man.

China - The Newest Challenge to Canada's Arctic Sovereignty?


"Yeah, sure, you and whose army?" That was a fairly common taunt among boys when I was young. You and whose army is gonna make me. Yet it may find new life in Canada's dealings with China over the Arctic.

Late last month the People's Republic of China issued a new Arctic Policy white paper.  According to the South China Morning Post, it's giving Ottawa the willies.

One of the key findings by Chinese analysts is the role China defines for itself as “an important stakeholder” in Arctic affairs. This point found its echo in an event on February 6 at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, which brought together experts from US think tanks and former US government officials.
...

Interestingly, the key member state that seems particularly concerned about what the white paper will mean for them is Canada. Its experts say China’s Arctic policy is attempting to tread a line between respecting the sovereignty of Arctic nations like Canada and the United States and leaving room to gain from disputes under international law.

Language like “respect for international law”, used in the white paper, is viewed by scholars such as Robert Huebert from the University of Calgary and Université Laval Professor Frédéric Lasserre as an attempt to articulate limits on member states’ sovereignty.
Canada is worried that China will adopt the same legal position as the US – treating the Northwest Passage as a “strait for international use” – while Canada claims it as its “internal waters”. Huebert added that inviting Chinese investment in the Canadian Arctic could be a double-edged sword for Canada’s economic benefit and environmental protection. Both Huebert and Lasserre hold that the white paper leaves out Chinese naval activities, especially around the fringes of the Arctic, which call for particular attention.


China, while not an Arctic nation, sees great opportunities in that region. For shipping it will use the relatively ice free and open northeast passage along Russia but it does have an eye on Canada's side of the Arctic Ocean. China already operates the largest non-nuclear icebreaker in the world and is building more in a shipyard near Shanghai. We've also seen in the South China Sea how Beijing manufactures territorial claims by constructing artificial islands on shoals and reefs.

Trudeau Was Given Sophie's Choice. He Didn't Hesitate to Pick.


I never watched the movie, "Sophie's Choice." I found the premise just too creepy. A mother forced to choose which of her two children's lives will be spared and which child will be consigned to extermination. 

That, according to the Dauphin, was his predicament when it came to the Kinder-Morgan pipeline. Rachel Notley gave him a choice - Alberta or British Columbia. It was Kinder-Morgan or his laughable 'national climate change plan.'

Rachel had Justin's balls and he wasn't getting them back until she got her pipeline. What's a young dandy supposed to do 'cept cave in, crater? And so, British Columbia, whose voters had trusted Trudeau's ever so sincere election promises, was for the axe.

Am I making this up? Hell no. Justin admits it all in an interview he just gave to our National Observer.

Trudeau larded the interview with his by now standard and feeble bullshit. Canada's green future depends on flogging as much bitumen as possible to buyers in Asia. And, by ramping up production of the lowest-grade, highest carbon, toxic contaminant-laced pitch (think Le Brea Tar Pits), we are going to slash our carbon emissions. This is the same government that isn't even on target to meet Stephen Harper's pathetic emissions cuts. And does Justin really imagine Alberta's next premier, Jason Kenny, is going to keep Notley's promises?

"The process that Stephen Harper set up was flawed, which is why, through a transitional process, we added to the Kinder Morgan evaluation process the kinds of consultations — the kinds of science, that we are now demanding for all projects as of now, with the new system," he said. "... So we actually managed to apply a better process to get to the Kinder Morgan decision."

There it is, the "science" again. Where is it? His own environment ministry says it hasn't been done. The Royal Society of Canada has a lengthy list of essential research that hasn't been undertaken. Alberta's renowned ecologist, professor David Shindler, backs premier Horgan's demand that someone research this disaster-in-waiting before it's too late.

Where's your science, Justin? Did the dog eat it? The fundamental research and the time that's needed to produce the analysis needs time, a lot more time than you've had to garner it. Shindler makes it obvious that Trudeau's "science" can exist only in his mind.

Trudeau said the Trans Mountain expansion "was always a trade off" for Notley's unprecedented climate action. That certainty and support, he added, put Canada on a pathway to achieve its Paris climate change targets and is part of the economic and environmental package that makes the pipeline so important.

To Justin Trudeau it was a trade off. He traded off British Columbia and its coastal waters for a promise that Rachel Notley may not ever be able to keep and Justin Kenny sure as hell won't. To British Columbians, however, it was more than a trade off. It was as craven a sell out as this country has seen in decades.