Friday, November 24, 2017

Yes, Dorothy, He Really Can Nuke the World



Donald Trump is unique in so many ways, none of them good.

Mental health professionals have proclaimed him a nutjob, a malignant narcissist with sociopathic instincts. There's not been a lot of experience of American presidents in the throes of mental illness. Nixon under impeachment, yeah, but a lot of that was the booze talking. Still Henry Kissinger saw to it that Tricky Dicky could not get his hands on the nuclear launch codes and take the world down with him.

Recently there's been worries about the Mango Mussolini. That has prompted some senior US commanders to make reassuring statements about how they would not accept an illegal order to nuke the world. Gwynn Dyer writes that we should not believe the military brass.


Trump doesn’t have to consult ...any of his own military advisers before ordering a nuclear attack on North Korea , Iran or anywhere else. He just puts the launch codes into the “football” an aide always has nearby.

As Blair pointed out, it would only take a couple of minutes for the launch orders to cascade down the chain of command and reach the “commanders of the underground launch centers, the submarines and the bombers.”

It’s even possible that none of the people on duty who would have to execute the orders would be generals.

The generals would also get the order, of course, but as Blair said: “If they felt that it was a really bad call or illegal, and they wanted to try to override it, they could try to transmit a termination order, but it would be too late.”

Trump really could make a nuclear-first strike on North Korea all on his own. On this vital issue, there is no adult supervision.

This bizarre situation dates back to the early days of the Cold War, when both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had launch-on-warning policies because they feared an enemy first strike could destroy all of their own nuclear weapons and leave them helpless.

Later, both countries buried their ballistic missiles in underground silos or hid them in submerged submarines so they could not lose them in a surprise attack. They no longer had to launch on a warning that might be false: if there really was an attack, they could ride it out and retaliate afterwards.

But the U.S. never took back the president’s instant-launch authority, which is an oversight that needs to be rectified.

It would be a simple matter to restrict Trump’s unilateral launch authority to situations where there is hard evidence a nuclear attack on the United States is underway.

That is simple in legal and technical terms, but difficult, if not impossible, in political terms.


The Shamrock in Theresa May's Knickers


Theresa May is crazy. If she wasn't, why would she be fighting so hard to barely cling to power?

The PM's nemesis is, of course, Brexit. She's determined to drag Britain out of the European Union but she's facing a two-front battle. To the east she's locked in what seems to be a losing struggle with Brussels, the EU. To the west she's confounded by Ireland, north and south. And, as it happens, Ireland may be the most devilish challenge. It could also bring down May's government. The Guardian's Simon Jenkins explains May's conundrum.

If Theresa May agrees special status for Northern Ireland to remain in a trading union with Ireland it will effectively “move the border” to Belfast. Her fragile Unionist coalition collapses. If the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, fails to win such special status and sees a border installed, his coalition collapses. There is no way round this. It is the Schleswig-Holstein question of the age.

There can be no iron curtain across the Irish countryside. Not 10% of the British public would want that. Even the fiendishly complex use of electronic tags would still leave in place the fact that leaving a customs union would mean monitoring different tariffs and regulations north and south of the border. It would be a licence to smuggling and piracy.

Most of Ireland’s trade passes through Northern Ireland, to the UK and on to Europe. Any sort of border – physical or regulatory – would mean massive distortion. British firms would decamp to Dublin to get inside the EU. Foreign and Irish firms would decamp to Belfast to get to the outside world. Any compromise such as special “free port” status for Northern Ireland, which would give it a foot in both camps, would be furiously opposed by governments across the EU. They could not tolerate a corner of the EU free of harmonised standards or with separate external tariffs.

So what is supposed to happen? The answer is easy. It is for the British government to announce it will remain in a customs union with Dublin. Since Dublin’s Varadkar means to stay in the EU, that means no trading barrier between Northern Ireland and the EU. But since May must retain Unionist support, she cannot admit any trading barrier between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Ergo, there can then be no trading barrier between the UK and the EU.

Britain has to remain in the customs union with the rest of Europe. That is what should be on the Brussels negotiating agenda next month. And that is two-thirds of the way to remaining in the single market. That is what polls show the overwhelming majority of parliament and British public opinion, including those who voted Brexit, actually want.

Where is democracy?











Thursday, November 23, 2017

"Getting On the Land"



What a phrase loaded with imagery, "Getting on the land." It's when a new, freshly-minted young farmer gets on the land to put in his first crop.  If he does have it figured out and makes a go of it, he may have permanently indentured himself to his present and future vocation.

The good news, according to the Washington Post is that young Americans are beginning to ditch their desk jobs to try to prove their hand at farming.

For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest Census of Agriculture. Sixty-nine percent of the surveyed young farmers had college degrees — significantly higher than the general population.

This new generation can't hope to replace the numbers that farming is losing to age. But it is already contributing to the growth of the local-food movement and could help preserve the place of midsize farms in the rural landscape.

"We're going to see a sea change in American agriculture as the next generation gets on the land," said Kathleen Merrigan, the head of the Food Institute at George Washington University and a deputy secretary at the Department of Agriculture under President Barack Obama. "The only question is whether they'll get on the land, given the challenges."

The number of farmers age 25 to 34 grew 2.2 percent between 2007 and 2012,according to the 2014 USDA census,a period when other groups of farmers — save the oldest — shrunk by double digits. In some states, such as California, Nebraska and South Dakota, the number of beginning farmers has grown by 20 percent or more.

A survey conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition, an advocacy group, with Merrigan's help shows that the majority of young farmers did not grow up in agricultural families.



They are also far more likely than the general farming population to grow organically, limit pesticide and fertilizer use, diversify their crops or animals, and be deeply involved in their local food systems via community supported agriculture (CSA) programs and farmers markets.


Today's young farmers also tend to operate small farms of less than 50 acres, though that number increases with each successive year of experience.
...
"I get calls all the time from farmers — some of the largest farmers in the country — asking me when the local and organic fads will be over," said Eve Turow Paul, a consultant who advises farms and food companies on millennial preferences. "It's my pleasure to tell them: Look at this generation. Get on board or go out of business."

There are also hopes that the influx of young farmers could provide some counter to the aging of American agriculture.

The age of the average American farmer has crept toward 60 over several decades, risking the security of midsize family farms where children aren't interested in succeeding their parents.

Between 1992 and 2012, the country lost more than 250,000 midsize and small commercial farms, according to the USDA. During that same period, more than 35,000 very large farms started up, and the large farms already in existence consolidated their acreage.

Midsize farms are critical to rural economies, generating jobs, spending and tax revenue. And while they're large enough to supply mainstream markets, they're also small enough to respond to environmental changes and consumer demand.

If today's young farmers can continue to grow their operations, said Shoshanah Inwood, a rural sociologist at Ohio State University, they could bolster these sorts of farms — and in the process prevent the land from falling into the hands of large-scale industrial operations or residential developers.

"Multigenerational family farms are shrinking. And big farms are getting bigger," Inwood said. "For the resiliency of the food system and of rural communities, we need more agriculture of the middle."
It's too early to say at this point whether young farmers will effect that sort of change.

The number of young farmers entering the field is nowhere near enough to replace the number exiting, according to the USDA: Between 2007 and 2012, agriculture gained 2,384 farmers between ages 25 and 34 — and lost nearly 100,000 between 45 and 54.


And young farmers face formidable challenges to starting and scaling their businesses. The costs of farmland and farm equipment are prohibitive. Young farmers are frequently dependent on government programs, including child-care subsidies and public health insurance, to cover basic needs.

And student loan debt — which 46 percent of young farmers consider a "challenge," according to the National Young Farmers Coalition — can strain already tight finances and disqualify them from receiving other forms of credit.

But Lindsey Lusher Shute, the executive director of the coalition, said she has seen the first wave of back-to-the-landers grow up in the eight years since she co-founded the advocacy group. And she suggested that new policy initiatives, including student loan forgiveness and farm transition programs, could further help them.

"Young farmers tend to start small and sell to direct markets, because that's a viable way for them to get into farming," Lusher Shute said. "But many are shifting gears as they get into it — getting bigger or moving into wholesale."

This is really terrific news. Why? Because we're probably going to need this cadre of new era agriculture to teach us very quickly how to grow enough food to feed ourselves right here at home. That could be the "skilled labour" of the future.


Wanna Whet Your Kennedy Assassination Appetite?


Foreign Policy has posted a very interesting interview with Jefferson Morley, veteran journalist and author of "The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton."

Morley discusses how the CIA's then counter-intelligence czar closely followed Oswald, how the Kennedy assassination was, at the very least, a colossal blunder by the CIA and perhaps something much worse and why the CIA continues to resist the release of the entire assassination documents file.

Imagine If We Decided Not to Lose. Imagine If We Decided to Fight Back.



We're at war. It's a war you sense more than feel. You read about it almost every day and most reports are very discouraging. We seem to be losing.

It's a war on many fronts - social, political, economic, environmental. It's a war for our survival and at stake are our people, our society, our culture, our civilization, perhaps even our existence. It's an "all in" war.  Oddly enough, with so much, everything, at stake we choose to be bystanders, to watch from the sidelines, to argue and grumble and do next to nothing.

We're conditioned, tamed, whipped. Ours is a learned and nurtured docility. We have been taught so many things that we are intellectually addled, unable to discern fact from fiction, fact from belief.

We have been taught to want without need. For many the greatest delight on Christmas morning is to find under the tree something that didn't even exist last year, the latest and greatest something, that, by its invention, manufacture and marketing consigns the last great thing to obsolescence. Who wants an iPhone 5 when there are iPhone 8s to be had?

I took some electronics to the recycling depot the other day. My discards had, to my dismay, gone on the fritz. Some component broke down that was nowhere to be had. The manufacturers no longer supported products of such vintage and seemed annoyed that I even asked. I even found a capable repairman (talk about an endangered species) but he was powerless to help. At the recycling yard I spoke with a worker about pallets of shrink-wrapped flatscreen TVs and other electronics that were awaiting a truck to some other destination. He told me that once, for an experiment, he and his co-workers took one load, plugged the stuff in and found that most of it still worked. The owners wanted something better, something newer. Want without need.

Few may realize it but that is a war we're losing, the war of over-consumption. We know that humankind is using the Earth's resources at 1.7 times the rate the planet can replenish them. We're running at 1.7 times the Earth's carrying capacity and that number worsens every year. We're depleting our planet's life-sustaining resources to feed our insatiable appetite for crap.

The real curse of that 1.7 times factor is our sheer and mortal dependency on it. We are dependent on more resources than the planet can furnish. As humankind grows in numbers, grows in reach and swells at the beltline we've become the civilizational equivalent of a back-alley heroin junky.

The environment. There's another front where we're taking a pounding. Fortunately and unfortunately, most of us are REMFs, a pejorative Vietnam war acronym for "rear echelon mother-f#@kers", the guys who fought the war from the air-conditioned comfort of some supply hangar.
We're REMFs. We're not at the really ugly end of climate change, at least not yet. That's for little people of dusky hue. For the time being we get to be bystanders - oblivious, indifferent bystanders - socially concerned but not really willing to sacrifice to any significant degree. We even recoil angrily at the idea of having to pay a few cents more for a litre of gasoline.

REMFs

Our wants cannot be restrained. We will fight, fang and claw, for ever more of steadily less. We will squeeze blood from this orbital rock. We've taken everything bequeathed us by our parents and grandparents. We added to that everything our technology and enterprise could deliver. And then we topped it all off by wanton, unrepentant plundering of our children's and grandchildren's future. We did everything "because we could" with no regard to "whether we should." Our larceny was always out of sight/out of mind.

How did we steal from our grandkids? You could begin by asking Edmund Burke or Theodore Roosevelt, both fine conservatives.  Both men wrote of every generation's fundamental and solemn responsibility to leave the world a better place for their heirs and successors. Our iteration of humanity, particularly the generations that comprise the era of neoliberalism, have chosen not to do that. To use Roosevelt's words, we have opted to "skin the earth." We have fouled this place - earth, sea and air - and have relentlessly depleted it without the slightest regard for those who will have to bear the burdens of our profligacy.

A new report from the Credit Suisse research institute stands as a damning indictment of the neoliberal order.  The study found that wealth grew in the first half of 2017 by 6.4 per cent and even outpaced population growth. Despite this abundant wealth, millennials will face the worst inequality of any generation yet.

In an economic climate where the top 1% own half the world’s wealth, a new analysis by Credit Suisse suggests that millennials in several advanced economies are likely going to face the worst income inequality of any generation in recent memory. The report, which focuses on the US, Germany, France, and Spain, shows that millennials are generally saddled with more student debt, less inherited money, and stricter mortgages than previous generations. At the same time, a lucky few are set to become spectacularly wealthy, widening the already large gap between rich and poor. Why?
...

While millennials who go into high-demand fields, like tech and finance, reap the rewards of an expensive education, many earn no more than their parents, and at a higher price. Analysis of Federal Reserve data by the group Young Invincibles shows that the median millennial household earns around $40,500, 20% less than boomers at the same point in their lifetimes.
...

In the US, France, and Germany, only 10-15% of people in their twenties and thirties have inherited wealth. While it’s possible some will come into wealth later on (by 70, 30% to 40% of adults have inherited some wealth in these countries), survey data from Credit Suisse suggests that no more than 50% of any generation inherits during their lifetimes.

The millennials that have already inherited money, however, have inherited a lot. People from the US, France, Spain, and Germany who inherited wealth in their thirties reported that it made up 40% of their total assets. In the future, millennials will likely receive substantial amounts, as their parents’ generation has experienced healthy gains from a strong stock market and, of late, high house prices.

This boon will come as the US is planning to roll back estate taxes, reinforcing disparities in income.


So we're skinning future generations economically but they too will be the first generations to pay for our destruction of the environment. That's already coming home to roost in the poorest and most vulnerable regions of the planet but it will be here in due course.

Imagine if, as a society, we resolved not to let this happen, not to permit the economic and environmental devastation of our future generations. Imagine if we found the courage to rouse ourselves from this lethal torpor. Imagine if we decided to fight back and tried to win at least part of this war. What would that even look like? Let that thought rattle around in your mind for a while.

I can obviously speak only for myself but, to me, it would look revolutionary. Ask yourself this. Can you see any way for us to get out from under neoliberalism that doesn't arise from either collapse or revolt? Can you see a culture of groomed bystanders winning the day?

I can see this neoliberal contagion ending in collapse or revolt and I'm realistic enough to understand that collapse is the default option and very much the odds on bet. There's no guarantee that even revolt, if such a thing were possible, could set things right at this point but isn't it worse not to at least have tried?



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Making American Nukes More "User Friendly"



It gave some people pause when president-elect Donald Trump asked his advisors what was the use of having nuclear weapons "if I can't use them?"

Well, what Donald wants, Donald almost always gets, and that holds true for America's nuclear arsenal. Donald Trump's personal Pentagon is focusing on getting the Commander in Chief a new line of more user friendly nuclear warheads.

US war planners and weapons manufacturers have set out to make that arsenal more “usable” in order to give the president additional nuclear “options” on any future battlefield. (If you’re not already feeling a little tingle of anxiety at this point, you should be.) While it’s claimed that this will make such assaults less likely, it’s all too easy to imagine how such new armaments and launch plans could actually increase the risk of an early resort to nuclear weaponry in a moment of conflict, followed by calamitous escalation.
...

[Trump] and his advisers, it seems, want nukes that can be employed at any potential level of great-power conflict or brandished as the apocalyptic equivalent of a giant club to intimidate lesser rivals.

Making the US arsenal more usable requires two kinds of changes in nuclear policy: altering existing doctrine to eliminate conceptional restraints on how such weapons may be deployed in wartime and authorizing the development and production of new generations of nuclear munitions capable, among other things, of tactical battlefield strikes. All of this is expected to be incorporated into the administration’s first nuclear posture review (NPR), to be released by the end of this year or early in 2018.

For decades the focus of the Pentagon was on developing precision-guided conventional weapons that would reduce the need to depend on nuclear force. The idea was that modern conventional weapons could achieve the same political outcomes without either side having to cross that nasty old nuclear threshold. 

Trump, it seems, likes the big mushroom cloud but not the idea that it should be just a defensive weapon, a deterrent. He'd like to toss a few around, shake things up.
...

[Obama's NPR (nuclear posture review)] downplayed the utility of nuclear weapons under just about any circumstances on just about any imaginable battlefield. Its principal objective, it claimed, was to reduce “the role of US nuclear weapons in US national security.”

As the document pointed out, it had once been American policy to contemplate using nuclear weapons against Soviet tank formations, for example, in a major European conflict (a situation in which the USSR was believed to possess an advantage in conventional, non-nuclear forces). By 2010, of course, those days were long gone, as was the Soviet Union. Washington, as the [Obama] NPR noted, now possessed an overwhelming advantage in conventional weaponry as well. “Accordingly,” it concluded, “the United States will continue to strengthen conventional capabilities and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.”
...

The Trumpian NPR will certainly promote new nuclear-weapons systems that are billed as providing future chief executives with a greater “range” of strike options. In particular, the administration is thought to favor the acquisition of “low-yield tactical nuclear munitions” and yet more delivery systems to go with them, including air- and ground-launched cruise missiles. The argument will predictably be made that munitions of this sort are needed to match Russian advances in the field.

Under consideration, according to those with inside knowledge, is the development of the sort of tactical munitions that could, say, wipe out a major port or military installation, rather than a whole city, Hiroshima-style. As one anonymous government official put it to Politico, “This capability is very warranted.” Another added, “The [NPR] has to credibly ask the military what they need to deter enemies” and whether current weapons are “going to be useful in all the scenarios we see.”

The era of the Mega-Cruise Missile.

Russia has already deployed ultra-long range cruise missiles. The air launched variant is thought capable of reaching Washington from outside Canada's northern airspace. Of course if you can reach Washington you can hit any number of key American cities, including New York. Now the Pentagon wants to field a similar weapon.

A typical delivery system for such future nukes likely to receive expedited approval is the long-range standoff weapon (LRSO), an advanced, stealthy air-launched cruise missile intended to be carried by B-2 bombers, their older cousins the B-52s, or the future B-21. As currently envisioned, the LRSO will be capable of carrying either a nuclear or a conventional warhead. In August, the Air Force awarded both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin $900 million for initial design work on prototypes of that delivery system, with one of them likely to be chosen for full-scale development, an undertaking expected to cost many billions of dollars.

Critics of the proposed missile, including former secretary of defense William Perry, argue that the United States already possesses more than enough nuclear firepower to deter enemy attacks without it. In addition, as he points out, if the LRSO were to be launched with a conventional warhead in the early stages of a conflict, an adversary might assume it was under nuclear attack and retaliate accordingly, igniting an escalatory spiral leading to all-out thermonuclear war. Proponents, however, swear that “older” cruise missiles must be replaced in order to give the president more flexibility with such weaponry, a rationale Trump and his advisers are sure to embrace.

It's a bit unnerving to see the words Trump and 'rationale' in the same sentence.

Raising questions about the need for all these new weapons and their phenomenal costs couldn’t be more important. After all, one thing is guaranteed: any decision to procure such weaponry will, in the long term, mean budget cuts elsewhere, whether in health, education, infrastructure, or fighting the opioid epidemic.

And yet questions of cost and utility are the lesser parts of the new nuclear conundrum. At its heart is the very idea of “usability.” When President Obama insisted that nuclear weapons had no battlefield use, he was speaking not just to this country but to all nations. “To put an end to Cold War thinking,” he declared in Prague in April 2009, “we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.”

If, however, the Trump White House embraces a doctrine that closes the distance between nuclear weapons and ordinary ones, transforming them into more usable instruments of coercion and war, it will also make the likelihood of escalation to all-out thermonuclear extermination more imaginable for the first time in decades. There is little question, for instance, that such a stance would encourage other nuclear-armed nations, including Russia, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea, to plan for the early use of such weaponry in future conflicts. It might even encourage countries that don’t now have such weaponry to consider producing them.

These are the very sort of nuances that don't play well with the Mango Mussolini. The theories of nuclear escalation are beyond Trump's intellectual and psychological "pay grade." Worse yet, the Dogs of War have his ear.

Michael Klare's warning:

Now, as the seemingly threat-free zone of a post-nuclear era is drawing to a close, the possible use of nuclear weapons—barely conceivable even in the Cold War era—is about to be normalized. Or at least that will be the case if, once again, the citizens of this planet don’t take to the streets to protest a future in which cities could lie in smoldering ruins while millions of people die from hunger and radiation sickness.



A Touch of the Lash Can Work Wonders



It has always just a matter of time before the American public accept the reality of anthropogenic, or man-made climate change. It was bound to happen as damaging and disruptive climate change impacts arrived on America's doorstep. It's pretty hard to argue the point when you and the family and the family pets are huddled in the attic awaiting rescue. Now, it seems, denialism is going out of vogue.

A touch of the lash...

The latest climate change survey from Yale and George Mason Universities is out, and it shows that Americans are still poorly-informed about the causes of global warming. Only 54% understand that it’s mostly human-caused, while 33% incorrectly believe global warming is due mainly to natural factors.

Americans are nevertheless growing increasingly concerned about climate change. A record 22% are very worried about it (double the number in the March 2015 survey), and 63% of Americans are at least somewhat worried about climate change. That’s probably because they perceive direct climate impacts – 64% of survey participants think that global warming is affecting the weather, and 33% said it’s having a big influence.

Americans also connecting the dots to specific extreme weather events. About 54% said that climate change worsened the extreme heat waves, wildfires, and hurricanes that pummeled the country in 2017.

A way still to go...

At the same time, only 15% of Americans realize that the expert consensus on human-caused global warming is over 90%. That’s an important result because the expert consensus is a ‘gateway belief.’ Research has shown that support for climate policy is linked to perceptions about scientific agreement on climate change.

Has Andean Fatalism hit America?

The survey also found that Americans are very pessimistic about the odds that we’ll successfully tackle the threats posed by global warming. While 78% realize that humans could potentially slow global warming, only 5% of Americans believe we’ll be successful in doing so. A quarter of those surveyed think that we’ll fail because people are unwilling to change their behavior, and 48% said it’s unclear at this point whether we’ll take the necessary action.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Chris Hedges Looks at The True North.


The first two words give it away, "Pity Canada."

Chris Hedges looks at Canada and sees us succumbing to the U.S. contagion only behind the mask of moderation. On reading this you may think he goes too far, is too harsh. Perhaps, but not entirely. And, yes, it is harsh in challenging us to take a fresh look at how we're governed in Canada today and what that portends for the future. We must come to grips with this.

Pity Canada. Its citizens watch the stages of U.S. decline and then, a few years later, inflict on themselves the same cruelties. It is as if the snuffing out of democracy across the globe and the rise of authoritarian regimes are a preordained Greek tragedy and all of us, in spite of our yearning for liberty, must ominously play an assigned part.

Canada is currently in the Barack Obama phase of self-immolation. Its prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is—as Obama was—a fresh face with no real political past or established beliefs, a brand. Trudeau excels, like Obama, French President Emmanuel Macron, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in empty symbolism. These “moderates” spew progressive and inclusive rhetoric while facilitating social inequality, a loss of rights and the degradation of the environment by global corporations. They are actors in skillfully crafted corporate advertisements.

Liberal democracy is bifurcating, giving rise to two new regime forms: ‘illiberal democracy,’ or democracy without rights, and ‘undemocratic liberalism,’ or rights without democracy,” writes political theorist Yascha Mounk.

...

Trudeau, Macron, Turnbull, Merkel and Obama, because they appear to champion liberal ideals, discredit not only political “moderates” but also the core values of a liberal democracy. When the public rejects feckless politicians it also rejects the supposed values they represent. Fascism rises out of failed democracies where elites mouth the feel-your-pain language of liberalism while selling out the public. This was true in 1917 Russia, in Weimar Germany and in the former Yugoslavia.


Canada, like France, Australia and Germany, will never descend to the levels of nihilistic violence and mass shootings that plague the United States. There is enough of a residue of its socialist programs, such as universal health care and public education, to prevent it from becoming as cruel and heartless—although there will be efforts to steadily defund and destroy these programs. Canada, France, Australia and Germany will not crash their economies trying to maintain an empire they can no longer afford. But they are, nevertheless, steadily marching toward the new authoritarianism, toward joining the despotisms rising up in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe. The model for the future is not Liberté, égalité, fraternité—it is China’s ruthless corporate totalitarianism. Where is Tommy Douglas, the great Canadian socialist who once described the free enterprise system as giving elephants the right to dance among chickens, when you need him?
...

These “moderates” substitute personal style and esthetics for politics. They offer no real solutions to the assault by corporate capitalism and to growing social inequality. They preach fatuous bromides, like Candide, about “the best of all possible worlds” while ignoring the disasters and suffering around them. They call for tolerance and civility while empowering corporate machinery that creates an intolerant and uncivil society. They are mountebanks and charlatans. Their singular skill is to peddle in political form the drivel of positive psychologists. They make us, at least temporarily, feel good about ourselves. They use gestures—Trudeau kayaking down the Niagara River for World Environment Day—to mask their collaboration with corporations in the exploitation and poisoning of the natural world. Trudeau, despite his progressive rhetoric about climate change, is facilitating the building of new pipelines through Canada and the United States to export more oil out of Alberta’s tar sands, one of the world’s most catastrophic assaults on the ecosystem. Obama’s environment record looked as if it was lifted from Sarah Palin. Turnbull and Merkel are no better. This rank hypocrisy, extended to all issues, is what dooms the proponents of “undemocratic liberalism.”

The “moderates,” like those on the far right, refuse to acknowledge reality. They speak and act as if we live in a democracy rather than a system defined by Sheldon Wolin as “inverted totalitarianism,” one where the consent of the governed is a joke, elections are legalized bribery and public policy is determined not by popular will but by corporate lobbyists. It does not matter, as illustrated by the Republican tax plan now before the U.S. Senate, what is just or what the public supports. There are no institutions left in the United States that can authentically be called democratic....

The novelist and social critic James Baldwin wrote, “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Adiablo, Charlie.


Manson, dead at 83.

Charles Manson, the fiery-eyed cult master whose lemming-like followers staged a bloody two-night murder rampage in Los Angeles in 1969 that gripped the city with fear and shocked the nation, died on Sunday at a hospital in Kern County, California. He was 83.

A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed the death by email, saying he died of natural causes. Manson, who was serving a life sentence at California State Prison had had health problems in recent years and was hospitalised in January for gastrointestinal bleeding, according to news reports.


New Zealand Prepares to Receive Climate Change Refugees


Good news from a bad news story.

New Zealand is proposing to issue climate refugee visas for Pacific islanders displaced from their homelands by sea level rise.

In the low-lying and vulnerable Pacific islands, the number of people moving within their own nations to flee worsening storms, sea level rise and other climate-related crises is still relatively small.

But countries like New Zealand are making plans now before climate migration grows into a regional emergency.

“We want to get ahead of this before it turns into a real problem … we want to start a dialogue with the Pacific Island countries about this notion of migrating with dignity, if things get to that point,” said climate minister James Shaw, leader of New Zealand’s Green Party.

“One of the options is a special humanitarian visa to allow people who are forced to migrate because of climate change,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview from the UN climate talks in Bonn, which were hosted by Fiji.

In 2014, a New Zealand judge granted residency to a family from Tuvalu, in part on humanitarian grounds related to climate change.

“The reason why we were throwing around an idea of a visa is because people who have been displaced by environmental conditions like rising seas and climate change aren’t counted under the UN Convention on Refugees,” said Shaw.

Canada should be jumping in with New Zealand on this. We proudly proclaim ourselves a Pacific Rim country and, as a petro-state, we're doing our bit to make these refugees' lives a little more precarious, so it's sort of like we owe them at least that much, a chance to relocate to Canada.


And They're Calling It "Medicane"


Climate change has brought a new severe weather event to the Mediterranean. It's being called the "medicane." Put simply it's a hurricane, akin to what is routinely experienced in the Caribbean, only it develops in the warming water conditions of the Mediterranean.


You can blame a ‘medicane’ for this week’s deadly flooding in Greece.

Nope, a “medicane” is not a new type of health insurance. It’s a Mediterranean hurricane — such as the one currently developing in the Mediterranean Sea, where warming waters have produced a weather system with the characteristics of a subtropical cyclone.

Flash floods linked to moisture from the storm hit parts of Greece on Wednesday, killing 16 people and injuring dozens more. The storm is projected to skirt Sicily and head toward Greece this weekend, potentially inflicting more damage.

Medicanes are so uncommon that scientists have yet to establish a clear set of criteria for them. Weather systems like these are more typically found in the Caribbean, where warmer water temperatures feed tropical storms.

A Mediterranean cyclone generally counts as a medicane if it forms the characteristic hurricane-like “eye,” according to Emmanouil Flaounas, a meteorologist at the National Observatory of Athens who conducts research on medicanes through a European Commission-funded project.


There are plenty of new terms being coined thanks to climate change. "Flash drought" is one, "atmospheric river" is another. Now "medicane." Eventually somebody will have to publish a directory of the next lexicon. I suppose "we're so screwed" probably doesn't fit the bill.

Turns out there are sites where you can brush up on climate change lingo.  Then again, don't. When you see how extensive the word lists are you'll be thoroughly demoralized.

Even the National Post is Sounding the Alarm.


By now we all know how quickly and severely the Arctic is warming. Nobody's arguing that any more. What we don't know, as yet, is how that's going to impact the majority of us down here by the 49th parallel and below.

David Barberr, a lead author of a new report released by the Arctic Council, tells the National Post that we're in for an unbelievably costly and damaging experience.

“Most people don’t understand how bad it is.”

The report completed for the Arctic Council, the group of eight countries that ring the North Pole, was released last week. It represents the work of 90 scientists from around the world and summarizes the most recent research from 2010 to 2016.

Cumulative global impacts related to Arctic change are expected to be large,” the document said. “Adaptation costs and economic opportunities are estimated in the tens of trillions of U.S. dollars.”

How much? Trillions? TENS of trillions? That's some serious dinero.

The report concludes the Arctic continues to warm at twice the pace of mid-latitudes and is likely to see warming of up to five degrees Celsius as early as 2040.

By then, the report says, summer sea ice is likely to be a thing of the past. Glaciers and ice caps will continue to melt and contribute to continually rising seas.
...

Climate change in the Arctic is well underway and can’t be stopped. But the report says if nations meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets under the Paris agreement, changes in the Arctic will stabilize to a new normal some time around 2040.

We should have started 20 years ago,” Barber said. “We didn’t get our act together and we’re still dicking around trying to figure out how to price carbon.

“These things are costing us. And they’re costing the stability of our planet.”


And it's not just NatPo that may be experiencing a climate change epiphany. Even the Sunday Times is catching on. Now there's even talk of a popular "tipping point" in which the public is coming to accept the powerful scientific consensus on man-made climate change and the urgency for taking effective action. Are you paying attention, you lousy petro-pimps?

But wait, there's more. This time it's Britain's Mirror moaning on about how climate change could cost the UK 75 billion quid a year by 2050. What's next, the Daily Mail? Who am I kidding? Nah, forget the Mail.



Soldier Guns Are for Soldiers



US Army infantry veteran Charles Clymer shreds today's popular myth of the "good guy with a gun" theory propagated by NRA types. He recoils at the idea that a locked and loaded citizenry will prevent mass mayhem on America's streets, in its schools and churches.



Our nation’s love of firearms, combined with our history of arrogance and hyper-masculinity, has produced a culture in which millions of (particularly younger) white men now believe they could, at any time, be the only thing standing between good and evil. A quick search on YouTube will provide countless videos of these would-be superheroes strolling down city streets with powerful rifles on display, begging for law enforcement to challenge their constitutional rights.
...
The problem with this narrative (besides a lack of research or data suggesting more guns does indeed prevent violence broadly) is that killing another human being, even a “bad” one, is not easy. This is not “Call of Duty”: Despite the damage that modern weaponry can inflict, there is a reason that soldiers and law enforcement officers receive thousands of hours of training in firearms and tactics. This training is physical, mechanical and, most importantly, psychological, because in order to efficiently and effectively kill other human beings in high-stress situations, one must be conditioned to negotiate that stress.

...The psychological strength required to act quickly and effectively in a mass shooting comes from the kind of monotonous training that over several years builds up muscle memory. It is tedious and often boring, and that’s the point: it enables soldiers to respond in stressful situations as though it’s second nature.
...

Moving around while firing at targets is a whole other ballgame and requires constant drilling that establishes strong muscle memory. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent going through monotonous exercises of intentionally falling on the ground with my weapon, getting back up, using a correct stance while in forward movement, and generally training my body to react with precision.

Yet, even in these controlled environments, with officers and sergeants who have ostensibly seen everything and typically exercise competent command of training operations, stupid mistakes still happen and people die. Even after all of this training, soldiers are still human beings who make mistakes.

When I see a young man openly carrying a firearm in public, whether to prove a political point or because he honestly believes at he could be called upon to stop an active shooter, I can only think of how much could go wrong. I do not see a “good guy with a gun”: I see a naive human who is more likely to exacerbate a tragedy than stop it. Is this person a civilian who has forgot to clear their weapon? Are they disciplined enough to avoid accidents? And if a mass shooting does occur, how do I know they will have the skills to take out the bad guy rather than, say, an innocent bystander?

...If a young man is brazen enough to brandish a powerful weapon just to attract attention, why would I trust they have the maturity to use it responsibly?

I'm Sure That Can Be Arranged



Robert Mugabe's nephew says president Bob has no intention of stepping down and "is ready to die for what is correct" rather than quit.

First point. Mugabe is already 93 so he's already on death's doorstep. Most 93 year olds are sort of, kind of, a little bit "ready to die." It comes with the turf.

Second point. Mugabe had better be careful with the loose words because these military coup situations usually end with at least one death and, in this case, that would be Mugabe's. It saves all the hassle of the legal process for a lifetime of murder and pillage. It also keeps your die hard supporters from trying to stage some come back.  Boom, finished.

Frankly I'm not confident that if Mugabe did step down that there'll be anything under the Christmas tree for him this year.

UPDATE

Reuters reports that Mugabe has relented and will step down.

UPDATE UPDATE

Reuters got it wrong. Mugabe stands defiant, says he's staying on as president.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Is 2018 Our Year of Reckoning?



People out this way realize that the earthquake called the "Big One" could arrive any day. We've heard the seismologists tell us that we're probably overdue for that once every three to four centuries temblor that will rock the Cascadia subduction zone. It's expected to be an order of magnitude greater than the worst that can hit the San Andreas fault.

In 2015, Kathryn Schulz scared the bejesus out of a lot of people in the Pacific Northwest with her article in The New Yorker, "The Really Big One."  If you're in a mood for the willies, do read it.

Ever mindful of Ms. Schulz' fine article, my attention was snagged by this headline in The Guardian, "Upsurge in big earthquakes predicted for 2018 as Earth rotation slows." It seems there's some direct correlation between a slowing of the planet's rotation and a slew of really big earthquakes. Who knew?

Scientists have warned there could be a big increase in numbers of devastating earthquakes around the world next year. They believe variations in the speed of Earth’s rotation could trigger intense seismic activity, particularly in heavily populated tropical regions.

The link between Earth’s rotation and seismic activity was highlighted last month in a paper by Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana in Missoula presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.

“The correlation between Earth’s rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year,” Bilham told the Observer last week.

“It is straightforward,” said Bilham. “The Earth is offering us a five-year heads-up on future earthquakes.”

George Monbiot Attacks the Predator State

Watch this and see if you can spot anything that resembles what's going on in our own country?



Think of it as terminal stage neoliberalism, the gutting of the state itself and the hiving off of its national wealth to the richest of the rich. James Galbraith explores how it all ends in his book about America, "The Predator State." It's worth a read.

What's That Smell? What's Burning?


I've been devoting a bit of extra time lately to the endless hot mess also known as the Middle East. To put it simply, hash is not being settled.

If there's a term for the Muslim world these days it has to be SNAFU. Situation Normal, All F#@ked Up.  Remember Gulf War I, Operation Desert Storm? That kicked off in August, 1990, getting the west sucked in. Before that there were other, more localized wars. Israel's various wars with its neighbours. The Iran-Iraq war that ran from 1980 to 1988. For a variety of reasons those folks just cannot get along and, with that in mind, we decided 27 years ago that we'd take a shot at it too. Guess who's still there, still at it? EVERYBODY, including us. Now the Russians are back in and China has feelers into the region, the new Silk Road stuff, aka the Belt and Road initiative.

The Saudis are more worrisome than ever. There's been a "reverse" palace coup with the crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, rounding up his cousins and putting them under arrest for corruption. This is the same, non-corrupt, bin Salman who, while on holiday, spied a yacht belonging to, I believe, an Italian guy and bought it from him on the spot for about $450-million, telling the former owner to clear out that same day.

The Saud I most closely follow is prince Bandar bin Sultan, agitator extraordinaire, former ambassador to the US and close personal friend of the Bush family who sometimes called him "Bandar Bush." Bandar was also implicated in the British Aerospace bribery scandal surrounding years of sales of jet fighters to Syria.

That mess in Syria? That looks like a lot of it might have been Bandar's doing. He was not happy when Obama rejected his demand (not request, demand) that the US send a large ground force into Syria to topple Assad.  Bandar threatened to raise, train and equip his own Sunni army in the deserts of Jordan which, it's thought, manifested in the Islamist jihadi group, al Nusra. Some have tied Bandar to ISIS as well.

Shortly before he retired as head of MI6 in 2004, Sir Richard Dearlove received a courtesy call from Bandar. During the small talk, prince Bandar dropped a bombshell on Sir Richard.


Prince Bandar told him: "The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them."

There is no doubt about the accuracy of the quote by Prince Bandar, secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council from 2005 and head of General Intelligence between 2012 and 2014, the crucial two years when al-Qa'ida-type jihadis took over the Sunni-armed opposition in Iraq and Syria. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute last week, Dearlove, who headed MI6 from 1999 to 2004, emphasised the significance of Prince Bandar's words, saying that they constituted "a chilling comment that I remember very well indeed".

He does not doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to which the authorities may have turned a blind eye, has played a central role in the Isis surge into Sunni areas of Iraq. He said: "Such things simply do not happen spontaneously." This sounds realistic since the tribal and communal leadership in Sunni majority provinces is much beholden to Saudi and Gulf paymasters, and would be unlikely to cooperate with Isis without their consent.

And, in case you're a bit confused, there is only one Saudi Arabia and, yes, it's the same one that the current government, like the previous government, considers Canada's ally.  Go figure, eh?

Things change. Bandar appears to be under lock and key. Crown prince Salman says he's going to reform Saudi Arabia including getting rid of radical Wahhabism. He's also planning to get the family out of the oil business. 

One thing that hasn't changed is that he's still out to get Iran and the Shia. 

The CBC's Michael Coren is just one of a variety of journalists and foreign policy types who have been recently warning that the next big Middle Eastern war is looming and it will be ugly.

The next war in the north [Lebanon] will likely involve prolonged artillery attacks followed by massive infantry and tank infiltration. It will not be pretty. And it's likely to happen sooner rather than later, and directly or indirectly involve Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and even Russia.

There are several factors to consider. First, in September, IDF's Northern Command conducted its largest military exercise in 20 years, involving tens of thousands of troops, tanks, aircraft and even the navy. Such planning takes an incredibly large amount of time and the manoeuvres themselves are extraordinarily costly.

The imagined enemy was Hezbollah. Israel has also attacked Syrian positions several times in recent months, partly to remind Damascus who is the boss of the block, but also to test how they will respond. Syria has always regarded Lebanon as a virtual province and Israel is determined to teach it — and Hezbollah — a lesson, and to reassert its authority.

Second, the Sunni superpower of Saudi Arabia is in an increasingly hot war with the Shia world and in particular, Iran. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is heir to the throne and while young, he is the effective ruler of the country. He's economically progressive, internationally connected and determined to modernize the country and also have it throw its weight around.

The civil war in Yemen, for example, is now almost three years old and had led to the deaths of at least 5,000 civilians, many of them children. Saudi Arabia backs the government, in particular with its air force, while Iran supports the Houthi rebels.

Coren's take seems feasible and it's more or less consistent with the recently expressed views of others how an Israeli war on Lebanon would end, assuming that it did end? What of the Sunnis and the Shia? Saudi Arabia versus Iran. What of Assad's Syria and a rehabilitated Shiite regime in Baghdad? How do the combatants keep one war from bleeding into another? What of Russia and China? And if prince Salman is really intent on wiping out radical Sunni Islamism, how will he deal with the jihadis after he turns on them?

It strikes me that the Middle East is on the verge of slipping from SNAFU into full contact FUBAR. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sorry, But That's Not What I See in the Picture


Did Al Franken really grope Leeann Tweeden's breasts as she now claims? I don't buy it.

She concluded that he groped her based on a photo that she later saw.  Here's the pic.


What do you see in the picture? That's definitely Al Franken and that appears to be Ms. Tweeden. She's wearing a standard kevlar helmet and a ballistic vest. Franken is posing for the person who took the photograph, yukking it up. He's posing for a picture. Does that mean he's groping the woman? No, it doesn't.

Now you might imagine that Franken is posing for a photograph evidencing himself committing a sexual offence. What he's doing is obviously in atrociously bad taste. That, however, is not the same as groping the woman.

Can  a woman's breast even be groped through a bulletproof vest? And if he did that, how would she not wake up? Enlarge the photo. His left hand is plainly not in contact with the vest and the shadows beneath the fingers of the right hand suggest that hand isn't in contact with the vest either. So his hands aren't in contact with the ballistic vest, she didn't feel any such contact, she didn't wake up either. Only later, on seeing the picture, did she conclude that she had been fondled.

What Franken did was extremely stupid but it was not groping. Groping is sexual. Sexual assault isn't done for the sake of a photograph, something that could leave you in criminal jeopardy.

On the strength of this photo I'm not convinced that he groped this woman. Now, if other women come forward with complaints that they were sexually assaulted by Franken, those additional allegations would probably change my mind. Until that happens I think he's just a boneheaded lout.

UPDATE:

Well, well, well. Perhaps the aggrieved Ms. Tweeden figured the rest of the USO tour photos wouldn't come out. Unfortunately for her they did and they don't bear out her story, the poor, innocent thing.  Far from being traumatized by Franken's sexual abuse they were getting on very well indeed.


And there was groping that, by today's standards, would constitute sexual assault. That occurred when Tweeden groped a guitarist's ass on stage.


She sure got herself a mittful of butt.  You go girl.

As for the offending kiss, well it seems she had no problem wrapping herself around Franken either.


My take? I think the local morning news anchor had a chance to get on the national networks and took it. She made up the stuff about Franken groping her breasts and exaggerated the business about the kiss although she didn't hesitate to grope a guy's ass while she was at it.

Canada Won't Kill Its Own


Canada will not kill off Canadian jihadis who fought for ISIS to keep them from ever re-entering Canada.

That might not surprise most Canadians but what makes it notable is that the U.S., Britain, France, Australia and perhaps others intend to hunt down and execute their own nationals who joined ISIS in Syria.

Even the interviewer seemed surprised at the answer Rory Stewart, the U.K. minister of international development, gave about how Britain should deal with citizens who chose to leave the country to join ISIS.

"I'm afraid we have to be serious about the fact these people are a serious danger to us, and unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them," Stewart told BBC Radio's John Pienaar last month.

Stewart, a former diplomat, continued: "These are people who are executing people … who have held women and children hostage, who are torturing and murdering, trying, by violence, to impose their will. Our response has to be, when somebody does that, I'm afraid, to deal with that."
...
 

The Sunday Times reports that Britain's Special Air Service, SAS, has been given a "kill list" of British jihadis, including notorious ISIS recruiter and convert Sally Jones, and a dozen others with British university degrees in technical fields such as electronics.

Brett McGurk, former U.S. president Barack Obama's special envoy for the fight against ISIS, who retains his post under Donald Trump, stated it explicitly on a recent visit to Syria. "Our mission is to make sure that any foreign fighter who is here, who joined ISIS from a foreign country and came into Syria, that they will die here in Syria."

"They're not just talking about it," said Christian Leuprecht, an expert on terrorism and security at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont. "Australia is another country that's taken the same approach — that they would prefer that those individuals who've been identified as foreign fighters not return home."

France, too, is working to eradicate its jihadis overseas. A Wall Street Journal investigation published in May quoted French and Iraqi officials describing French special forces co-operating with Iraqi units to hunt down and kill French jihadis.


The federal government doesn't seem to know what to do other than issue assurances they'll try to keep an eye on any of the 200 to 240 Canadian jihadis who went to the Middle East to join ISIS.

Goodale said anyone who poses a terrorist risk, homegrown or from elsewhere, is viewed "with the greatest of seriousness" by Canada's intelligence, security and police agencies.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said his department's job is ensuring foreign fighters don't become a threat.

"We will make sure that we put every type of resource into place so Canadians are well protected," he told a crowd at the Halifax International Security Forum on Friday.


Since Canada isn't targeting jihadis on the battlefield or successfully convicting them in court, says Leuprecht, "the third option is that they just show up and live peacefully ever after. Or not so peacefully."

Leuprecht says deradicalization programs are highly controversial and there is little empirical evidence that they work. In any case, Canada doesn't have such a program.


It's Time to Consign GDP to the Rubbish Bin of History


GDP as a measure of national progress has become a lie. Today growth isn't progress. It's theft. It's a practice of robbing the future to maximize activity today. Heading toward the edge of a cliff is not progress no matter how much faster you're going.

Exceeding your one and only biosphere's ecological capacity is not progress. We've been "growing" ever since the early 70s when we first began exceeding our planet's ecological carrying capacity but only by resorting to conjuring tricks. We've grown our populations by rapidly growing our food production through the use of excessive irrigation plus chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides but, in the process, we've been rapidly degrading our farmland to the point that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warns we've got no more than 60 harvests left. Where is the progress in that? Future generations will need arable farmland but to meet our demands today we will deny them their future.  Where is the progress in that?

Today's Deutsche Welle looks at our lethal addiction to growth and explores our alternatives.

In 2017, Earth Overshoot Day — the date when humanity spent Earth's resource budget to live sustainably for the year — fell on August 2. In 1987, it landed on December 9. Today, we need 1.7 planets to meet our consumption demands — and that number could rise to two planets by 2030.

Unless we get that growth under control, not only will we be facing an "ecosystem collapse" due to the loss of species and conversion of land for industry and agriculture, we won't be able to stop global warming, according to some economists.


"The Paris commitments are unlikely to be met if we continue with growth of the economy," said Philip Lawn, a senior lecturer in environmental economics at Flinders University in Australia. Solving the climate crisis and continuing with economic business as usual are "incompatible" and "delusional," he added.

Degrowth

In the US and Europe, the idea of "degrowth" — a movement around downsizing production and consumption, and moving the economy away from infinite expansion in a just and equitable way — is gaining traction.

That's partly because of the growing gap between rich and poor. Part of the problem is that we measure society's economic progress and well-being using Gross Domestic Product (GDP), say some economists.

GDP measures the market value of all final goods and services produced in a country but ignores things like high unemployment and negative impacts on the environment that growth may have, such as increased air pollution. (Not everyone agrees with this assessment, of course.)

Economists like Lawn advocate using a measure called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which takes a variety of indicators into account related to economic, social and environmental progress.

In a number of industrialized countries, GDP has soared, while GPI has stagnated or declined. Take Australia. In the 1950s and 1960s, GPI and GDP largely went up together but since the 1970s, GDP has taken off while GPI declined significantly.

A point comes when growing the material welfare of a country doesn't increase the material welfare of the individual, said Lawn. At this point, growth should stabilize and there should be an emphasis on managing resources, distributing wealth more equitably and improving goods.


"Steady State" or "Full Earth" economics is based on shrinking economic activity until it is a subset of the environment. We have strayed far past our planet's ecological carrying capacity over the past forty years and reality is beginning to catch up with us and it's frightening. There aren't many who want to reduce their perceived standard of living but it's not a matter of choice. We either return to the limits of the biosphere and do it on our own terms or we'll be driven back and that won't be on our terms.

The important part of steady state economics is that, while it restrains consumption and production along with population at roughly sustainable levels, it still accommodates growth - not in GDP but growth in knowledge and quality of life.

The Bottomless Abyss that is Brexit



Will parliamentary democracy be the first/worst victim of Brexit. Curiously enough both The Economist and George Monbiot think that's quite possible.

First up, The Economist:

BRITAIN should have been better placed than any other country to fight off the populist fever that is spreading around the world. The House of Commons is one of the oldest representative institutions on Earth. The country’s last violent revolution was in the middle of the 17th century.
...

Far from fighting off the virus of populism, Britain is becoming its most surprising victim. British politicians may look civilised compared with, say, Hungary’s Viktor Orban or America’s Donald Trump. But Mr Orban rules a country that has been scarred by communism and Mr Trump is hedged in by checks and balances galore. Americans will be rid of Mr Trump by 2021 or 2025. The Brexit referendum will continue to shape British politics for decades to come.

Britain has succumbed to the populist virus because it decided to apply the most powerful tool in the populist toolbox—the referendum—to the most profound question in British political economy—its relationship with its main political and economic partner. The subsequent debate pitted Britain’s entire ruling class, from the leaders of the three main political parties to the heads of multinational companies, against a ragbag army of rebels, troublemakers and mavericks. By voting Leave, the British not only elected to change their relationship with the European Union but also to reorder their political system.


The most visible result of this reordering is the chaos of daily politics. Since the referendum two of Britain’s three main parties have lost their leaders, Theresa May has fought a botched election, the cabinet has been paralysed by infighting and Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s hard-left leader, has become prime-minister-in-waiting. The less visible result is a constitutional revolution. Before the referendum, Parliament was sovereign (though, as Brexiteers rightly pointed out, the EU kept encroaching on that sovereignty). Now, for the first time in Britain’s long parliamentary history, most MPs feel obliged to vote for a policy that they oppose—in other words, to give in to a populist revolution. Three-quarters of MPs voted for Remain. Only two parties, with a combined total of nine MPs—the UK Independence Party with one and the Democratic Unionists with eight—supported Brexit. Still, the chances of Parliament scuppering the withdrawal are small.
...

The strongest justification of the referendum is that it was a one-off vote to settle the vexed constitutional question of Britain’s relationship with the EU: once Britain has reasserted its independence, the sovereignty of Parliament will be restored and populism contained. This is wishful thinking. If Britain withdraws from the EU, the economic shock will be profound. Those who will suffer most will be the very people who voted for Brexit as a cry of defiance (the depreciation of sterling since the referendum has already disproportionately hit the lowest-paid, by pushing up the price of food and fuel). Meanwhile, if Parliament somehow scuppers the process, there could be riots in the streets.

George Monbiot sees a post-Brexit Britain in danger of losing its national identity and becoming easy pickings for authoritarian rule.

So what is this country we are asked to love? This might once have been an easy question to answer. National identity was built around a range of institutions, considered to represent the national interest. Rebellion against them was characterised as treason. But one by one, these institutions have been subverted from within.
...

We were promised that in leaving the EU we would regain our sovereignty. But in abandoning an association based on equal standing, we expose ourselves to coercion by other nations. Our relationship with the US, especially under the stewardship of the trade secretary Liam Fox, is likely to look like that of servant and master.
...

So what remains, to which we might attach ourselves? In countries with a strong cultural sense of nationhood, the question is less pressing. But in the UK as a whole and England in particular, almost every cultural reference point is poorly defined, weak and contested. All that remain as widely shared, commonly accepted sources of national pride are our public services: the NHS, the BBC, the education system, social security, our great libraries and museums. But all have been gutted, disciplined and undermined by those who roundly assert their patriotism.


When the enabling state, providing robust public services and a strong social safety net, is allowed to wither, what remains is the authoritarian state, which must coerce and frighten. Consider the decline of neighbourhood policing – essential for preventing crime and gathering intelligence on everything from vandalism to planned terror attacks – and its replacement with ever more draconian laws.

As the enabling state shrinks, the flags must be unfurled, the national anthem played, schoolchildren taught their kings and queens, and more elaborate pieties offered to dead soldiers, because nothing else is left with which to hold us together. National pride becomes toxic, and is used as a weapon against anyone who seeks to express their love for the country by reforming it. The institutions charged with defending the national interest become its deadly enemies.

Is It Fear?


After digesting yesterday's essay by UBC prof William Rees about how humanity is suffocating other forms of life on our planet, I was left wondering what they're afraid of, why aren't they talking to us about what is happening, right now, beneath our own feet?

As Rees pointed out, "We are clever enough to document — in exquisite detail — various trends that portend the collapse of modern civilization, yet not nearly smart enough to extricate ourselves from our self-induced predicament.

For a decade, perhaps a bit more, I've been covering one major report after another on research documenting the alarming collapse of non-human life - insect, mammals, birds, sea mammals, fish, the lot. Some species have fallen extinct but the worrisome problem is that virtually all species are in severe decline, often upwards of 66% of their numbers over the past 40 years which, of course, coincides with the advent of neoliberalism.

Even in Canada, everything from casual windshield “surveys” to formal scientific assessments show a drop in insect numbers. Meanwhile, domestic populations of many insect-eating birds are in freefall. Ontario has lost half its whip-poor-wills in the past 20 years; across the nation, such species as nighthawks, swallows, martins and fly-catchers are down by up to 75 per cent; Greater Vancouver’s barn and bank swallows have plummeted by 98 per cent since 1970. Heard much about these things in the mainstream news?
...

Scientists estimate that at the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, H. sapienscomprised less than one per cent of the total weight of mammals on the planet. (There were probably only two to four million people on Earth at the time.) Since then, humans have grown to represent 35 per cent of a much larger total biomass; toss in domestic pets and livestock, and human domination of the world’s mammalian biomass rises to 98.5 per cent!
...


It took all of human history — let’s say 200,000 years — for our population to reach one billion in the early 1800s, but only 200 years, 1/1000th as much time, to hit today’s 7.6 billion! Meanwhile, material demand on the planet has ballooned even more — global GDP has increased by over 100-fold since 1800; average per capita incomes by a factor of 13. (rising to 25-fold in the richest countries). Consumption has exploded accordingly — half the fossil fuels and many other resources ever used by humans have been consumed in just the past 40 years.

As the Bonn climate summit wraps up it reveals how ineffectual our nations have become and why they'll never succeed in bringing climate change under control. They're still treating climate change as a standalone crisis. They imagine they're dealing with a disease but it's really just one of several symptoms of the greater threat that confronts us - ourselves.

You cannot take climate change in isolation of its companion threats that are also existential. Climate change cannot be separated from over-population and over-consumption of our planet's finite resources.  Rees pointed it out beautifully. It took our species 200,000 years to reach one billion and just another 200 years to increase that more than seven fold and, in the course of those same 200 years, GDP has swelled about a hundred fold. That's hundreds of times more production, more consumption, more waste, more pollution and contamination of every form imaginable. And what are our politicians doing? With their corporate partners they're obsessively pursuing perpetual, exponential growth. Every foot is on the gas pedal but nobody's hands are on the wheel.

That's not democratic leadership. That's nihilism.

They can't even respond to climate change beyond purely gestural proposals - carbon taxes. What exactly is that going to do? Nothing, it's a sop.

Rees didn't write an op-ed. He penned an essay. He wasn't expressing an opinion. He was writing from fact, scientific knowledge documented in "exquisite detail." His was not some dodgy belief-based construct. That's the crap peddled to us by our political caste, the nihilists.

Surely we have reached a point where you have to ask yourself why you're supporting and empowering nihilists. Why? The science has been pouring in for more than a decade. There's a mountain of research and analysis and it's compelling. 

What's your problem? Is it simply too much to take in? Can you not get your mind around the enormity of the change that has set in over just the past forty years? Do you, like our leaders, need to pretend this isn't happening or that it's not immediate or a mortal threat to our civilization?






Farewell to Nova Scotia?



Nova Scotia could become Canada's second island province thanks to climate change and sea level rise.

Mayor David Kogon of Amherst, N.S., said sea levels are projected to rise in the Bay of Fundy over 15 to 20 years to the point where the Isthmus of Chignecto will flood, even without a storm surge.

The isthmus is a narrow, low-lying strip of land that is about 20 kilometres at its narrowest point.

"If the Isthmus of Chignecto, which is all that connects Nova Scotia to New Brunswick, is flooded out, then Nova Scotia will be surrounded by water," said Kogon in an interview Thursday, adding that with the right storm the isthmus could flood sooner.

"If the highway and rail line are under water, you've completely cut Nova Scotia off from the rest of mainland Canada."

I know, I know, Newfoundland is also an island only it's Newfoundland and Labrador, right? Not the same thing.


Fossil Fuels Built the World's Biggest Sovereign Wealth Fund. Now Norway Wants to Ditch Fossils.



When it comes to fossil energy, Canadian politicians have been - well - f#@kups.  That's doubly true for those idiots in Alberta.

Way back when there was a Wild Rose premier who understood what Alberta had, how to realize the benefit of it and how to avoid the built-in perils. That gentleman was Peter Lougheed.

Lougheed knew that oil wealth was volatile. It was a boom and bust commodity that could, in cycles, overheat an economy and then collapse it. He advocated for slow, controlled development and for setting the riches aside to avoid overheating the economy.

After Lougheed left his successors followed their own path, let' er rip. And all the misery and woes that Lougheed had warned them about came to pass - again and again and again.

Across the Atlantic, the Viking crowd had heard Lougheed's words and took them to heart.  Norway began to manage its North Sea oil reserves according to Lougheed's formula. They treated their oil bounty for what it was, a windfall that belonged to all Norse, today and into the future. And so little Norway came to own the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, today in excess of a trillion dollars.

Now, seeking to safeguard that mountain of cash, Norway's sovereign wealth fund is moving to divest many billions in oil and gas stocks. Norway, it seems, realizes this Carbon Bubble is going to burst and doesn't want to be around for the big pop.

Wow, first it was the Saudis who announced plans to sell off Aramco and now Norway wants out.

Norway, which relies on oil and gas for about a fifth of economic output, would be less vulnerable to declining crude prices without its fund investing in the industry, the central bank said Thursday. The divestment would mark the second major step in scrubbing the world's biggest wealth fund of climate risk, after it sold most of its coal stocks.

"Our perspective here is to spread the risks for the state's wealth," Egil Matsen, the deputy central bank governor overseeing the fund, said in an interview in Oslo. "We can do that better by not adding oil-price risk."


Imagine if we could write the next two paragraphs about Ottawa and Alberta:

Built on the income that western Europe's largest energy supplier has generated for more than 20 years, the fund's investment decisions are guided by ethical rules encompassing human rights, some weapons production, the environment and tobacco. Norway's fossil-fuel investments are coming under increasing scrutiny from a public that aims to be a climate leader without jeopardizing one of the world's highest standards of living.

The fund has doubled in value over the past five years and was just given the go-ahead to boost its stock holdings to 70 per cent of its portfolio from 60 per cent to help drive returns. The government, which also controls Statoil ASA and offshore oil and gas fields, was forced to withdrew cash from the fund for the first time last year to meet spending commitments after oil prices dropped.


If only but, of course, we can't. Alberta took the Mardi Gras route and now faces the very real risk of bitumen becoming a stranded asset leaving the provincial and federal governments holding the bag for the costs of cleaning up the environmental devastation known as Athabasca.