Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year, Everyone!

I have never been happier to see a year pass more than 2013.  It's just been one goddamned thing after another.

2014.  I'm hopeful that this is the year that marks the beginning of the end of three decades of neo-conservative/neo-liberal madness.  That Occupy Wall Street thing?  That was just practice.  2014 is our chance to usher in something far better to reset our collective, moral compass.

Can you not feel the change coming?  I'm very serious about this.  Do you have a sense of it?  You can make it happen, we can make it happen.

Read what Gartner Research wrote.  It starts in 2014 and it may go on until 2020 but we're going to find another way because we don't have a choice.  The question is whether we'll see that it's done on our terms, for us and our kids and our grandkids.  That's our responsibility.  That's our job and we're going to have to stand up to make that happen.

So, if you've already quit smoking, make this your New Year's resolution.  Make 2014 the year that we stop putting up with this crap.

Happy New Year


To all you post-middle age rockers and bikers out there, you can thank me later.

Monday, December 30, 2013

2014 - The Return of Occupy!

A leading American technology research firm, Gartner Research, foresees a resurrection of the Occupy Movement in 2014.  They contend that America's changing economy makes social upheaval inevitable.

By 2020, the labor reduction effect of digitization will cause social unrest and a quest for new economic models in several mature economies. Near Term Flag: A larger scale version of an "Occupy Wall Street"-type movement will begin by the end of 2014, indicating that social unrest will start to foster political debate.

Digitization is reducing labor content of services and products in an unprecedented way, thus fundamentally changing the way remuneration is allocated across labor and capital. Long term, this makes it impossible for increasingly large groups to participate in the traditional economic system — even at lower prices — leading them to look for alternatives such as a bartering-based (sub)society, urging a return to protectionism or resurrecting initiatives like Occupy Wall Street, but on a much larger scale. Mature economies will suffer most as they don't have the population growth to increase autonomous demand nor powerful enough labor unions or political parties to (re-)allocate gains in what continues to be a global economy.

The Gartner assessment reinforces others (Chomsky, Hedges et al) who argue America has entered a pre-revolutionary state.  All the signs do seem to be there and they show no indication of abating.  To those who wrote off the Occupy Movement as finis, as I wrote at the time, the conditions that gave rise to OWM remained and stood to worsen, meaning that it would be back in some form and before too long.

Cheating the Future

The trouble with austerity-obsessed politicians is their inability to resist stealing from the future.  Wary of upsetting the voters, these morally-lacking pols, try to shield them from cuts by paring money from essential infrastructure projects.  We were greeted to a stellar example of this in Montreal with its crumbling bridges and water mains.  Other Canadian cities aren't far behind.  Even Angela Merkel's Germany is feeling the neglect and it's hitting the country's economy.

The once-soaring bridges are sagging. Some trains’ switching equipment, once top-of-the-line, haven’t been updated since the time of the kaisers. Well-engineered canal locks are succumbing to silt and neglect.

Germany’s network of roads and railroads is one of the densest and most developed in the world. But the bottlenecks are starting to crimp Germany’s export-driven economy, experts say. Even maintaining the status quo will require nearly doubling current levels of spending, according to a recent report issued by a government commission.

“Germany is the second-largest of the world’s exporting nations, but only if our transport system is functioning. If not, our economy will be in a dangerous situation,” said Kurt Bodewig, a former transportation minister who led a federal commission that recently recommended that Germany needs to spend $9.7 billion a year more on infrastructure just to maintain its current network. Merkel’s new coalition agreement increases spending by a fifth that much.

In Canada, not only is our infrastructure crumbling but it's outdated, incapable of withstanding climate change impacts.  In June, as Calgary was reeling from its second, "once a century" flood in 8-years, the World Council on Disaster Management held its annual conference in recently-flooded Toronto.  Dr. Saeed Mirza, professor emeritus at McGill in structural engineering, estimated that Canada needed to invest upwards of a trillion dollars to upgrade and update our essential infrastructure across the country.

It is each generation's responsibility to maintain their nation's infrastructure for the next generation.  In other words, we owe our future generations a trillion dollars in infrastructure repairs and upgrades.  Yes we'll have to raise taxes to cover the costs.  That's how government pays for things.  Yet we'll pay a good deal more down the road if we don't meet our responsibility today.  That's simply cheating the future.


Banking on Failure

If you're like most people, it doesn't feel like we ever fully recovered from the crash of '08.  For most, the past five years have been stagnant at best and worse for the unfortunate.  Well, brace yourself, for the Wizards of Wall Street and their branch plant operators in Canada and elsewhere may be setting us up for another battering.

Spiegel Online brings us the cautionary tale of Michigan hedge fund manager Mark Spitznagel whose clients are willing to lose money to bet on the next big crash.

For his customers, Spitznagel's multi-billion-dollar fund acts as an insurance policy against the next meltdown in the financial system. When the market is doing well, they lose modest amounts of money. But they cash in as soon as prices take a nosedive, even when all other investments are going up in smoke.

The hedge fund manager has made a lot of money in the past with his prognoses, and he is convinced that substantial turbulence is on the cards for the near future. "The setup is there for it," says Spitznagel.

Since the last crisis, central banks around the world have pumped trillions into the economic cycle, both by lowering interest rates and buying up securities in the markets. For central bankers like United States Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the aim of the policy was to stimulate the economy and rescue banks that could no longer raise capital elsewhere. But this "grand monetary experiment," as Spitznagel calls it, has side effects. Because it makes borrowing cheaper than even before and saving all but pointless, it encourages investors to pursue reckless deals. Share prices are exploding on stock exchanges around the world, while real estate prices are rising at an alarmingly fast pace. And many US companies are now in as much debt as they were before the financial crisis.

To take Spitznagel's metaphor a step further, the flood of money coming from central bankers acts like a highly aggressive, artificial fertilizer. It generates enormous yields in the short term, but eventually leads to potential devastation.

Perhaps the best you can hope for is that, if Spitznagel's vision is right, the next big crash might help bring us to the point where we finally realize we have to throw this neo-liberal, casino economy and bring in a new model that works not for them but for you and me.

The NSA's Toy Catalogue

Spiegel Online has posted an interactive graphic that shows spyware from a 50-page NSA catalogue of the devices and prices of snooping gear they had on offer.   It runs the range from tricked out USB memory sticks to devices that replicate an existing cellphone tower to access, well, virtually all phone traffic.  There is even a computer monitor cable that transmits what is being displayed on the screen and it's a bargain at $30 per. 

Doctored USB plugs, for example, go for a million bucks per bag of 50. There's spyware for iPhones and major brand name computers.  If it can be hacked, it seems the NSA's wizards have hacked it.

Have We Finally Had It with Harper?

A Nanos poll suggests Canadians may finally have had it with the automaton of Sussex Drive.

Canadians' unhappiness with the federal government grew dramatically in 2013, judging by the results of a yearly poll released by Nanos Research and the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

When it comes to the performance of Stephen Harper's Conservatives, 56 per cent of those polled said they did a poor job in 2013. That compares to 33 per cent last year and 25 per cent in 2011.

Great, now maybe the Opposition can maintain this momentum.  Maybe.

Policy Time in Ottawa.

Working up policy around an electoral cycle is fine - for a while.  Leave it too long, however, as the Liberals plainly have, and it creates an impression of a party that really doesn't have any meaningful ideas.   What was the last big Liberal idea? Oh yeah, it was the Green Shift, a first rate idea botched by third-rate handling by the then leader, Stephane Dion.

Good policy is defensible.  If you've got an idea that you cannot defend against your opponent, then it's not a very good idea.  If you can't find glaring weaknesses in your opponent's ideas, then you had better come up with some other compelling reason why voters should support you. 

It's time the Liberals and the Latter Day Liberals (NDP) got up on their hind legs and stood for something that's meaningful to the Canadian public.  Stand for Canada and the Canadian public, not the state and its incestuous corporatism.    Stop treating the Canadian public like chumps, like prey, like Harper does. 

Yeah, the election may not come until 2015 but you've laid low long enough.  Justin, your father knew how to connect with the public.  Try, oh please try, to channel a bit of that.  Tommy, try to stop acting like an angry, highschool chemistry teacher. 

Speak to us about the environment and about our democratic deficit.  Speak to our worries about inequality and the future Canada can offer our children and grandkids. 

What If the Poor Simply Stopped Paying the Rich?

I owe you money but you've just ruined my well.  You don't want to compensate me for the damage you've caused.  What if I said, "fine, I'll take the money I owe you and use it to dig another well"?

In general terms, climate change is hitting hardest the poorest and most vulnerable nations of the Third World, countries that also tend to be heavily indebted to the rich countries that are also the big emitters of greenhouse gases.

If it wasn't a bi-polar, "us versus them" world before the Warsaw climate change summit it became one when 134 of the small, weak and vulnerable nations walked out in protest against the rich countries' refusal to talk compensation.

What if those 134 wee nations told the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the finance ministries and treasury departments to get stuffed, reneged on their debts and began expropriating First World assets to fund climate change relief and adaptation projects?

Shut their embassies, drive the buggers out and then announce that, collectively, your bloc of 134 countries with all those strategic resources will deal with the first economic superpower, East or West, to come to the table with an acceptable climate change deal.

Just sayin'

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nuclear Terrorism in India?

Most of us don't spend a lot of time focusing on terrorism in India.  You might not have even heard of the Indian Mujahideen or "IM".  As you might have guessed from the name, it's an Islamist extremist outfit bent on teaching those Hindus a thing or two.  According to The Times of India, one of IM's leaders was intent on detonating a nuclear weapon in Surat.

The prospect of terror organisations getting their hands on a nuclear device has long concerned both security agencies and thriller writers. Now, it seems Indian Mujahideen India chief Ahmad Zarar Siddibappa alias Yasin Bhatkal too was thinking along similar lines. Bhatkal recently told interrogators that he was planning to explode a nuclear bomb in Surat, according to sources.

Bhatkal was arrested on August 27 in Pokhra, Nepal and has been constantly questioned by the
NIA, Intelligence Bureau and police of several states. TOI has accessed the interrogation report.

Bhatkal told the interrogators that he had asked his Pakistan-based boss,
Riyaz Bhatkal, over phone whether the latter could arrange a small "nuclear bomb". According to him, Riyaz responded, "Anything can be arranged in Pakistan".

"Riyaz told me that attacks can be done with nuclear bombs. I requested him to look for one nuclear bomb for Surat," Yasin told the officials.

"Riyaz told me Muslims would also die in that (nuclear bomb blast), to which I said that we would paste posters in mosques asking every Muslim to quietly evacuate their families from the city," Yasin said, according to the report.

Fortunately Indian security types snatched Yasin off the streets in time.  Just the thought of the Indian-Pakistani nuclear exchange this would likely trigger is horrific.

Yesterday's Heresy Might Finally Be Turning Into Today's Orthodoxy

Will 2013 be seen as the year the world (a.k.a. America) clued in to the reality of climate change?  A shift does seem to be happening when papers such as the L.A. Times announce they'll no longer be printing the rantings of denialists. 

It was encouraging to see the Washington Post link to a piece from Smithsonian.com entitled "Six Things We Learned About Our Changing Climate in 2013."

1. There are record levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

2. Global warming may have appeared to slow down, but it’s an illusion.

3. An overwhelming majority of scientists agree that human activities are changing the climate. 

4. Climate change is already impacting your life.

5. There’s not nearly enough being done to stop climate change.

6. There is one key formula to preventing catastrophic climate change.

The amount of data and fine detail involved in calculating climate change projections can seem overwhelming, but a report released this summer by the International Energy Authority articulates the basic math.

Of all existing fossil fuel reserves that are still in the Earth—all of the coal, oil and natural gas—we must ultimately leave two-thirds unburned, in the ground, to avoid warming the climate more than 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit), a number scientists recognize as a target for avoiding catastrophic climate change.

If we can figure out a way to stay within this carbon budget before it’s too late, we can still avert a climate disaster. If we can’t, then we too might look back at today’s record-breaking temperatures, droughts and floods as a fond memory of milder times.

There's really nothing remotely new here except that apparently what was previously attacked as heresy is now accepted as orthodoxy.  I wonder if there's some way to get the word to Ottawa?

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Here's a little food for thought.  Okay, done?

Le Monde Warns - The Coup of Global Corporatism Is Nearly Complete

They're negotiating the final text for what might be the concluding treaty surrendering state sovereignty, and democracy, to the forces of corporatism.

According to Le Monde, the deal aims to sweep away all social, consumer and environmental protections that obstruct a new corporate world order.  And it's being concluded safely out of the public's eye.

Big Agra Devouring Africa

Last year the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization declared what multinationals already knew, the world has entered a state of permanent food insecurity.  Around the world major corporations are snatching up agricultural land pretty much wherever they can find it and one of their favourite regions to exploit is Africa.

One-third of the Gambela area in western Ethiopia,[see map above], for example, is being leased for the next 50 years by the Bangalore food company Karuturi Global. Forests are being clear-cut, swamps drained, rivers diverted and whole villages moved to make way for flower farms and palm-oil and rice plantations.

The government in Addis Ababa says it needs foreign companies like Karuturi Global to help create jobs, raise Ethiopia's income from food exports, and develop the agricultural technology and infrastructure that can bring the impoverished country into the mainstream of the global market economy. It has enticed investors with tax breaks alongside rock-bottom lease rates.
But at what cost - to land rights, to human health, to the environment, to national stability?
It is a question being asked not only in Ethiopia but across Africa. Many other countries are also welcoming big agricultural projects bankrolled by foreign investors whose goal is to send food abroad. Liberia has reportedly signed concessions for nearly one-third of its national territory in recent years. Half of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's agricultural lands are being leased to grow crops, including palm oil for the production of biofuels. Perhaps the largest single venture to date is the ProSAVANA Project in northern Mozambique, where an area roughly the size of Switzerland and Austria combined has been leased by Brazilian and Japanese companies to produce soybeans and maize for export.

According to Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, the reverse transfer of agricultural wealth is a new form of colonialism. Outside powers, with the help of local governments, claim that they are helping countries develop, de Schutter says, when their real motive is to exploit resources to ensure their own food security.

To make matters worse, the land-grab phenomenon also fosters instability and conflict over scarce resources, population shifts and the best way to feed expanding countries. Lack of access to food and farmland will likely lead to social unrest, warn scholars at the independent academic research organisation the New England Complex Systems Institute.

Wealthy countries have always looked to faraway, resource-rich lands for food exports. Europe established plantations throughout the world in the 19th century; multinational food companies have done the same in the post-colonial era. But recent land grabs are different, and not just in scope. Whereas in the past, most export agriculture focused on products that couldn't be grown at home (bananas, citrus, coffee, cocoa), today's projects often grow staple food crops such as soy, wheat, and rice, as well as oils for biofuels.

The African land grabs began in earnest after the global food crisis peaked in 2008. The start of the Arab Spring was a wake-up call heard around the world - especially in the Gulf states and the Asian tiger economies with limited capacity to grow their own food. Corporations in these countries started acquiring terrain in Africa, the continent with the highest percentage of available arable land, as an insurance policy against extreme price volatility on the global market. And African governments, desperate for cash and technology, were willing partners. The United Nations has proposed basic ground rules to regulate these land deals, but they are non-binding and frequently flouted, leading to a chaotic situation.

 This lack of effective regulation threatens the livelihoods and basic rights of millions. In a scathing 2012 report on Ethiopia's Gambela region, Human Rights Watch documented arbitrary arrests, rapes, beatings, and killings of people who resisted leaving villages to make way for foreign projects, as well as starvation among the newly landless. This hunger is caused in part by the diversion of agricultural land from local food production, which has boosted food prices.

To me, it's unbelievable that developed nations that pride themselves on their supposed civility and decency can turn a blind eye to this.   Canada, seemingly always ready to pick a fight or at least condemn if it involves a Muslim, sucks up to the same privileged countries that are inflicting this on the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet.

When You're Not Playing With a Full Deck


The Centre for Economics and Business Research, (CEBR) recently brought a smile to David Cameron's mug with the prediction that, by 2030, Britain's economy will be larger than Germany's.  The think tank also concluded that China's economy will again become the largest in the world although not until 2028 will it surpass the United States.  In case you're wondering, Canada will be doing just dandy.

Having seen plenty of news reports about this study I finally went after the .pdf version.  That's where I discovered that, in keeping with neo-classical economic theory generally, the CEBR folks seem to have formulated their analysis in something of a vacuum.  They're addressing a world that is magically devoid of resource shortages and exhaustion, food insecurity, overpopulation, environmental degradation and climate change impacts.  They're envisioning a world without major restraints on growth.

It's sort of like saying, "if we omit this, this and this, then this is what the world will be fifteen years from now."  To me, that's like not playing with a full deck or, maybe, even dealing from the bottom.

Will We Have to Pay For Playing?

Can you imagine Canada being hit with a claim for tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars in damages for our greenhouse gas emissions?   Can you imagine the Americans being ordered to cough up a trillion or more for their emissions?   Not that we'd ever pay it if it happened but happen it might.

Some think that, within a decade, Canada and other big emitters, could be brought before an international tribunal by Third World countries hard hit by climate change looking for compensation.

About 18 million people in the Sahel – the vulnerable pan-African strip of land that runs from Senegal to Sudan along the southern edge of the Sahara – faced famine last year. Life has never been easy there. Its land is poor. Its people are often semi-nomadic, moving their animals between the grasslands. But science is increasingly pointing a hard finger at those to blame for the persistence of Sahelian drought – and it is us.

...There are legitimate doubts about the scale of the impact, and about other offsetting factors that may reduce human-induced global warming. But what should be a wake-up call is science's growing ability to highlight the blame for particular extreme events, and not just in the Sahel.

For instance, a recent paper by Fraser C Lott and colleagues examined the increased probability that the 2011 East African drought in Somalia and Kenya can be attributed to human-induced climate change. Pardeep Pal and others investigated the impact of climate change on the £1.3bn insured losses from the flooding in the UK in 2000. Peter A Stott and others looked at the hot European summer of 2003, and its heatwave-related deaths.

Richard Washington, the professor of climate science at Oxford, rightly highlights the importance of this scientific work for its ability to change the global political and legal game. We saw how high feelings run with the walk-out by 132 developing countries at the Warsaw climate-change talks last month when the new Australian government tried to block all talk of loss and compensation until after 2015.

"There will definitely be a case in my lifetime and probably within five to 10 years," says Philippe Sands QC, the UCL professor of international law, who has advised many endangered nations, including Bangladesh. "It is going to happen. The only questions now are where, how and to what purpose."

This emissions business has always reminded me of a classic English tort case all first year law students must learn, Rylands v. Fletcher.   "Rule in Rylands v Fletcher"; that "the person who for his own purpose brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief, if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape."

Greenhouse gas emissions "likely to do mischief" if it escapes into the atmosphere?  Check.  Must keep it in at his peril?  Check.  Damages the "natural consequence" of its escape?  Check.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Arctic Sea Ice in 30-Seconds

In just 30-seconds you'll have a good understanding of what's happened to Arctic sea ice over the past 34-years.

What's In Your Guts?

Another gem from Mother Jones.   What's in, or rather not in, your guts could determine your propensity to obesity or diabetes.

A Picture That's Worth a Thousand Dreams

Here's your New Years present from Mother Jones.

Carolyn Porco, one of Carl Sagan's protégés,  went on to become the head of imaging science for the Cassini spacecraft now orbiting Saturn.  Last month, at a celebration of Sagan at which his papers were dedicated to the Library of Congress, Porco revealed her magnificent update of Sagan's Pale Blue Dot image, greatly improved by the new technology aboard Cassini.  Here, enjoy.

Earth from Saturn
Solar Eclipse

Saturn's Magnificent Moon, Enceladus

Justice, Amurican Style

In Texas, if you're a rich kid who gets behind the wheel drunk and winds up killing four people, the curse of affluence is enough of a defence to keep you out of jail.

In Alabama, if you rape your neighbour's kid - not once but three times - it's probation for you.   And if the state Court of Appeal sends it back to the trial judge for re-sentencing, well it'll be a little more probation for you.

In September, a jury in Limestone County, Alabama found 25-year-old Austin Smith Clem guilty of raping his teenager neighbor, Courtney Andrews, three times—twice when she was 14, and once when was she was 18. County Judge James Woodroof theoretically sentenced Clem to 40 years in prison. But Woodroof structured the sentence so that Clem would only serve three years probation, plus two years in the Limestone County corrections program for nonviolent criminals, which would allow Clem to work and live in the community. Only if Clem violated his probation would he be required to serve the prison time.

Clem's lenient sentence touched off a national outcry, and Andrews eventually appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC show to call for tougher punishment. In early December, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals found that the sentence was illegal and ordered Woodroof to mete out a stiffer penalty. But Clem's new sentence, which Woodroof handed down Monday, only extends Clem's probation from three to five years. And if Clem violates the terms of his probation, he will only have to serve 35 years in prison—less than he would have under his initial sentence.

Hey, Steve. They're Coming Back.

Although the Russian economy has been stagnant of late, Moscow (a.k.a. Vlad Putin), continues its major rearmament programme.  Here is the Russkie's newest "boomer" or nuclear missile sub.

The Dolgoruky is the first of eight Borei-class boats that are planned to deploy with the Russian navy. The sub uses  pump-jet propulsion.   It will carry Russia's new Bulava missiles said to have a 10,000 km. range.   That should be about all they would need to do in Europe and North America.

In addition to the boomers, the Russians are deploying a like number of nuclear-powered  cruise missile subs that will also carry the Shkval torpedo capable of speeds underwater in excess of 200 knots (370 km/hr) at up to 10 mi. range.  It's generally considered a "carrier buster" weapon.

Meanwhile, President Vlad, has ordered the Russian military to resuscitate its Arctic presence by next year.   That will entail new naval facilities and re-opening several air bases that have been mothballed since 1993.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that a combined-arms force will be deployed in the Arctic in 2014 to protect the country’s interests in the region.

As part of the ambitious program, the Russian military is planning to reopen airfields and ports on the New Siberian Islands and the Franz Josef Land archipelago that were mothballed in 1993.

Shoigu said that at least seven mothballed military airfields on the continental part of the Arctic Circle will also be restored.

As for Canada, we're pretty much defenceless.  Thanks Peter, thanks Steve.   With our short-range, single engine, stealth light bomber we probably won't be able to reach out and touch the Russians without either slinging all sorts of stealth and performance-negating weapons and fuel tanks under the wings or operating with very detectable refueling tankers.   And, if we did see fit to attack something in Russia, it would be a safe bet we wouldn't have an airbase for any survivors to go back to.

What's In a Name?

The Harper regime has decided to stick it to the Americans.  Canada's two new support ships are to be  named Queenston and Chateauguay to commemorate battles in which British forces and Canadian militia inflicted defeats on American invaders during the War of 1812.

I suppose Steve could have named them after more contemporary Canadian victories such as Vimy or the Scheldt or even his own great military triumph, H.M.C.S. Kandahar.  No, forget that last one.

I'll bet old lard-ass was just itching to name a ship after himself.

What Do You Stand For? The Country or the State?

You're at that point where you have to choose.  Do you support the state, embodied in a Conservative, New Democrat or Liberal government, or do you support the country, Canada and your fellow Canadians?

It's a rarely mentioned  but particularly cogent question in a petro-state like Canada.  The very survival of your society depends on grasping the distinctions and realizing you may have to make a choice. 

In a recent essay considering whether Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden were traitors or patriots, Andrew J. Bacevich, said it might come down to whether Americans support the state or the country.

To whom do Army privates and intelligence contractors owe their loyalty? To state or to country? To the national security apparatus that employs them or to the people that apparatus is said to protect?
what if the interests of the state do not automatically align with those of the country?

Manning and Snowden confront Washington with something far more worrisome. They threaten the power the state had carefully accrued amid recurring wars and the incessant preparation for war. In effect, they place in jeopardy the state’s very authority — while inviting the American people to consider the possibility that less militaristic and more democratic approaches to national security might exist.In the eyes of the state, Manning and Snowden — and others who may carry on their work — can never be other than traitors. Whether the country eventually views them as patriots depends on what Americans do with the opportunity these two men have handed us.

Canada has never had a government as secretive and duplicitous as the regime we currently endure.  Harper is 95% state and 5% country.  He's a technocrat.   Harper always said that his prime objective was to move Canada's political centre well and permanently to the Right but I think what he was really out to achieve was to complete Canada's transformation into a genuine petro-state.

Surely the answer lies in ousting Harper and putting Tom Mulcair or Justin Trudeau into power, right?  I doubt it.  Obama inherited a presidency that, over the previous eight years, had appropriated to itself truly imperial powers.  Everyone thought Obama would right America's political and constitutional keel, wash away the stain of Bush/Cheney.  Did he disavow and relinquish the excessive powers of his predecessor?  No.

But this is Canada and we're talking Mulcair and Trudeau.  They'll do better, right?  No. 

Canada has a democratic deficit that is the equivalent of arterial bleeding.  Do you hear Mulcair or Trudeau championing reform or even mentioning it?  No.  Canada, like every other country, faces growing climate change impacts, especially floods and droughts.   Do you hear Mulcair or Trudeau talking about decarbonizing our economy and our society?  No.  Canada is in the throes of corporatism.  Do you hear Mulcair or Trudeau advocating the break up of our corporate media cartel and the restoration of a truly free press for Canada?  No.  Canada is beginning to succumb to American-driven inequality.  Do you hear Trudeau or Mulcair speaking about how they'll arrest and then reverse that?  No. 

To put much faith in Mulcair or Trudeau to right Canada's political keel and heal our democratic deficit seems more than a stretch.  This suggests the state and the country will remain at odds.  It may well be we the people versus them, our ruling class.

Hey, Toronto. Time You Went Underground.

In my neighbourhood we don't have any overhead wires.  They're all buried - phone, cable and electric.  You don't notice it until you pass through a neighbourhood where they're not and that comes to your attention immediately.

Maybe it's time you folks in Eastern Canada went underground because the crippling ice storm you've just endured may become a routine occurrence.  A Toronto Hydro study last year predicted just that.

I saw a great explanation of how the east got hammered on the weather segment of BBC News.  It was -7 in Toronto while, 400 miles to the south, if was +20.   That's the sort of thing we get these days thanks to the Polar Jet.  Where the two met it created a massive ice storm.  Being slow moving, west to east, it built up enough to bring down trees and hydro lines.

According to the G&M story, however, your utilities figure going underground is just too costly.  They would prefer to adapt by replacing old wires and focusing on pruning trees.   Besides, they argue, putting that wiring underground would just leave it vulnerable to future flooding (that must be their other study).

Oh well, good luck.  Keep your chins up and remember, climate change is a hoax.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Bezos, You Bozo, It's Still Just Another Job-Killing Warehouse

I'm coming to loathe Amazon even if that intrudes on the loathing space I have for WalMart.  Amazon, like WalMart, isn't exactly employment-friendly.  It doesn't create jobs in your community, it kills them.  Go online and order a book or a lawn chair or whatever, and it's usually something you won't be buying from someone employed in your community.

What really irks me about Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, whose head proves that you really can polish a turd, is when he calls his low-wage warehouses "fulfillment centers."  Now, in fairness, it might fulfil Bezos' plan to wreak hell on local business or to put as many retail employees as possible out of work but, beyond that it's just another goddamned, job-killing warehouse.

It Doesn't Sound Crazy Unless You Think About It.

Stephen Harper has this knee-jerk instinct to deregulate just about anything he can.   Captain Listeria did a wonderful job handing self-regulation to the meat packing industry.  On his watch the safety regulations were gutted that allowed 42-residents of Lac Megantic to be immolated.  He's done something eerily similar on the west coast to fisheries and marine regulations. 

We'll probably never really know exactly how many but quite a few Canadians have already paid with their lives as the price of living in Harperland.   And now what Steve did for the meat packing industry is going to be done for the Tar Sanders by Harper's provincial alter-ego, the Alberta government.

The Alberta government is handing over the regulatory responsibility for the province’s tar sands industry to a corporation that’s funded entirely by Canada’s oil, coal and gas industry.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is taking over the duties of the now defunct Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) — which was funded in part by taxpayers — and Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. Previously, the ERCB was responsible for making sure “appropriate precautions are taken to develop oil sands resources in the interests of all Albertans…through regulation, reviewing applications, managing conditions and approvals, surveillance, and enforcement” — now, those responsibilities will fall to the AER. On top of that, according to the AER’s website, the AER’s duties include “allocating and conserving water resources, managing public lands, and protecting the environment while securing their economic benefits for all Albertans,” as well as administering Canada’s Water Act and Public Lands Act, dealing with fossil fuel-related spills, and approving or denying oil and gas permits.

It only sounds crazy when you think about it.

Peter Essick Chronicles Climate Change in Photo Essay

Here are a few photos taken by NatGeo photog Peter Essick to record climate change impacts

We begin in Athabasca with an image of a Tar Sands tailing pond.   Don't worry, this will all be cleaned up - never.

Here's another way we're triggering climate change impacts.  Forest clearing in the Amazon Basin.

Adelie penguins in Antarctica.  Populations have declined by 80 per cent.

Dead, bleached coral reefs in the Maldives.

Harvesting potatoes in Greenland where the indigenous population has had to give up hunting for their survival.

And now tell me, having seen this, how you can support a political party that supports the production and export of the world's costliest, highest carbon, petroleum.   Seriously, I don't get it.

Science Links Arctic Melt to Our Climate Mayhem

Most of us had this figured out but a team of Chinese and American researchers has inked the link between Arctic snow and ice loss and the devastating heat waves, droughts and floods in the mid-latitudes.  You know -  Calgary and Toronto, the drought-stricken U.S. Midwest and  Southwest, flooding in Britain and central Europe, heat waves and crop failures in Russia, yada, yada, yada.

In other words, it's locked in

Good snow fall means lots of soil moisture in the summer months while dry ground tends to be warmer. So temperatures change, overall. Air currents flow because of pressure differences, which are linked to temperature. So winds would inevitably be affected.

But the researchers went beyond this loose generalisation, to match satellite observations of the snow cover and sea ice extent in the Arctic with atmospheric data, to explore the effects further south.
They found a distinct set of patterns of circulation associated with the loss of snow and ice.

The upper atmospheric winds in the north become weaker, and the jet stream shifts northwards, which means that weather systems become more stable. The longer a weather system stays in one location, the greater the probability that the conditions will become extreme.

In 2012, in the continental United States, it was the hottest summer ever recorded and the second worst for floods, hurricanes and droughts. In September 2012, the Arctic sea ice fell to its lowest level ever. It could be just chance, it could be just two aspects of the same big picture, but Tang and colleagues think not.

They think the link is clear. They even see a closer link between the loss of sea ice and a change in circulation pattern, even though the area of sea ice lost is only half of the total area of snow lost in the months of May and June.

That could be because much of the northern hemisphere snow cover is over land which is forested anyway – that is, partly dark – whereas the Arctic sea can only be white or dark.

The link is not certain – they are putting the idea out there for others to challenge or confirm, which is the way science advances – but the three authors argue that their research builds on studies by others which spell out the same conclusion.

As greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and all forms of Arctic ice continue to disappear, we expect to see further increases in summer heat extremes in the major population centres across much of North America and Eurasia where billions of people will be affected”, they conclude.

Meanwhile California, North America's major market garden, remains in the grip of severe drought.  This could be the driest year ever.

The city of Los Angeles has received only 3.6 inches of rain this year — far below its average of 14.91 inches, USA Today reported. And San Francisco is experiencing its driest year since recordkeeping began in 1849. As of November, the city had only received 3.95 inches of rain since the year began.

The state is enduring its driest year on record and while a drought emergency has not yet been officially declared, the U.S. National Drought Monitor shows that as of December 24, nearly the entire state is gripped by severe to extreme drought conditions.

The portion of the state currently hit hardest by drought includes the Central Valley, a prime agricultural area, and “a lack of rain and snow this winter could bring catastrophic losses to California agriculture, as water allotments are slashed by state agencies,” USA Today reported.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Can Heroes Ever Be Traitors?

Are Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden heroes or traitors?  Retired U.S. Army commander turned academic, Andrew J. Bacevich, doesn't know the answer but has some fascinating insights into how it will be reached.

...the question presumes a prior one: To whom do Army privates and intelligence contractors owe their loyalty? To state or to country? To the national security apparatus that employs them or to the people that apparatus is said to protect?

Those who speak for that apparatus, preeminently the president, assert that the interests of the state and the interests of the country are indistinguishable. Agencies charged with keeping Americans safe are focused on doing just that. Those who leak sensitive information undermine that effort and therefore deserve to feel the full force of law.

But what if the interests of the state do not automatically align with those of the country? In that event, protecting “the homeland” serves as something of a smokescreen. Behind it, the state pursues its own agenda. In doing so, it stealthily but inexorably accumulates power, privilege and prerogatives.

...Before the Good War gave way to the Cold War and then to the open-ended Global War on Terror, the nation’s capital was a third-rate Southern city charged with printing currency and issuing Social Security checks. Several decades of war and quasi-war transformed it into today’s center of the universe. Washington demanded deference, and Americans fell into the habit of offering it. In matters of national security, they became if not obedient, at least compliant, taking cues from authorities who operated behind a wall of secrecy and claimed expertise in anticipating and deflecting threats.

Popular deference allowed those authorities to get away with murder, real and metaphorical. Benefits accruing to the country proved mixed at best, and the expertise claimed by those inside the Beltway did not automatically translate into competence. If doubts on that score persisted, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the mismanaged wars that followed ought to have demolished them.

Critics and outsiders are not privy to  the state’s superior knowledge; they are incapable of evaluating alleged threats.  It also insulates them from accountability and renders them impervious to criticism.  Here is the mechanism that confers status on insiders: the control of secrets. Their ownership of secrets puts them in the know

In such a mechanism, [journalist Randolph] Bourne observed, “dissent is like sand in the bearings.” The metaphor is singularly apt. In the realm of national security, dissent matters only when it penetrates the machine’s interior. Only then does the state deem it worthy of notice.

To understand this is to appreciate the importance of what Manning and Snowden have done and why their actions have produced panic in Washington. Here is irrefutable evidence of dissent penetrating the machine’s deepest recesses. Thanks to a couple of tech-savvy malcontents, anyone with access to the Internet now knows what only insiders were supposed to know.

By taking technology that the state employs to manufacture secrets and using it to make state secrecy impossible, they put the machine itself at risk. Forget al-Qaeda. Forget Iran’s nuclear program. Forget the rise of China. Manning and Snowden confront Washington with something far more worrisome. They threaten the power the state had carefully accrued amid recurring wars and the incessant preparation for war. In effect, they place in jeopardy the state’s very authority — while inviting the American people to consider the possibility that less militaristic and more democratic approaches to national security might exist.

In the eyes of the state, Manning and Snowden — and others who may carry on their work — can never be other than traitors. Whether the country eventually views them as patriots depends on what Americans do with the opportunity these two men have handed us.

Seriously, I Want You to Read This Book. Yeah, All of You.

I'd like to recommend a book that I think we should all read in the coming year, "Beyond Growth" by former World Bank chief economist, Herman E. Daly.

Beyond Growth is not a fun book to read.  It's not an adventure or a mystery or even a tragedy.  It's a primer on a new form of economics that must, and eventually will, supplant the growth-based, GDP economics that has prevailed all our lives and in previous generations since the industrial revolution.

This new economic model is based on bringing humankind into harmony with the place we live, our planet, our one and only biosphere.   Since we're already consuming resources at half-again nature's rate of replenishment, that means we're going to have to ramp down our consumption and production of resource-dependent goods and services.

That sounds pretty dismal, doesn't it?  Less stuff, fewer things.  Well, when you've been brought up in a society in which things and stuff have been embraced as an ersatz measure of success and happiness, a future of fewer things and less stuff can seem tinged with dreariness.  It can seem that way until you really start to think what that might mean and then it can suddenly seem like a really great idea.  You see, steady state economics introduces limits on quantity of production and consumption but not quality of the goods and services marketed.   Growth in quality, durability, upgradeability and enjoyment is more than a substitute for limits on quantity.

The current economic model, the one within which we all work and live, is essentially a mental illness in that, at its core, it is based on assumptions and exceptions that either ignore or flout reality.  When it does run headlong into reality it looks for quick fixes, parlour tricks, sleight of hand to continue the illusion of defying gravity.

So the current struggle pits realists who believe in a finite planet against mainstream economists for whom, as Cook noted, "the concept of limits to growth threatens vested interests and power structures; even worse, it threatens value structures in which lives have been invested.... Abandonment of belief in perpetual motion was a major step toward recognition of the true human condition.  It is significant that 'mainstream' economists never abandoned that belief and do not accept the relevance to the economic process of the Second Law of Thermodynamics; their position as high priests of the market economy would become untenable did they do so."

Steady state economists like Daly have a keen sense of the need for posterity.  Daly summarizes how that should be implemented.

"...the basic needs of the present should always take precedence over the basic needs of the future but ..the basic needs of the future should take precedence over the extravagant luxury of the present."

It's not just resources, production and consumption that occupy the minds of steady-state economists.  Population issues are also front and centre - the yin to the yang.

As Daly notes, when it comes to the working classes, more is rarely better.

"...what most attracted my attention while living in Northeast Brazil in the late 1960s was the effect of class differentials in fertility upon the distribution of income.  Fertility in the lower class was over twice that of the upper class - a condition that still obtains in many parts of the world today.  The possibility of wages ever rising in the face of a virtually unlimited and rapidly growing supply of labor was nil.  The rich got richer while the poor got children. 

"An effective upper-class monopoly on ownership of the means of limiting reproduction was added to the traditional monopoly on ownership of the means of production to give an additional dimension of class dominance.  It seemed to me that the social factors generating poverty were two:  non-ownership of the means of production (Marx); and non-ownership of the means of limiting reproduction (Malthus).  Although Marxists and Malthusians are traditional enemies, it seems to me that their respective understandings of the causes of poverty are logically consistent, however psychologically and ideologically at odds they may be."

What comes through from reading Beyond Growth is that the abandonment of neo-classical economics and transition to steady-state or full-Earth economics isn't something we should do but something we have to do, in time, if we are to survive as a global civilization.   What was just dandy only three or four decades ago is lethally toxic today.   The world of 2.5-billion people that existed when I was born bears no resemblance to the world of three times that number that we inhabit today.  The rules and theories and assumptions that worked when I was born don't work today and yet we still cling to them even as we methodically poison, ravage and destroy our biosphere.

There are several books on this new/old economic theory but pretty much everything is summed up in Beyond Growth.  It's only 224-pages and, while some of the reading can be a grind, you can get through it.  It's vital that enough of us read and embrace this new economics for a living world that we can build the critical mass so necessary for change.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The F-35 - a "Technical Miscalculation"

What do you think the chances are that Canada will get saddled with Lockheed's F-35 light attack bomber?  South Korea is aboard, so is Japan.   Norway is buying some along with the Netherlands, Britain and Italy.  Australia is still on board and, with the Abbott government at the helm, will almost certainly load up on Lockheed's second-best stealth warplane.   With Australia, Britain and the U.S. buying the thing, can you imagine Harper saying no?  I'm pretty sure Lockheed has Steve Harper Locked up.

Which leads me to Aviation Week's F-35 pundit, Bill Sweetman who considers the F-35, "a classic example of how almost every military and political leader in Western defense fell in line behind a technical miscalculation."

It may come with a Cadillac Escalade price tag but Sweetman leaves no doubt that the F-35 is really a Dodge Neon, the poor cousin of Lockheed's F-22 stealth fighter.

The U.S. Air Force dusted off the "high-fast sanctuary" in 1982 in defining the Advanced Tactical Fighter, the program that led to the Lockheed Martin F-22.  ATF was intended to cruise at Mach 1.6 and pull 6g at supersonic speed in burner, all at 60-65,000 ft.

The original ATF requirements balanced stealth against speed, height and agility.  All-aspect stealth was added to the menu after Lockheed and Northrop promised the Pentagon that the price in weight, money or risk would be small.  The USAF would be in better shape today if they had been right.  If you want to see the original requirements in action, look at the Chengdu J-20 and Sukhoi T-50.

Sweetman reminds us that, despite the F-22's flaws and shortcomings, the F-35 doesn't even come close.

...today's bomber studies are focused on stealth, and even the value of the F-22's speed and agility in dodging SAMs is not stressed today because awkward questions might follow concerning the survivability of slower, less-maneuverable aircraft with a similar or slightly larger RCS.

As the 19th century humorist Josh Billings put it, "It ain't what a man don't know that makes him a fool.  It's all the things he does know that just ain't so."

Another article in the same edition of Aviation Week drives a truck through the myth that the F-35 is a fighter or anything other than a light attack bomber.  The article looks at the countries that have signed on for the F-35 and notes that, with the exception of the Netherlands (and Canada probably) they're all keeping real fighters to do the many things that Lockheed's light bomber can't.

The Brits and the Italians, for example, are retaining and relying on the Typhoon as their air defence/air superiority fighter-interceptor.  RAF Air Commodore Dave Waddington explained why.  The Typhoon, he said, is "a superb Air to air platform."  Italian Colonel Vito Cracas, a fighter wing commander, was pretty blunt.  "The JSF does not have a high-end air-to-air capability.  We need to have both aircraft."

It's no coincidence that the only countries willing to consider the F-35 a fighter aircraft are the two that won't have anything else.  That's the road Harper and our military leadership are taking.   But I'm pretty sure the final Canadian F-35 won't be safely behind an RCAF hangar door before the boys in blue will be campaigning  for more warplanes, this time real fighter-interceptors.

Like Peas in a Pod. Harper and Abbott.

There's a sort of pathology at work in right wingers like Stephen Harper or his new Australian buddy, Tony Abbott.  They've both got the instincts of a wolverine inside a trapper's cabin.   They eat their fill and just piss all over anything left.

Abbott, shown above admiring our prime minister's nipples, hit the ground running when he took office dismantling Australia's climate change institutions and generally laying waste to the place, especially the Great Barrier Reef.  His Christmas gift to the Australian people has been his government's request to Unesco's world heritage committee to rescind the world heritage designation of a tract of 170,000 hectares of old growth forest in Tasmania.

The Abbott government's argument is that the designation is a "sham" because it includes plantation forest.  It does.  There's one hundred hectares of plantation forest that was included to provide habitat corridors for wildlife.

Christmas Eve is not for Hermits

When you're a hermit by inclination, one or two close friends and a loved one is all it takes to send you to a place you simply dread.

That's why I won't even try to sleep tonight.

Yes, I'm the "mound of sound."  I got that from the articled students at my last firm due to their regard for my dulcet yet fearsome voice.  I eventually found out most of the little swine called me
"Leo" an acronym for "large evil one."

Anyway, none of us has much choice but to carry on,  Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Will 2013 Be Remembered as the Year We Discovered the "R" Word?

Looking back, it seems like I heard a lot of the R-word this year.  I heard it all the time from Chris Hedges.  I heard it from Naomi Klein.  I heard it from people like Moyers.

2013 seems to have been the year when many sage people began talking about the need to revolt, the necessity and inevitability of revolution.

It wasn't like they wanted to topple some particular tyrant and install someone else in his place.  It wasn't that sort of revolt they were after.  No, their call is more akin to someone yelling "jump" or "duck" or "fire."  There's a definite "save yourself and, more importantly, your kids" message in their call for revolt.

The system is broken but not by accident. Corporatism has captured the government of the United States and is spreading beyond its borders.   Corporatism wouldn't stand a chance if it had captured only the Republican party, if the Democratic Party remained a stalwart of democracy.  It needed them both and it got them both and, with that, it began squeezing the life out of democracy in America.  It picked up their Supreme Court along the way to make the job easier.

Who needs democracy when you can watch Duck Dynasty and exercise the hell out of your constitutional right to buy a 30-round magazine for your AK or AR-15?  If corporatist America transforms into Amerika it will have no trouble finding 'brown shirt' recruits from that crowd.  Just tell them that the dissenters are fixin' to take away their guns and point them in the direction you want them to shoot.  Can you picture it?  I can.

Isn't that a hell of a thing to have running through your mind with Christmas Eve just a few hours away?

Update - Dana has provided a link to a thoughtful, upbeat end to this piece.

Update II - From Marie @ a Puff of Absurdity.  David Suzuki's take on one of my regular rants, exponential growth.  It's a novel way of looking at it and it will shake your sensibilities.

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 23, 2013

Wherein Dusty Takes Down the Whole Damned Mess of Ducks and Their Dynasty

Ordinarily I wouldn't post a clip with this much vulgarity but that's what you get from this guy, Dusty, and he does a fine job of plucking the feathers from the Duck Dynasty scammers.

One last warning, this is NSFW - really, really NSFW

Update.  According to the Toronto Star, the Duck Dynasty empire is worth an even $500-million.

Joe Stiglitz On a People Stripped of Trust

Nobel laureate economist Joe Stiglitz has a thoughtful op-ed in today's New York Times about the collapse of trust in contemporary America.  Stiglitz paints this as the undoing of social cohesion, the destruction of the collective will.   In an "every man for himself" world, money is all that matters and those who have it can have their way with those who don't.

As the trust deficit persists, a deeper rot takes hold: Attitudes and norms begin to change. When no one is trustworthy, it will be only fools who trust. The concept of fairness itself is eroded. A study published last year by the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the upper classes are more likely to engage in what has traditionally been considered unethical behavior. Perhaps this is the only way for some to reconcile their worldview with their outlandish financial success, often achieved through actions that reveal a kind of moral deprivation.

It’s hard to know just how far we’ve gone down the path toward complete trust disintegration, but the evidence is not encouraging.

...Economic inequality, political inequality, and an inequality-promoting legal system all mutually reinforce one another. We get a legal system that provides privileges to the rich and powerful. 
As always, it is the poor and the unconnected who suffer most from this, and who are the most repeatedly deceived. Nowhere was this more evident than in the foreclosure crisis. The subprime mortgage hawkers, putting themselves forward as experts in finance, assured unqualified borrowers that repayment would be no problem. Later millions would lose their homes. The banks figured out how to get court affidavits signed by the thousands (in what came to be called robo-signing), certifying that they had examined their records and that these particular individuals owed money — and so should be booted out of their homes. The banks were lying on a grand scale, but they knew that if they didn’t get caught, they would walk off with huge profits, their officials’ pockets stuffed with bonuses. And if they did get caught, their shareholders would be left paying the tab. The ordinary homeowner simply didn’t have the resources to fight them. It was just one example among many in the wake of the crisis where banks were seemingly immune to the rule of law.

I’ve written about many dimensions of inequality in our society — inequality of wealth, of income, of access to education and health, of opportunity. But perhaps even more than opportunity, Americans cherish equality before the law. Here, inequality has infected the heart of our ideals.

I suspect there is only one way to really get trust back. We need to pass strong regulations, embodying norms of good behavior, and appoint bold regulators to enforce them. We did just that after the roaring ’20s crashed; our efforts since 2007 have been sputtering and incomplete. Firms also need to do better than skirt the edges of regulations. We need higher norms for what constitutes acceptable behavior, like those embodied in the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. But we also need regulations to enforce these norms — a new version of trust but verify. No rules will be strong enough to prevent every abuse, yet good, strong regulations can stop the worst of it.

Strong values enable us to live in harmony with one another. Without trust, there can be no harmony, nor can there be a strong economy. Inequality in America is degrading our trust. For our own sake, and for the sake of future generations, it’s time to start rebuilding it. That this even requires pointing out shows how far we have to go.

Christmas Is Always a Time For Family

Maybe not always, at least if it's the family of North Korea's new bad boy, Kim Jong-Un.  He recently had his uncle topped for, oh who knows, wearing a better suit or having a more boyish figure, whatever.  But, when Kim waxed uncle Jang Song-thaek, it meant there wasn't going to be much under the tree this year for most everybody related to Jang either.  Some 300 of them have been rounded up by state security and sent to places from which they'll never return.

Although it is common in North Korea for family members of anyone found guilty of a crime also to be punished, the scale of the latest arrests underlines the lengths to which the country's new "Dear Leader" is going to eradicate his former mentor from the nation's history.

"At around 10pm on the night of [December] 13, the day after Jang was executed, armed men from the Ministry of State Security arrived in the Pyongchon area of Pyongyang, where a lot of his relations lived," a source in the North Korean capital told the Daily NK news website, which is run by defectors based in South Korea. "They took away a few hundred people. It was not just his close relations, but distant members of his family too, like relations of his father. In these circumstances, even his relations outside Pyongyang are not safe."
Jang, whose widow Kim Kyung-hui is a blood relation of the 30-year-old leader and has so far been spared the same fate, was charged with 24 abuses of power or contraventions of North Korean law, with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the leadership.

These ranged from "gnawing at the unity and cohesion of the party" to "dreaming different dreams" and "creating illusion about himself". Also accused of "committing irregularities and corruption that led to a dissolute and depraved life", having "improper relations with several women" and "squandering foreign currency at casinos", Jang was summarily executed.

As soon as he was arrested, relations and anyone with links to a man previously considered untouchable realised that the state's retribution had just begun. Execution is the likely punishment for his closest allies, while others face being dispatched to North Korea's labour colonies for the rest of their lives.

Some of those at risk are said to have volunteered to submit to "revolutionisation" by working in mines or on farms to avoid execution. "It seems like they are trying to take self-imposed punishment in order to evade a more stringent one, but they will find it difficult to escape," the Daily NK said.

"Jang's crimes are 'anti-party, counter-revolutionary factionalism', so they will have to say that his family challenged the system. For this reason, severe punishment awaits."

See, and you thought Harper was bad. 

When You're Out of the Good Stuff, You Go For the RotGut

It's amazing what some people will drink when they can't find anything better.   These are usually what we call "problem drinkers."  Bad things come their way sooner or later.

When it comes to fossil fuels, however, we're all a bunch of rampaging sots.  And, unfortunately, we seem to be running out of the good stuff too.  A veteran BP geologist warns that "peak oil" is already here.

At a lecture on 'Geohazards' earlier this month as part of the postgraduate Natural Hazards for Insurers course at University College London (UCL), Dr. Richard G. Miller, who worked for BP from 1985 before retiring in 2008, said that official data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), US Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Monetary Fund (IMF), among other sources, showed that conventional oil had most likely peaked around 2008.

Dr. Miller critiqued the official industry line that global reserves will last 53 years at current rates of consumption, pointing out that "peaking is the result of declining production rates, not declining reserves." Despite new discoveries and increasing reliance on unconventional oil and gas, 37 countries are already post-peak, and global oil production is declining at about 4.1% per year, or 3.5 million barrels a day (b/d) per year:

"We need new production equal to a new Saudi Arabia every 3 to 4 years to maintain and grow supply... New discoveries have not matched consumption since 1986. We are drawing down on our reserves, even though reserves are apparently climbing every year. Reserves are growing due to better technology in old fields, raising the amount we can recover – but production is still falling at 4.1% p.a. [per annum]."

What Miller is saying is not that we're going to run out of energy but we are going to see a rapid decline in supply of affordable, conventional (relatively clean) fossil fuels.  It remains to be seen what this portends.   We might just have to pay a lot more for the really high-carbon fossil fuels or we might just come to our senses, stop subsidizing the stuff that's poisoning us, and finally transition to low-carbon and no-carbon alternative energy.  I guess it all depends on where we want our civilization to wake up in the morning.

Sorry, Israel. You Don't Get to Bitch When Somebody Spies On You. Now, STFU.

Israeli prime minister Benny Netanyahu is steaming mad at the revelation that the Americans and Brits have been spying on Israel.  Really, no seriously, the guy is hot under the collar over this.

Israel has, over many decades, freely and persistently spied on its American benefactors without the slightest remorse.  In what is ultimately a strictly transactional relationship like the one Israel maintains with the United States that simply doesn't matter.

Sorry, Benny, it's Christmas.  It's the time for giving.  This year you got a little of your own medicine.  Merry, merry.

God Speed, Mikhail

Although I'm a disbeliever it can be fun to imagine how the God we were taught to understand would deal with someone like Mikhail Kalashnikov

MK begat the AK also known as the AK-47 assault rifle estimated to have killed more people than any firearm ever.  It's simple, it's reliable, it's cheap - it's ideally suited to Third World hellholes where armourers aren't in ready supply.  See some murderous thug in ill-fitting fatigues and, chances are, you'll see an AK-47 in his hand.  All too often you'll see it in the hands of some African kid.

MK has gone to the great arsenal in the sky, one day shy of his 95th Christmas on Earth.   By now, with his connections, he should be front and centre at the Pearly Gates.   What do you think of his chances?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

In 1912, Americans Really Waged War on Christmas. The History of SPUG.

A little slice of history of Christmas Past.  In 1912, philanthropist August Belmont, created a new club, The Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving, or SPUG.  Even a century ago people were squandering money buying useless crap for Christmas presents.

The objective of SPUG, said Belmont, was to "eliminate, by co-operative effort, the custom of giving indiscriminately at Christmas, and to further in every way the true Christian spirit of unselfishness and independent thought, good-will, and sympathetic understanding of the real needs of others."

Though it might have been a radical idea to shun the cheap trinkets and easy mindlessly popular gifts beckoning from behind store windows, by December of 1912 thousands of 'Spugs' had joined the Society. Membership was so strong, that SPUG's 10 cent dues helped fund America's first community Christmas Tree ceremony in New York's Madison Square Park.

The idea caught on.  The New York Times liked it so much it created the first men's chapter, headed by that old Spugger himself, former president Theodore Roosevelt.

Col. Theodore Roosevelt is the head of the masculine branch of the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving. The selection was not only appropriate, it was inevitable. No other American knows quite so much as Col. Roosevelt about the art and practice of giving, useless and otherwise. [...]

Promiscuous and needless Christmas giving, often enforced by custom, has been a growing evil. The good cheer of the season has been considerably diminished in many households for that reason. The society organized by Mrs. Belmont has useful work to do.

Oh yeah, before I go, Happy Winter Solstice!

If the Guy at the Chevron Station Looks Ecuadorian, He Might Be Ecuadorian

A Canadian court this week granted a group of Ecuadorian fishermen and farmers the right to seize Chevron assets to enforce an $18-billion judgment they won against the company in their homeland.

The Ecuadorian court found Chevron liable for three decades worth of soil and water contamination in the Amazon and the injuries and losses sustained by the local population.

Chevron is fighting back in a lawsuit filed in a New York court contending the Ecuadorian judgment was won through falsification of evidence and bribery.

This week, a panel of judges noted a Chevron spokesman had previously said, quote, "We’re going to fight this until hell freezes over. And then we’ll fight it out on the ice." In response, the judges wrote, quote, "After all these years, the Ecuadorean plaintiffs deserve to have recognition and enforcement of the Ecuadorean judgment heard on the merits in an appropriate jurisdiction. At this juncture, Ontario is that jurisdiction."

What If China Had to Compensate Us for Infectious Diseases?

Just about every year there's some form of influenza outbreak in China.  Swine flu, avian flu, Hong Kong flu - it always seems to be something.

Over the years there have been many accounts of how flu virus in livestock and poultry mutates and spreads to humans supposedly because many Chinese live in close proximity to their animals.  Eventually the bug reaches a city, finds a traveller about to board an airplane overseas, and the rest is history.

We're told that, some day, we're going to get a real bugger of a flu virus, super-contagious and super-deadly, that could rival the influenza epidemic that swept the world at the end of WWI.

If the root cause of these annual epidemics is Chinese farmers living in too close proximity to their animals, isn't that something the Chinese government should be addressing?  Shouldn't they be regulating against this sort of thing?  And, if they won't, shouldn't China be dipping into that mega-sovereign wealth fund to compensate other countries for their medical costs, lost wages and physical suffering from annual, preventable disease?

Just sayin.