Saturday, March 08, 2014

Here's the Deal

I'm packing in this blog for a while.  It's simply not worth it.  I have other things deserving of my attention that have been too long neglected.   One of these entails churning through studies and research papers pertaining to a form of carbon sequestration that holds the promise of significant benefits to the western provinces and states.  I've been exploring this idea for about two years and it's now time to see if it can be put through a feasibility study.

Another is to pursue some writing opportunities that I've been skirting around for some time.  Trust me, I can write far better than the fare that's been dished up on this blog, most of which never gets proofread.

I want to become directly involved in the effort to stop the Northern Gateway and, if possible, Kinder Morgan also.  Writing about it isn't going to make a meaningful difference.  That much has become clear to me over the past three years.  Elizabeth May alone stands against these pipelines and she isn't going to be able to convince the NDP or the Liberals to place Canada ahead of their partisan political pursuits.

I think our children and theirs are in for a very bumpy ride over the next several decades.  Change is setting in far faster than anyone had envisioned just a few years ago.  Democracy is no longer safe in my country and I can't see that improving in the future.  Hard and uncertain times lie ahead.  On the world scene we may be lapsing into another Cold War, this one focused on the South China Sea instead of the Fulda Gap.  We don't seem to have the will - or the goodwill - to prevent this from happening.

See you all later.

What follows is a post, "The Cult of Living Large" from March 2 that somehow got taken down.  I think it's a worthwhile read.  I managed to recover it from another site where it had been cross-posted.

2015, we're told, is the year the developed world (that's us) and the emerging economies (China, India, etc., etc., etc.) will close ranks to formulate an effective plan of action to fight climate change.  It's going to be Kyoto on steroids, a true hallelujah moment, a meeting of minds, a global joining of hands, a flexing of collective muscle and sinew.

Yeah, right.

2015 is probably our final chance to reach some sort of meaningful, global consensus.  In case you haven't noticed we're already being overtaken by climate change impacts, and this is the 'early onset' stuff.

So why am I writing this off?  That's simple, it's not going to work. We're focusing on a symptom, not the disease.   That's right, - climate change, anthropogenic global warming, call it what you like - is a symptom, a major symptom to be sure but just one aspect of the really lethal malady that lurks beneath it.

Let's consider another symptom - population.  We're now at 7+ billion and headed to 9-billion and more.  That's nearly triple the number of mouths to feed than we had when I was born.  There's something stirring inside that 7+ billion, an emerging middle class of gargantuan proportions.  It's said there's a larger middle class in India than in the United States.   China has an even larger middle class.  It's a phenomenon of social mobility that's sweeping every emerging economy in Asia, South Asia, Africa, South America, pretty much everywhere.

Here's the thing.  This emerging mega-middle class wants the same things we have.   They want more and better food, bigger homes, they want cars and consumer goods of every description, they want travel and luxuries.  They want more, a lot more.  And, as they get what they want, it consumes more energy, more resources especially freshwater, and produces more CO2, more waste and more pollution of every variety.

In the half century following the end of WWII, India added roughly a billion people to its population. The United States, during this same interval, grew by about 100-million.  Here's the thing.  A hundred million people in the ultimate consumer society had about the same overall environmental footprint as those billion Indians.  So you can see where I'm going with this emerging mega-middle class issue.

Now, consider this.  Even before this onset of the mega-middle class, mankind, our global civilization was using about 1.5 Earths worth of resources.  We're using resources at an ever growing rate that's already one and a half times greater than our planet's ability to replenish them.  That's impossible, isn't it?  Well eventually it will be but for now we've come up with some conjuring tricks to keep the party rolling.

There's a term for it.  We're 'eating our seed corn.'  Instead of settling for what nature puts on the table before us, we're also raiding the pantry and we're hitting it hard.  You can see it with the naked eye from space.  Astronauts can see the state of deforestation as we raid our forests, the 'lungs of the planet' to satisfy all that middle class demand.  We can see rivers that no longer flow to the sea.  We can see the dust plumes that rise in China and now cross the Pacific to North America.  We can see the encroaching deserts.  We can see the tailing ponds of Athabasca.  We can monitor the collapse of one global fishery after another as our commercial boats, responding to middle class demands, 'fish down the food chain.'  We have satellites that can now measure surface subsidence triggered by our exhaustion of groundwater - aquifers.  

We even awarded a Nobel prize to the fellow who came up with the greatest conjuring act of them all, the Green Revolution.  His idea was that a country that was food insecure could boost agricultural production by tuning up its marginal farmland through the use of irrigation and the application of modern fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.   It worked.  India, for example, once beset by periodic famines, became a major food exporter.  The bounty was so wonderful that nobody paid much mind to what awaited in the long term.  Now, just decades later, the land is becoming exhausted.  In some places more than twice as much fertilizer is needed to grow crops and, worse yet, the groundwater resource is in distress.  If you pump out water at many times the natural recharge rate, you're heading for 'empty.' 

We usually overlook the critical fact that not only does nature put food on our table, she also empties our bedpans.  The biosphere cleans our waste.  It always has and, if it hadn't, we wouldn't be here having images of bedpans run through our brains.  Rain cleans pollution from our atmosphere.   Rivers are magnificent at cleaning waste as they run to the oceans.  Our oceans suck CO2 in massive tonnage from the atmosphere.   Soil, the microbes and chemicals within it and the plants that grow from it,  absorb and then clean waste in a variety of ways.  It's just another vital function of our biomass.  But, here's the thing.  It's a finite planet, remember?  That means our biosphere has a finite limit to the amount of waste it can process.  Once it reaches capacity, waste backs up, accumulates.  We're familiar enough with polluted rivers and lakes, polluted air.  China is now hitting a major soil contamination problem, the result of massive industrial pollution of some really bad stuff like arsenic building up in soil to the point where crops are unfit for human consumption.  We've got all sorts of this going on in just about every corner of the world, especially the heavily populated hot spots. 

We've engineered a global cult of living large.  The high priests mass in the financial districts and legislative assemblies of every major centre on the planet.  They lead us in the worship of growth.  If we have a problem they teach us that the solution lies in growth.  Their liturgy is founded in 18th century neo-classical economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geo-politics.  There you will find the faith, chapter and verse.  That this might be madness almost never occurs to us.

Here's the thing.  China may zoom off the charts with 10% annual growth in GDP but we in the West target about 3% annual GDP growth.  It's compounded growth.  We expect the current year to be 3% larger than the previous year.  Now let's run the math.  As a scale let's use a hypothetical adult lifetime of 50-years - 35 working years, 15 years of retirement.  Let's begin at Year 1 of lifetime 1.  By the time lifetime 1 is over, at year 50, 3% annual GDP growth would mean the economy had grown 4.4 times larger overall.  At the end of lifetime 2, the economy would have grown over 19 times larger than it was in Year 1.  After lifetime 3, GDP would have swelled by 84 times.  At the end of lifetime 4, Year 200, GDP would have grown 369 times what it had been in Year 1.  Not 369 per cent larger.  No, 36,900 per cent larger.  369 times larger.  That would be reflected in commensurate massive increases in consumption of energy and other resources and massive increases in consumption of goods and services and massive increases in waste and pollution of all sorts.  How do you squeeze all that growth into a finite world?

You do it by eating your seed corn, raiding the wine cellar and, eventually, you empty the pantry.  What then?  Well, at that point, your options are narrowed considerably.  You start wondering what your neighbour might have left in their pantry.  If you're tribal, you might go raiding.  Happens all the time.  Eventually something has to give.  Usually the strong take from the weak, the rich take from the poor.  Hell, rich countries are already buying up the best farmland in food insecure countries like Somalia where we routinely have to provide famine relief.  Go figure, eh?

This essay started with climate change.  That morphed into a look at population and the approaching plague of the mega-middle class and then into rapacious excess consumption and finally into our addiction to growth and how that leads us to the edge of a cliff.  See, they're all connected.

Climate change is not a disease.  It's a symptom of the disease that underlies all of these other symptoms.  That disease is the lethal and dysfunctional manner in which we, as a global civilization, have become organized - socially, economically and politically.  We have crafted institutions and modes of interaction based on a bountiful supply of cheap energy and the remarkable advancements in technology and science.  We have evolved into a civilization of "because we can" with scant regard to whether we should.

Fighting climate change is like a needle exchange programme for heroin addicts.   It's harm prevention and that's really, really great and wonderful and necessary.  It reduces the transmission of HIV and other diseases that create enormous costs to society.  It does not, however, remedy the addiction itself.  Fighting climate change isn't going to save us any more than a clean needle will save a junkie from the inevitable ravages of addiction.  It may buy us time and that's a good thing but, with everything else that's building, it probably won't be much. 

There are solutions - logical, equitable, justifiable solutions if we, as a global civilization want to take them.  Rapidly decarbonizing our economies and societies is one and it's essential.  We have to get rid of our fossil fuel addiction. 

Getting free of our toxic, growth-based, neo-classical economics model is just as essential.  We need to shift to steady state or 'Full Earth' economics.  I can refer you to several good texts on this or you can get the idea from consulting Wiki.

 Population.  What to do?  We must calculate our biosphere's population carrying capacity.  It is said that we began exceeding our planet's resource replenishment rate in the second half of the 70s at between three to four billion people.  Much has changed since then.  We've not only packed on another three plus billion in numbers but we've also significantly increased our per capita consumption, our environmental footprint which means we're probably looking at a maximum very close to the three billion mark.

How do we get from 7-billion to 3-billion.  There's just one way that I can think of short of resorting to mass annihilation.   We gradually phase out globalized agriculture, a trade as old as civilization itself.  Each country should curb agricultural exports by something in the range of 5 to 10% each year.  Eventually the nations of the world, rich and poor, are left with a reality of self-sufficiency.  That would be a shock to countries like the U.K. that have found it cheaper to import food than grow it domestically and now rely on 75% imported food.  It would entail rationing in some countries and the diversion of investment from financial and industrial growth into agriculture.  I just cannot think of any other way to drive depopulation.

We need institutions to oversee and enforce the protection and allocation of common resources including global fisheries.  No longer can we have massive commercial fleets pillaging our oceans.

In effect there are real solutions, not just the cheap and dirty fixes we have used in the past but real solutions.  We need the resolve to take them.  If we don't do this on our own terms, we'll reach the same point in other ways.   That would be insanely tragic.  We have a choice.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Let's Not Kid Ourselves. We're Backing Anti-Semitic Fascists.

Your Country is on Their Side

The Guardian's Seumas Milne dismembers the rank hypocrisy of our position on Ukraine, the role we played in creating this crisis and the villainous cutthroats we're backing.

Diplomatic pronouncements are renowned for hypocrisy and double standards. But western denunciations of Russian intervention in Crimea have reached new depths of self parody. The so far bloodless incursion is an "incredible act of aggression", US secretary of state John Kerry declared. In the 21st century you just don't invade countries on a "completely trumped-up pretext", he insisted, as US allies agreed that it had been an unacceptable breach of international law, for which there will be "costs".

That the states which launched the greatest act of unprovoked aggression in modern history on a trumped-up pretext – against Iraq, in an illegal war now estimated to have killed 500,000, along with the invasion of Afghanistan, bloody regime change in Libya, and the killing of thousands in drone attacks on Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, all without UN authorisation – should make such claims is beyond absurdity.

...The US and European powers openly sponsored the protests to oust the corrupt but elected Viktor Yanukovych government, which were triggered by controversy over an all-or-nothing EU agreement which would have excluded economic association with Russia.

In her notorious "fuck the EU" phone call leaked last month, the US official Victoria Nuland can be heard laying down the shape of a post-Yanukovych government – much of which was then turned into reality when he was overthrown after the escalation of violence a couple of weeks later.

The president had by then lost political authority, but his overnight impeachment was certainly constitutionally dubious. In his place a government of oligarchs, neoliberal Orange Revolution retreads and neofascists has been installed, one of whose first acts was to try and remove the official status of Russian, spoken by a majority in parts of the south and east, as moves were made to ban the Communist party, which won 13% of the vote at the last election.

...Fascist gangs now patrol the streets. But they are also in Kiev's corridors of power. The far right Svoboda party, whose leader has denounced the "criminal activities" of "organised Jewry" and which was condemned by the European parliament for its "racist and antisemitic views", has five ministerial posts in the new government, including deputy prime minister and prosecutor general. The leader of the even more extreme Right Sector, at the heart of the street violence, is now Ukraine's deputy national security chief.

Neo-Nazis in office is a first in post-war Europe. But this is the unelected government now backed by the US and EU. And in a contemptuous rebuff to the ordinary Ukrainians who protested against corruption and hoped for real change, the new administration has appointed two billionaire oligarchs – one who runs his business from Switzerland – to be the new governors of the eastern cities of Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk. Meanwhile, the IMF is preparing an eye-watering austerity plan for the tanking Ukrainian economy which can only swell poverty and unemployment.

...Clearly, Putin's justifications for intervention – "humanitarian" protection for Russians and an appeal by the deposed president – are legally and politically flaky, even if nothing like on the scale of "weapons of mass destruction". Nor does Putin's conservative nationalism or oligarchic regime have much wider international appeal.

But Russia's role as a limited counterweight to unilateral western power certainly does. And in a world where the US, Britain, France and their allies have turned international lawlessness with a moral veneer into a permanent routine, others are bound to try the same game.

Fortunately, the only shots fired by Russian forces at this point have been into the air. But the dangers of escalating foreign intervention are obvious. What is needed instead is a negotiated settlement for Ukraine, including a broad-based government in Kiev shorn of fascists; a federal constitution that guarantees regional autonomy; economic support that doesn't pauperise the majority; and a chance for people in Crimea to choose their own future. Anything else risks spreading the conflict.

Were the Maidan Murders the Work of the Ukrainian Opposition, a Staged Provocation?

We know that in the Ukrainian unrest, no side has clean hands exactly.  The pro-Europe group we're backing is generously laced with some pretty nasty types.  One incendiary moment that sparked the Ukrainian revolt was the sniper attack on Ukrainian police and civilians, the so-called Maidan murders.  The killings have been blamed on snipers supporting ousted president Viktor Yanukovych. 

An intercepted phone conversation between the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet suggests the snipers might have been provocateurs working for our side, the coalition.

In the call, Paet said he had been told snipers responsible for killing police and civilians in Kiev last month were protest movement provocateurs rather than supporters of then-president Viktor Yanukovych. Ashton responds: "I didn't know … Gosh."

The leak came a day after the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said the snipers may have been opposition provocateurs. The Kremlin-funded Russia Today first carried the leaked call online.

The Estonian foreign ministry confirmed the leaked conversation was accurate. It said: "Foreign minister Paet was giving an overview of what he had heard in Kiev and expressed concern over the situation on the ground. We reject the claim that Paet was giving an assessment of the opposition's involvement in the violence." Ashton's office said it did not comment on leaks.

During the conversation, Paet quoted a woman named Olga – who the Russian media identified her as Olga Bogomolets, a doctor – blaming snipers from the opposition shooting the protesters.

"What was quite disturbing, this same Olga told that, well, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides," Paet said.

"So she also showed me some photos, she said that as medical doctor, she can say it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it's really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don't want to investigate what exactly happened."

"So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition," Paet says.

He's Back! Bruce Carson Under Investigation for Influence Peddling.

Bruce Carson (R) and Unknown Tory Supporter

Former top aide to Stephano Harper, Bruce Carson, is back in the news and, predictably, it's bad news.

CBC reports  that the disgraced senior advisor to Mr. Harper is the subject of an RCMP investigation into illegal lobbying.  This scandal may also have snared another Harper senate appointment, Doug Black.

CBC News has learned the RCMP have seized banking records for Bruce Carson, a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, amid their investigation into allegations he illegally lobbied his former government colleagues.

In court records CBC News retrieved Wednesday, the RCMP allege Carson used his connections to lobby on behalf of an organization called the Energy Policy Institute of Canada, or EPIC, for a national energy strategy.

Const. Marie-Josée Robert says Carson's "continuous association" with public office holders allowed him to accept money for "consideration for his co-operation, assistance or exercise of influence in connection with business matters with the government on behalf of EPIC."

"I believe without this inferred influence, Mr. Carson would have not performed his services so effectively," she wrote in an affidavit known as an "information to obtain a production order."

...Doug Black, whom Harper appointed a senator in January 2013, became president of EPIC, at a salary of $10,000 a month, the affidavit says.

[While at EPIC] Black responded to one of Carson's requests for money with praise.

"No issue.... We are making progress and you are the secret sauce," Black wrote, according to the affidavit.

Dog in the Manger Mulcair Won't Back Federalists in Quebec Election

He claims to be the leader of the official opposition for Canada but Tom Mulcair says he'll stay neutral in the Quebec provincial election.  Why won't he support the federalist side?  Does he think the federal parties should steer clear on some principle?  No, it's because he's "waiting for the day there is an NDP in Quebec."

So, Canada be buggered, no provincial NDP, no assistance from the official opposition.  Good on ya, Tommy.  Now we see your true colours.  Party over country, Tom.  I always suspected as much.

Update - it didn't take long for some Dipper to claim I 'smeared' Mulcair.  This fellow maintained that Mulcair is a fierce federalist.   Well, I'm going to go by Mulcair's own words.  He stated, quite clearly, that he'll be remaining "neutral" in this election and he said he was going to stay neutral because there's no Quebec NDP in this election.  Presumably if the NDP was running candidates in the Quebec election, Mulcair would be federalist in a heartbeat.   That's certainly what he indicated.

I know on Planet Dipper any criticism of Tom Mulcair has to be a cheap smear but this is Canada, planet Earth.

You Know the Tories are Running Scared When They Go to Pot

Hey, hey - whatever happened to Harper's Reefer Madness?  Word from Elmer's unfortunate boy, Peter MacKay, is that the Harper regime is looking to backpeddle on its get tough on drugs policy.  Perhaps running scared from Justin Trudeau, the Tories want to make simple pot possession a ticket offence instead of a full-blown Criminal Code matter. 

Justice Minister Peter MacKay told reporters on Parliament Hill Wednesday morning he has tasked the justice department "with looking at and coming forward with what could be a draft legislation." 

"We have not arrived on the exact mechanism in which that could be done. The prime minister has signalled an openness to this," he said.

However, MacKay is making it clear that this is not decriminalization or legalization of marijuana, but "giving police further discretion" when it comes small amounts of pot.

"The Criminal Code offences would still be available to police, but we would look at options that would give police the ability, much like the treatment of open liquor, that would allow police to ticket those types of offences," he said.

Hmm.  I wonder if senators will be able to expense those Zig-Zag rolling papers?

Let's Be Honest - Canada Will Wind Up With the F-35, Largely by Default

It may be the biggest military blunder in Canadian history but all signs point to our country succumbing to the F-35, Lockheed's first-strike, light attack bomber.  Harper, the ultimate stealth politician, is playing a waiting game.   He knows that the clock is running out on most potential F-35 rivals.  With the market dominated by cash-strapped buyers, costly aircraft production lines are shutting down in short order. 

Boeing had modified 'stealth' prototypes of both the F-15 Eagle and the F-18 Super Hornet but without a lead customer both lines will probably be shut down and, once they're gone, they're gone for good.  It's reported that France's Dassault might close down Rafale production once the company's Indian order is completed.  The tranche 3 upgraded Eurofighter Typhoon may remain a possible contender but Harper may be able to outwait them also.

Here's the thing.  Countries around the world are signing on to buy the F-35 - Israel, Korea, Japan, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia - all without any of them staging a fly-off against the F-35's rivals.  Every other contender is available to show its stuff in attack, strike, close air support, air superiority, reconnaissance, patrol and interception missions.  The only airplane that won't compete because it's years away from being ready to compete is the one winning the contracts, the F-35.  Now, if you don't think those orders are being swayed by factors other than the jet's ability  and performance then I do indeed have a bridge to sell you.

The F-35 is not even the best Lockheed can make.   As a follow-on to Lockheed's F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, the company engineered the F-35 to be the 22's poor cousin.  The F-35: 1) isn't nearly as stealthy; 2) has  frontal aspect only stealth; 3) is slower; 4) lacks supercruise capability; 5) carries less payload; 6) is not as agile; 7) lacks thrust vectoring; 8) has considerably less range and 9) lacks twin engine survivability. 

So we're paying as much or perhaps more than the cost of the F-22 for an aircraft that has had most of what makes the F-22 great engineered out of it.  Most people would think that's a sucker deal.  It's sort of like paying for a Cadillac and when you reach the dealership you find the 8-cylinder engine has been swapped for a 6-cylinder, the driver's door is missing, the back seat has been stripped out, the sunroof glass is gone and so is one of the wheels.  And we're handing over our money without even knowing if it'll manage to get off the lot and into traffic. 

When You Run Out of Stuff

One of the most recurring themes on this blog over the past six years has been the prospect of running out of stuff.  As the first truly global civilization, mankind is running out of stuff.   Not everything, mind you.  We're running out of stuff that we need but we're building up dangerously big surpluses of stuff that we don't need, that could just kill us.

For example, around the world nations are running out of fresh water.  We have a huge and rapidly worsening fresh water crisis on our hands.  Maude Barlow gave an updated overview of the problem just last week.  With the exception of just a handful of countries, the world is running out of biomass, the renewable natural resources that not only underpin our economies but provide us with the clean, safe environment we need in order to live.  Anthropogenic global warming, man-made climate change is multiplying the magnitude of these crises and sapping our strength to implement solutions.

In many posts over the years it has been argued that we have to jettison our neo-classical growth-based economic model because it no longer works for us but rather works against us and traps us in a vicious circle of inequality and decline.  I know that Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair, like Stephen Harper, are constantly praising growth but they are  just blowing smoke up your ass.

Which brings us to Chris Hedges and Avner Offer, an economic historian and Chichele Professor Emeritus of Economic History.

Neoclassical economics, [Offer] says, is a “just-world theory,” one that posits that not only do good people get what they deserve but those who suffer deserve to suffer. He says this model is “a warrant for inflicting pain.” If we continue down a path of mounting scarcities, along with economic stagnation or decline, this neoclassical model is ominous. It could be used to justify repression in an effort to sustain a vision that does not correspond to the real world.

Offer, who has studied the rationing systems set up in countries that took part in World War I, suggests we examine how past societies coped successfully with scarcity. In an age of scarcity it would be imperative to set up new, more egalitarian models of distribution, he says. Clinging to the old neoclassical model could, he argues, erode and perhaps destroy social cohesion and require the state to engage in greater forms of coercion.

“The basic conventions of public discourse are those of the  Enlightenment, in which the use of reason [enabled] us to achieve human objectives,” Offer said as we sat amid piles of books in his cluttered office. “Reason should be tempered by reality, by the facts. So underlining this is a notion of science that confronts reality and is revised by reference to reality. This is the model for how we talk. It is the model for the things we assume. But the reality that has emerged around us has not come out of this process. So our basic conventions only serve to justify existing relationships, structures and hierarchies. Plausible arguments are made for principles that are incompatible with each other.”

The corruption of neo-classical economics.

Offer argued that “a silent revolution” took place in economics in the 1970s. “Economists,” he said of the 1970s, “discovered opportunism — a polite term for cheating. Before that, economics had been a just-world defense of the status quo. But when the status quo became the welfare state, suddenly economics became all about cheating. Game theory was about cheating. Public-choice theory was about cheating. Asymmetric information was about cheating. The invisible-hand doctrine tells us there is only one outcome, and that outcome is the best. But once you enter a world of cheating there is no longer one outcome. It is what economists call multiple equilibria, which means there is not a deterministic outcome. The outcome depends on how successful the cheating is. And one of the consequences of this is that economists are not in a strong position to tell society what to do.”

The problem, he said, is that the old norms of economics continue to inform our policy norms, as if the cheating norm had never been introduced.

 “Let’s take the doctrine of optimal taxation,” he said. “If you assume a world of perfect competition, where every person gets their marginal products, then you can deduce a tax distribution where high progressive taxation is inefficient. This doctrine has been one of the drivers to reduce progressive taxation. But looking at the historical record this has not been accompanied by any great surge in productivity; rather, it has produced a great surge in inequality. So once again, there is a gap between what the model tells us should happen and what actually happens. In this case the model works, but only in the model, only if all the assumptions are satisfied. Reality is more complicated.”

On the Need for Social Cohesion in a Post-Growth Society

Our current economic model, he said, will be of little use to us in an age of ecological deterioration and growing scarcities. Energy shortages, global warming, population increases and increasing scarcity of water and food create an urgent need for new models of distribution. Our two options, he said, will be “hanging together or falling apart.” Offer argues that we cannot be certain that growth will continue. If standards of living stagnate or decline, he said, we must consider other models for the economy. Given the wealth and resources of industrialized nations, he said, a drop in living standards to what they were one or two generations ago would still permit a good quality of life.

Offer has studied closely the economies of World War I. Amid this catastrophe, he notes, civilian economies adapted. He holds up these war economies, with their heavy rationing, as a possible model for collective action in a contracting economy.

“What you had was a very sudden transition to a serious scarcity economy that was underpinned by the necessity for sharing,” he said. “Ordinary people were required to sacrifice their lives. They needed some guarantee for those they left at home. These war economies were relatively egalitarian. These economics were based on the safety net principle. If continued growth in the medium run is not feasible, and that is a contingency we need to think about, then these rationing societies provide quite a successful model. On the Allied side, people did not starve, society held together.”

However, if we cling to our current economic model — which Offer labels “every man for himself” — then, he said, “it will require serious repression.”

There is not a free market solution to a peaceful decline,” he said.

The state of current political economy in the West is similar to the state of communism in the Soviet Union around 1970,” he went on. “It is studied widely in the university. Everyone knows the formula. Everyone mouths it in discourse. But no one believes it.” The gap between the model and reality is now vast. Those in power seek “to bring reality into alignment with the model, and that usually involves coercion.”

We have a choice.  Either we continue with our neoclassical economic model that now serves mainly to vest wealth and political power in increasingly fewer hands and consign our grandkids to a future of coercion and repression or we create a movement to lead our country out of this trap.  That can begin by using government to undo the creature of its own making - inequality - and making our government's priority the restoration of the most robust, broad-based middle class possible.  It is only through the rehabilitation and expansion of that now shrunken middle class that we can hope to achieve the degree of social cohesion and collective will to transition Canada to an economic model we need and future generations will need for the 21st century as we progress into a post-growth era.  We either control our fate or our fate will be decided by others for us.

New Zealand - Australia's Climate Change Lifeboat

Australia is somewhat ahead of the global average for climate change temperature rise.  The country just passed the 1C mark.   There's obviously plenty more heat on the way in the future, just as there is everywhere else from existing atmospheric greenhouse gases, not even counting the additional GHGs we'll be adding to the stack over the next decades. 

When you're a country that has always prided itself for its "sunburnt beauty" there's not much percentage in going from unbearably hot to unsurvivably hot. 

The 1C milestone was the focus of  a report released today by Australia's national science agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and its Bureau of Meteorology.

New Zealand climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger, author of the new book Living in a Warmer World, said the report showed Australia continued to be ``the burning, drying continent''.
The duration and intensity of heatwaves and days above 40C continued to increase, and temperatures were projected to increase with more hot days and fewer cold days, he said.
With continued drying in parts of the southern half of Australia, droughts were projected to increase.
"With such trends I would expect to see a reverse in migration across the Tasman, with increasing numbers of Australians coming to New Zealand," he said.
"This is as the climate of continental Australia becomes very harsh."

And a tip of the hat to Australian Green party senator, Scott Ludlam, for delivering this slightly scathing assessment of Aussie denialist prime minister, Tony Abbott.

Just as the reign of the dinosaurs was cut short to their great surprise, it may be that the Abbott government will appear as nothing more than a thin, greasy layer in the core sample of future political scientists drilling back into the early years of the 21st century.”

In other fun climate change news for Australians, the CSIRO reports that warming waters are expected to trigger massive increases in the numbers of lethal jellyfish.

CSIRO research scientist, Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin, says more research is needed into the jellyfish. She warned higher ocean temperatures from global warming may stimulate jellyfish to breed faster, grow faster and live longer.

"What you don't want happening is that all of a sudden it's a huge problem and no one sees that coming," she said.

Symptoms of an irukandji jellyfish sting include severe pain, vomiting, anxiety and in rare cases can cause pulmonary oedema (fluid in the lungs), hypertension or toxic heart failure that can be fatal.
A box jellyfish sting can be fatal in as little as three minutes.

She Looks At a World Reeling from Extreme Weather and Sees a Silver Lining

Record-breaking heat waves and droughts, flooding and the Polar Vortex have pummeled most of the Earth in recent years  and, we're told, this is a glimpse of even more extreme weather in our future.

Christiana Figueres, the United Nations climate chief, looks at the devastation and sees a silver lining - the prospect that these impacts and the losses they occasion will finally move climate change to the top of the global political agenda.  She says that partisan political bickering has to go.

Christiana Figueres said that it was amoral for people to look at climate change from a politically partisan perspective, because of its impact on future generations.

The "very strange" weather experienced across the world over the last two years was a sign "we are [already] experiencing climate change," the executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat told the Guardian.

The flooding of thousands of homes in England because of the wettest winter on record has brought climate change to the forefront of political debate in the UK. The prime minister, David Cameron, when challenged by Labour leader, Ed Miliband, on his views on man-made climate change and having climate change sceptics in his cabinet, said last week: "I believe man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats that this country and this world faces."

Climate change was barely mentioned at all in the 2012 US election battle until superstorm Sandy struck New York, prompting the city's then mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to endorse Barack Obama's candidacy because he would "lead on climate change."

Figueres said: "There's no doubt that these events, that I call experiential evidence of climate change, does raise the issue to the highest political levels. It's unfortunate that we have to have these weather events, but there is a silver lining if you wish, that they remind us is solving climate change, addressing climate change in a timely way, is not a partisan issue."

She added: "We are reminded that climate change events are for everyone, they're affecting everyone, they have much, much longer effects than a political cycle. Frankly, they're intergenerational, so morally we cannot afford to look at climate change from a partisan perspective."

Memo to Steve, Justin & Tom:  Bitumen trafficking and saving the planet for our grandkids are mutually exclusive.

No, This Can't Be Possible. Could Japan Actually Rescind Its Apology to Wartime 'Comfort Women'?

One of several dark stains on the honour of Japan was its practice, during WWII, of impressing foreign women, mainly Korean, into sex slavery to serve Japanese soldiers.  They were called 'Comfort Women' or, in Japanese, Kanji.  Somewhere between 20,000 to 400,000 Korean, Chinese and Philippino women were subjected to sexual slavery.

For the past two decades, Japan has officially recognised its role in coercing the women into sexual slavery. But last week, the conservative administration of Shinzo Abe said it would re-examine an apology issued to former sex slaves in 1993 by the then chief cabinet secretary, Yohei Kono.
The findings could be reflected in a report Abe is expected to release next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war.

Japan's resurgent right wing, with Abe at its apex, says there was no official involvement by the wartime Japanese government or military in rounding up women and forcing them into sexual slavery. Instead, it claims the women were willing prostitutes, hired by brokers who took advantage of wartime demand to make easy money.

"The testimonies of comfort women were taken on the understanding that they would take place behind closed doors," the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said. "The government will consider whether there can be a revision."

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

A Cold War of Washington's Own Making

It's refreshing to see that, this time, we're not all falling for the official line, the Washington line that lays the blame for the Ukrainian fiasco at Moscow's feet.  Washington (and Ottawa) would have us believe the fanciful lie that this is all Putin's doing but it's not.  The late U.S. diplomat and historian, George Kennan, heralded as the architect of America's "containment over confrontation" policy during the first Cold War, foresaw the very situation facing us today in America's unipolar superpower fantasy.  Stephen Kinzer, visiting fellow at the Watson Institute at Brown University writes that Kennan's prophesy is being fulfilled.

FROM THE moment the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the United States has relentlessly pursued a strategy of encircling Russia, just as it has with other perceived enemies like China and Iran. It has brought 12 countries in central Europe, all of them formerly allied with Moscow, into the NATO alliance. US military power is now directly on Russia’s borders.

“I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” warned George Kennan, the renowned diplomat and Russia-watcher, as NATO began expanding eastward. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely, and it will affect their policies.”

Russia’s dispatch of troops in recent days to Crimea — a verdant peninsula on the Black Sea that is part of Ukraine but, partly as a result of Stalin-era ethnic cleansing, has a mainly Russian population — was the latest fulfillment of Kennan’s prediction.

Some policy makers in Washington have been congratulating each other for a successful American-aided regime change operation in Ukraine. Three factors converged to produce the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych. First was his own autocratic instinct and utter lack of political skill, which led him to think he could ignore protesters. Second was the brave determination of the protesters themselves. Third was intervention by the United States and other Western countries — often spearheaded by diplomats and quasi-covert operatives who have been working for years on “democracy promotion” projects in Ukraine.

 As protests mounted in Kiev last month, many in Washington found it difficult to break the old habit of shaping US policy to punish Russia. Several European leaders suggested resolving the Ukraine crisis through negotiation with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. This enraged the United States, which wants to isolate Putin, not accommodate him.

Although Russia is not powerful enough to emerge from the Ukraine/Crimea crisis with a full victory, neither is the United States. Diplomatic pressure and covert action supporting pro-Western factions in Ukraine will continue, but President Obama will not risk military confrontation with Russia. This crisis will not produce the grand westward realignment of which many in Washington dream.

Any solution short of partition will have to take Russia’s interests into account. Thus far the United States has shown no interest in doing that. The likely geopolitical outcome, therefore, is a stalemate.

Inside Ukraine, the story is different. Protesters there, encouraged by the United States, have used the power of the street to depose a deeply corrupt — though legally elected — president. But soon they may find they have little to celebrate.

Egyptians, Libyans, Syrians and others have learned to their immense pain that upheavals like these rarely end well. Ukraine is not only deeply divided geographically and politically. It is dominated by a clutch of gangster “oligarchs” powerfully motivated to prevent the emergence of a pro-Western regime. Splits within the opposition are deep. The possibility that a stable Ukraine will emerge anytime soon are dim.

This crisis is in part the result of a zero-sum calculation that has shaped US policy toward Moscow since the Cold War: Any loss for Russia is an American victory, and anything positive that happens to, for, or in Russia is bad for the United States. This is an approach that intensifies confrontation, rather than soothing it.

Is This How the Senate Whitewash Begins?

Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau turfed out in disgrace by a gaggle of Tory senators who had expense skeletons in their own closets to conceal.  Word from Ottawa is that there are plenty of other senators in the same boat on housing expenses, perhaps two to three dozen, who all voted as they were directed by the prime minister to rid him of his three senatorial embarrassments. 

As if in contemplation of the damaging - and damning - audit reports looming before the Red Chamber and the prime minister's office, today we saw the conveniently-timed release of a second audit firm letter attesting to a woeful lack of clarity in Senate spending rules. 

The outside auditors whom the Senate routinely uses to review its spending have concluded that expense rules aren’t clear, meaning the Senate is at risk of approving inappropriate housing expenses for some members.

That conclusion is contained in a letter from KPMG seen by The Ottawa Citizen. The letter cites the issue as a “significant deficiency.”

KPMG’s caution also landed just weeks before the Senate moved to suspend Duffy, Brazeau and Pamela Wallin over their expense claims.

That has been my contention all along and I’m not surprised,” Brazeau said of the details of the KPMG letter. “The Senate (committee) of internal economy has much to hide.”

KPMG recommended the Senate have senators sign an annual declaration that they are adhering to spending rules. As well, it recommended senators go through mandatory annual training to ensure they’re up to date on their own spending rules, and create a guide to give more details about spending rules.

The chairwoman of the audit subcommittee, Sen. Beth Marshall, said the Senate agreed with all the recommendations.

It does make you wonder why Mr. Harper was so obsessed with getting Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau turfed without so much as a hearing?  Could it be he just wanted the lid slammed and nailed down before he might face any more awkward questions atop the many he was already ducking?  Harper needed these three crucified before the Conservative convention. 

Some in Ottawa are wondering what Harper plans to do with a few dozen more senatorial malefactors?  Is he going to demand they too be tossed?  No, of course not.  They'll all fall back on this whitewash about confusion in the Senate rules, get out their chequebooks, and slither on. 

First Nations Man the Front Trench in Our Fight For Canada

We should all be immensely proud and grateful for the intervention of Canada's First Nations in the fight to defend our country from environmental degradation, even catastrophe.  They're leading our fight, make no mistake about that.  The rest of us are the supporting actors in this one but that doesn't diminish the role we still have to play.

Canada's Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs seems to have been transformed into something of an intelligence agency supporting government efforts opposed by First Nations.  This sort of perversion of government agencies is Harper's stock in trade.  From The Guardian:

Since 2008, the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs has run a risk management program to evaluate and respond to “significant risks” to its agenda, including assertions of treaty rights, the rising expectations of aboriginal peoples, and new legal precedents at odds with the government’s policies.

Yearly government reports obtained by the Guardian predict that the failure to manage the risks could result in more “adversarial relations” with aboriginal peoples, “public outcry and negative international attention,” and “economic development projects [being] delayed.”

“There is a risk that the legal landscape can undermine the ability of the department to move forward in its policy agenda,” one Aboriginal Affairs’ report says. “There is a tension between the rights-based agenda of Aboriginal groups and the non-rights based policy approaches” of the federal government.

The Conservative government is planning in the next ten years to attract $650 billion of investment to mining, forestry, gas and oil projects, much of it on or near traditional aboriginal lands.

Critics say the government is determined to evade Supreme Court rulings that recognize aboriginal peoples’ rights to a decision-making role in, even in some cases jurisdiction over, resource development in large areas of the country.

Remember, Harper is waging this subterfuge on them in our name, your name, in the name of our country.

Troy Thomas sent me this link yesterday.  It's a way that you or I can ease into this fight, take that first step to push back against Harper and his thuggish friends and you can start by just sending a donation.  Harper doesn't believe he and his cronies need social licence to commit outrages like the Northern Gateway and we need to make it clear that he does.

It's Not Just Woolly Mammoths Surfacing from Climate Change

The retreat of glaciers has been turning up all sorts of stuff such as the remains of woolly mammoth that have been preserved in ice for thousands of years.  Turns out there's all sorts of stuff emerging from that melting ice and thawing tundra including ancient viruses that were thought eradicated tens of thousands of years ago.

All it took was a single sample of frozen Siberian soil for an international collaboration of researchers to discover, and revive, a new type of "giant virus" — a virus whose unusually large size means scientists can spot it through a light microscope.
Indeed, despite being frozen for over 30,000 years, Pithovirus sibericum still packs a punch: a simple thawing procedure allowed it to infect a throng of unsuspecting single-cell organisms for the first time in thousands of years. And given that climate change is already causing the ground to thaw in regions such as the Arctic and parts of Alaska, scientists fear that this lab experiment could eventually take to the field, leading to the spontaneous revival of ancient and unknown viruses.
The discovery puts the concept of "viral disease eradication" in a bit of a jam, says Jean-Michel Claverie, lead author of the study and evolutionary biologist at Aix-Marseille University, because it means that there could be a slew of "eradicated" viruses — viruses such as smallpox, which caused its last infection in 1977, and the livestock disease rinderpest — laying dormant deep within the Earth's oldest frozen soil layers. "We might be able to eradicate viruses from the surface of the planet," the researcher says, "but that doesn't mean that there isn't a single particle of that virus still alive somewhere."
Now there's worry that flooding could bring back modern scourges such as anthrax.  In Northallerton, England, residents are concerned that flood control construction could uncover the remains of anthrax-infected cattle buried in a local sinkhole 80-years ago.
Anthrax spores can survive dormant for many decades. Animals can become infected with the disease by ingesting spores while grazing.
Northallerton Town Councillor Jack Dobson, who is objecting to the plans, said: “When these animals were buried 80 years ago, there were no regulations like there are now. There was a sink hole down there and the farmer said they just pitched them into the sink hole near the beck.”
He added: “These anthrax spores can survive 300 years. If you were to dig them up the spores can get in the air and contaminate people. If they’re going to dig up this area and take the overburden to Teesside or somewhere they could transport the spores with them.”
We used to think that what goes in the ground stays in the ground.  Time to rethink that.

Could Putin Snap?

Now this is worrisome.  It is a transcript compiled from verbatim notes of a meeting between Russia's Vlad Putin and German chancellor Angela Merkel that led Merkel to conclude her Russian counterpart is not in touch with reality but is living "in another world."

Putin squirmed and rambled. And rambled and rambled. He was a rainbow of emotion: Serious! angry! bemused! flustered! confused! So confused. Victor Yanukovich is still the acting president of Ukraine, but he can't talk to Ukraine because Ukraine has no president. Ukraine needs elections, but you can't have elections because there is already a president. And no elections will be valid given that there is terrorism in the streets of Ukraine. And how are you going to let just anyone run for president? What if some nationalist punk just pops out like a jack-in-the-box? An anti-Semite? Look at how peaceful the Crimea is, probably thanks to those guys with guns holding it down. Who are they, by the way? Speaking of instability, did you know that the mayor of Dniepropetrovsk is a thief? He cheated "our oligarch, [Chelsea owner Roman] Abramovich" of millions. Just pocketed them! Yanukovich has no political future, I've told him that. He didn't fulfill his obligations as leader of the country. I've told him that. Mr. Putin, what mistakes did Yanukovich make as president? You know, I can't answer that. Not because I don't know the answer, but because it just wouldn't be right of me to say. Did you know they burned someone alive in Kiev? Just like that? Is that what you call a manifestation of democracy? Mr. Putin, what about the snipers in Kiev who were firing on civilians? Who gave them orders to shoot? Those were provocateurs. Didn't you read the reports? They were open source reports. So I don't know what happened there. It's unclear. But did you see the bullets piercing the shields of the Berkut [special police]. That was obvious. As for who gave the order to shoot, I don't know. Yanukovich didn't give that order. He told me. I only know what Yanukovich told me. And I told him, don't do it. You'll bring chaos to your city. And he did it, and they toppled him. Look at that bacchanalia. The American political technologists they did their work well. And this isn't the first time they've done this in Ukraine, no. Sometimes, I get the feeling that these people...these people in America. They are sitting there, in their laboratory, and doing experiments, like on rats. You're not listening to me. I've already said, that yesterday, I met with three colleagues. Colleagues, you're not listening. It's not that Yanukovich said he's not going to sign the agreement with Europe. What he said was that, based on the content of the agreement, having examined it, he did not like it. We have problems. We have a lot of problems in Russia. But they're not as bad as in Ukraine. The Secretary of State. Well. The Secretary of State is not the ultimate authority, is he?

And so on, for about an hour. And much of that, by the way, is direct quotes.

Gone was the old Putin, the one who loves these kinds of press events. He'd come a long way from the painfully awkward gray FSB officer on Larry King, a year into his tenure. He had grown to become the master of public speaking, who had turned his churlish, prison-inflected slang to his benefit. A salty guy in utter command of a crowd. That Putin was not the Putin we saw today. Today's Putin was nervous, angry, cornered, and paranoid, periodically illuminated by flashes of his own righteousness. Here was an authoritarian dancing uncomfortably in his new dictator shoes, squirming in his throne. 

For the last few years, it has become something like conventional knowledge in Moscow journalistic circles that Putin was no longer getting good information, that he was surrounded by yes-men who created for him a parallel informational universe. "They're beginning to believe their own propaganda," Gleb Pavlovsky told me when I was in Moscow in December. Pavlovsky had been a close advisor to the early Putin, helping him win his first presidential election in 2000. (When, in 2011, Putin decided to return for a third term as president, Pavlovsky declared the old Putin dead.) And still, it wasn't fully vetted information. We were like astronomers, studying refractions of light that reached us from great distances, and used them to draw our conclusions.
If Putin has lost it, if he's working, under great stress, inside an information bubble created by sycophants, he becomes unpredictable.  Assumptions that, when the hard decisions must be taken, he will act rationally are hard, perhaps even dangerous to rely upon.

Perhaps sensing the risks of inadvertently triggering unwanted results, a rift is opening between the U.S. and Europe over American proposals to 'isolate' Russia through economic sanctions. 

With the Americans, supported by parts of eastern Europe and Sweden, pushing for punitive measures against Moscow, EU foreign ministers divided into hawks and doves, preferring instead to pursue mediation and monitoring of the situation in Ukraine and to resist a strong sanctions package against Russia.

It is far easier and much less consequential for Washington to slap sanctions on Russia than for the Europeans to play the same game.  The United States is relatively immune to retaliation from Moscow which is not the case for Europe. 

Is Passive Resistance Putin's Achilles Heel?

Vlad Putin is strutting about Crimea with a huge chip on his shoulder just waiting for some Ukrainian hot head to knock it off.  He's got bases surrounded, soldiers and their officers confined to their garrisons.  Russian forces pretty much have the run of the place. 

The Russians came geared up for the Ukrainians to attack.  When that didn't materialize the Russians ordered the Ukrainians to surrender.  No takers.  Then the Russians imposed deadlines, warning if the Ukrainians didn't capitulate by a specified hour Russian forces would attack.  Nope, sorry, can't do it.

It's sort of like Muhammad Ali's "rope a dope" - go passive, hunker down, wait for your opponent to wear himself out.  Or better yet, Mahatma Gandhi who led a resistance movement for the independence of India telling his followers that only through passive resistance could they defeat colonialism. 

It's not likely that passive resistance alone will work with Vlad Putin.  Not entirely.  Time, though, isn't on Putin's side.  He's tried his A game and his B game and now he's left with Plan C.   With each passing hour, any violence Putin initiates is going to look increasingly like raw aggression. 

Remember, this is the same Russia that only just got around to admitting its massacre of thousands of 22,000 Polish officers in the Katyn forest in 1943.   The parallels would be inescapable and, for Putin, probably unbearable. 

Putin is still talking tough.  He's still boasting that he reserves the right to attack without further notice.  His boasts, however, are beginning to sound ever so slightly less assured.

Monday, March 03, 2014

More Defections to Crimea

A gaggle of Ukrainian military leaders based in the Crimea have defected.

The oath of allegiance to the people of Crimea has been taken by Pyotr Zima, head of the Securiy Service of Crimea, Sergei Abisov, chief of the Crimea Directorate for Internal Affairs, Sergei Shakhov, chief of the Emergencies Directorate of Crimea, Viktor Melnichenko, actinh Chief of the Border Service of Crimea, and Rear-Admiral Denis Berezovsky, who had been earlier appointed Commander of the ARC Navy.

Aksyonov said the day 'will go down in the history of the ARC as a day of the formation of all its security organizations'. 'We shall prove that people of Crimea are capable of defending themselves independently and also of ensuring security and freedom for our citizens,' he said.

Aksynov also said that the chiefs of a number of other units and state services are also ready to take an oath of allegiance to the people of Crimea in the coming days.

'As of now, 90 percent of all secuirty organizations are subordinated to the Supreme Council of Crimea,' the Chairman of the ARC Council of Ministers pointed out.

There are reports, Russian naturally, that most Ukrainian military units in the Crimean area are likewise defecting.

Karzai Says - We Were Only In It For Ourselves

I don't like Hamid Karzai but he might have a point when he complains that our Afghan War wasn't waged on behalf of Afghanistan but for our interests, not his country's.  Then again I'm not that sure it was fought for our interests either.  What did we get out of it?  It seems like it was more just a murderous game of "Whack-a-Mole" or at least it became that after Bush/Cheney lost interest in al Qaeda and moved on to play in the sandbox of Iraq.

"Afghans died in a war that's not ours,' Karzai said in the interview published on Sunday, just a month before an election to pick his successor.

He was quoted as saying he was certain the 12-year-old war, America's longest and launched after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was "for the U.S. security and for the Western interest."

...the Afghan leader said he was deeply troubled by the war's casualties, including those in U.S. military operations, and felt betrayed by what he described as an insufficient U.S. focus on going after Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan rather than in Afghan villages.

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan dissipated his country's "common cause" with the United States, Karzai told the newspaper.
The Post said Karzai told his interviewers as he escorted them out of his office on Saturday night: "To the American people, give them my best wishes and my gratitude. To the U.S. government, give them my anger, my extreme anger." 

A good deal of the blame does lie with us.  We never established a coherent narrative for our Afghan War.  As 'victory' became increasingly elusive we kept moving the goal posts.  We kept watering down our objectives.  The war we left was not the war we went in to fight and win.  Context went out the window.  We may have had, as Karzai claims, 'interests' going in but we had damned few interests left at the end other than getting to hell out.

Aghhh. My Head Is Going to Explode!

"You just don't invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interest."
That pearl of wisdom yesterday from the secretary of state of the United States of America, John Kerry.   Yes, that United States, the very same one that invaded Iraq on a completely bogus, entirely made up pretext resulting in the dislocation of millions, the deaths of upwards of 200,000 Iraqis and a simmering civil war that may result in the break up of the country.  That United States.
Kerry, of course, was talking tough about Russia's occupation of western Ukraine.  He made the statement on Meet the Press.   He also gave a slightly more elaborate version:  ”You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”   Both times, completely straight face. 
Booyah, John, Booyah!

How to Explain Climate Change to Your Cranky Old Uncle

Relax, the hard work has been done for you.  The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, in conjunction with Britain's equally prestigious Royal Society, have reduced the science to a handy pamphlet aimed at the lay reader.  It's entitled, "A Discussion on Climate Change: Evidence and Causes."

The 36-page booklet is detailed but not buried under scientific jargon most people can't understand.  At the link given you can download the entire pamphlet, the Q&A section, the "Climate Basics" section, or all of the graphs and figures.

Climate Change is a Civilization Wrecker

There's been a lot of discussion in recent months about how climate change now setting in might trigger another mass extinction of life on Earth and it might.  Long before that, however, comes the collapse of civilization.

When we think of civilization collapse we tend to think of the Pueblo Indians or the Mayans.  Now we can add several of the earliest civilizations to the list.

The world's first great civilisations appear to have collapsed because of an ancient episode of climate change - according to new research carried out by scientists and archaeologists.

The research, carried out by the University of Cambridge and India's Banaras Hindu University, reveals that a series of droughts lasting some 200 years hit the Indus Valley zone - and was probably responsible for the rapid decline of the great Bronze Age urban civilization of that region.

The findings correlate chronologically with drought evidence found over recent years by other scientists who have examined deposits from the bottom of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman as well as stalactites from caves in North east India and southern Arabia.

It's now thought likely that the droughts at around that time were partly responsible for the collapse not only of the Indus Valley civilization, but also of the ancient Akkadian Empire, Old Kingdom Egypt and possibly Early Bronze Age civilizations in Greece.

"Archaeologists are really in a unique position when investigating climate change in the past, because we hopefully get to see what people were doing in the 'before, during and after' phases. We therefore get an opportunity to investigate how ancient populations responded to climatic and environmental change. How did they cope with periods of water stress? Were their existing ways of life resilient? Were they forced to adapt in order to survive, and if so, precisely what did they do," said University of Cambridge archaeologist, Dr. Cameron Petrie.

"For the Indus populations, it looks as though living in large groups became untenable, and it was much more sustainable to live in smaller groups. This is of course a huge simplification of a complex process, but this transformation is the underlying dynamic."  

We've had it awfully good over the interval back to the start of the Industrial Revolution.  Mankind has enjoyed a mild climate with plenty of precipitation and an absence of  mega-droughts.  It didn't dawn on us in settling the prairie that there was a reason it was grassland supporting a few stunted trees.  We didn't have to because we showed up during a particularly wet period that, being humans, we took for granted and assumed was normal. 

Range Wars, 21st Century-Style

It's a classic theme of the 'wild west' - range wars where free-range cattle ranchers clashed with farmers whose fenced fields blocked their way.  Today it's a struggle between farmers and frackers and this time the struggle is over water, more specifically who gets it and who goes without.

This has been going on in Texas for some time and, generally, it's the frackers who win.  Now the same thing has flared up in drought-stricken California, especially in the rich agricultural area of the Monterey Basin beneath which lies an awful lot of fossil fuel just waiting to be fracked.

Despite several polls indicating that a majority of California residents are opposed to the “water-intensive extreme oil and gas extraction process” known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the state’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has continued to pledge his support for pro-fracking legislation.
As Brown gets closer to signing a piece of legislation that would allow for the expansion of fracking and other controversial forms of oil extraction in California’s Monterey Shale formation, located beneath California’s “most prized” farmland, opponents have boosted their work to ban fracking in the state.
On this one, Jerry Brown is dead wrong.  Those oil and gas reserves have been securely sequestered underground for millions of years.  They're not going anywhere.  They'll still be right where they sit when the drought ends.  It's the farmers who have long contributed to California's prosperity that are at mortal risk if they're not given priority access over frackers to the limited water supply.

WWCD? What Would China Do?

We've been getting this manicured image of Russia, isolated, standing alone against the world over its occupation of eastern Ukraine and, especially, Crimea.   Then again, we do tend to see ourselves, the West, as the world.

Vlad Putin sees the world differently.  He sees China and he's looking for China's support over the Ukraine business to offset Western opprobrium. 

The situation in Ukraine was discussed Monday at consultations in Moscow between Chinese deputy Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping and his Russian counterpart, Grigory Karasin.

“The Chinese side expressed understanding of Russia's analysis of reasons behind the deep political crisis in Ukraine and the role of external forces that acted to support Euromaidan,” Russia foreign ministry said, referring to the informal name of the uprising that culminated with the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Moscow has routinely blamed the United States and the European Union of lending the protest movement their support, while some lawmakers have claimed Western governments offered funding and training to demonstrators.

The Foreign Ministry said China blames Ukraine’s opposition for failing to comply with an EU-brokered agreement with Yanukovych on February 21 to end the months-long political standoff that had gripped the country.

So, yes, we might stomp our feet and refuse to attend Russia's G8 party in Soschi and toss a tantrum here or there but that's not going to sway a tough like Vlad Putin.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Is This Where Ukraine's Revolution Ends?

Simmering beneath the rise of the pro-E.U. Ukrainian government in Kiev and the pro-Russia faction of the Crimea has been the question of the loyalty of Ukraine's armed forces.  With a large Russian-Ukrainian contingent, it's been unclear whether the Ukrainian forces would really turn on their ethnic Russian-Ukrainian countrymen and Moscow's forces.   Where does their loyalty really lie? 

The government in Kiev got what must be a worrisome omen today when the newly-appointed commander of the Ukrainian navy defected to the pro-Russian government in Crimea. 

The newly appointed head of Ukraine's navy has sworn allegiance to the Crimea region, in the presence of its unrecognised pro-Russian leader.

Rear Admiral Denys Berezovsky was only made head of the navy on Saturday, as the government in Kiev reacted to the threat of Russian invasion.

The government in Kiev has been threatening to unleash the Ukrainian army against Russian forces in the eastern part of the country.   The defection of Berezovsky may give them reason to think twice.

We Stand on the Brink of Global Instability and There's No Running from It

Maybe we should rethink our rush to extract and export as much of Canada's fossil fuel reserves as possible.  Maybe we should give some thought to the domestic needs of our future generations.

A fascinating article from The Guardian today by Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development, explores the connection between the end of cheap energy and unrest spreading across the globe.  His warning is stark.  We either hasten our transition to a post-carbon world  and adapt to it quickly or we face a global epidemic of rioting and instability.

If anyone had hoped that the Arab Spring and Occupy protests a few years back were one-off episodes that would soon give way to more stability, they have another thing coming. The hope was that ongoing economic recovery would return to pre-crash levels of growth, alleviating the grievances fueling the fires of civil unrest, stoked by years of recession.

But this hasn't happened. And it won't.

Instead the post-2008 crash era, including 2013 and early 2014, has seen a persistence and proliferation of civil unrest on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone has seen riots kick-off in Venezuela, Bosnia, Ukraine, Iceland, and Thailand.

This is not a coincidence. The riots are of course rooted in common, regressive economic forces playing out across every continent of the planet - but those forces themselves are symptomatic of a deeper, protracted process of global system failure as we transition from the old industrial era of dirty fossil fuels, towards something else.

Food insecurity, a major factor in the Arab Spring uprisings, and the demise of cheap energy point to a looming epidemic of rioting and instability.

In Ukraine, previous food price shocks have impacted negatively on the country's grain exports, contributing to intensifying urban poverty in particular. Accelerating levels of domestic inflation are underestimated in official statistics - Ukrainians spend on average as much as 75% on household bills, and more than half their incomes on necessities such as food and non-alcoholic drinks, and as75% on household bills. Similarly, for most of last year, Venezuela suffered from ongoing food shortages driven by policy mismanagement along with 17 year record-high inflation due mostly to rising food prices.

While dependence on increasingly expensive food imports plays a role here, at the heart of both countries is a deepening energy crisis. Ukraine is a net energy importer, having peaked in oil and gas production way back in 1976. Despite excitement about domestic shale potential, Ukraine's oil production has declined by over 60% over the last twenty years driven by both geological challenges and dearth of investment.
Currently, about 80% of Ukraine's oil, and 80% of its gas, is imported from Russia. But over half of Ukraine's energy consumption is sustained by gas. Russian natural gas prices have nearly quadrupled since 2004. The rocketing energy prices underpin the inflation that is driving excruciating poverty rates for average Ukranians, exacerbating social, ethnic, political and class divisions.
These local conditions are being exacerbated by global structural realities. Record high global food prices impinge on these local conditions and push them over the edge. But the food price hikes, in turn, are symptomatic of a range of overlapping problems. Global agriculture's excessive dependence on fossil fuel inputs means food prices are invariably linked to oil price spikes.
Naturally, biofuels and food commodity speculation pushes prices up even further - elite financiers alone benefit from this while working people from middle to lower classes bear the brunt.

Of course, the elephant in the room is climate change. According to Japanese media, a leaked draft of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) second major report warned that while demand for food will rise by 14%, global crop production will drop by 2% per decade due to current levels of global warming, and wreak $1.45 trillion of economic damage by the end of the century. The scenario is based on a projected rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius.


The epidemic of global riots is symptomatic of global system failure - a civilisational form that has outlasted its usefulness. We need a new paradigm.

Unfortunately, simply taking to the streets isn't the answer. What is needed is a meaningful vision for civilisational transition - backed up with people power and ethical consistence.

It's time that governments, corporations and the public alike woke up to the fact that we are fast entering a new post-carbon era, and that the quicker we adapt to it, the far better our chances of successfully redefining a new form of civilisation - a new form of prosperity - that is capable of living in harmony with the Earth system.

But if we continue to make like ostriches, we'll only have ourselves to blame when the epidemic becomes a pandemic at our doorsteps.