Thursday, March 31, 2016

Sorry, Kinsella, But You Don't Get to Define "Fascism"

Especially not on the strength of a throw-away line from an American novelist, Sinclair Upton, about how "fascism = capitalism + murder."

The fascists, by the way, were Italian, Mussolini's crowd. Hitler's bunch were totalitarian but they were what we still like to call Nazis, sort of fascism taken to another level. And, yes, they both murdered some opponents, one far more than the other, but plenty of ideologies resort to murder and it's not the exclusive prerogative of fascists.

Here, for your edification, are three informed descriptions of fascism.  While there are various interpretations of fascism it remains an ideology best defined by its characteristics.

My critics will assure you that I'm not one to race to the defence of Tom Mulcair but, if you go through Dr. Britt's checklist you'll see the emerging signs of fascism in Mr. Trump. And remember, none of these charismatics come out of the box ringing all the bells. It's something that builds and grows but often fairly rapidly after they come to power. The trick is to spot it early and nip it in the bud.

That said, I agree that Mulcair needs to back off in demanding that Trudeau denounce Trump. We don't meddle in another country's electoral politics. Anyone who wants us to believe he's ready to lead this country should avoid this sort of stunt.

I would have much prefered to have left this as a comment on your blog but, like others who seem to cause you difficulty, I'm blocked. So, here it is, Sinclair Upton notwithstanding.

This Speaks Volumes About Our Government's Saudi Pals.

There is one ground war plus two air wars currently underway in Yemen.

The ground war engages the Houthi rebels against al Qaeda and ISIS fighters in support of Yemen's Sunni regime.

One air war is being waged by Saudi and other Sunni air forces against the Houthi rebels - and the rest of the Houthi civilian population for that matter. The Saudis love dropping those made-in-USA cluster bombs on Houthi villages. You could very fairly say that the Saudi and Sunni coalition air forces are flying air support missions for al Qaeda and ISIS forces, also Sunni in the radical Saudi fashion.

Then there's that other air campaign. This is the fledgling American bombing campaign against AQAP (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) forces in Yemen. It is no small irony that everyone on the ground in Yemen on both sides is getting hammered by America-built jets delivering America-built bombs.

The last strike took place on March 28, when US warplanes hit AQAP fighters stationed at “the headquarters of Brigade 27 near the city’s airport, an air defence camp and the house of the commander of the second Military Region” in the city of Mukallah, the provincial capital of Hadramout, Reuters reported. The number of casualties has not been disclosed.

Yes, that's right. al Qaeda is using Yemeni government military installations. In other words, Sunni militants are the Yemeni home team.

Why doesn't the USAF just cut out the middle man and simply shoot down the Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti, Moroccan, Jordanian and Qatari warplanes which would allow the Houthis to get on with the business of pushing al Qaeda and ISIS out of Yemen. Then, once America's F-15s turn the Saudi F-15s into lawn ornaments they can negotiate the sale of the next batch.

Death By Our Indifference

We've had a long fight to save the great whales from extermination at the end of a harpoon. Now we're doing them in with pollution, especially discarded plastic.

In January, 29 sperm whales stranded on shores around the North Sea. The results of the necropsies (the animal equivalent of autopsies) of 13 of those whales, which beached in Germany, near the town of Tönning in Schleswig-Holstein, have just been released. The animals’ stomachs were filled with plastic debris. A 13-metre-long fishing net, a 70cm piece of plastic from a car and other pieces of plastic litter had been inadvertently ingested by the animals, who may have thought they were food, such as squid, their main diet, which they consume by sucking their prey into their mouths.

Robert Habeck, environment minister for the state of Schleswig-Holstein, said: “These findings show us the results of our plastic-oriented society. Animals inadvertently consume plastic and plastic waste, which causes them to suffer, and at worst, causes them to starve with full stomachs.” Nicola Hodgins, of Whale and Dolphin Conservation, added: “Although the large pieces will cause obvious problems and block the gut, we shouldn’t dismiss the smaller bits that could cause a more chronic problem for all species of cetacean – not just those who suction feed.”

Whales are just part of the marine life succumbing to death by plastics. Dead sea birds just full of plastic are turning up on beaches around the world.

Mammals such as seals get fouled in discarded nets where small fish often gather.

And then there are plastic bags which, in the water, can look very much like jellyfish.

Jellyfish, by the way, are a favourite food of sea turtles.

We need a global effort to get our crap out of their water. There's far too much of our persistent garbage out there and it doesn't break down. Death by ingested plastic is horrific. We have to stop it.

Small steps help. No plastic bags, bring reusable cloth bags. If you do get those six-pack rings, take scissors to them and cut them up so they can't trap any creatures. Never assume that, simply because you put your waste plastic in the garbage that it will be safely disposed of and won't make its way eventually to the sea. 

For All His Faults and Shortcomings, There is Still Much to Like in Justin Trudeau

On major issues - Canada's surveillance apparatus, our uncritical support of Israel, this government's needless opposition to the BDS movement, the support of pipelines to expand bitumen exports, selling war wagons to a nation already committing war crimes while also a state sponsor of terrorism - I find little common ground with Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government.

On lesser issues - emancipating federal government scientists, restoring public access to the civil service, re-opening shuttered Coast Guard facilities, the promise to introduce electoral reform, the uncertain promise to cut Canadian greenhouse gas emissions (while pushing Tar Sands production, neat trick), ending mandatory minimum sentencing, and more - I can't help but support JT & Company.

Another achievement for which I am profoundly grateful is the extent to which Justin Trudeau has restored Canada's standing abroad. I read a lot of foreign media and am constantly surprised at the coverage - invariably favourable - young Trudeau attracts. In a world of Trump, Erdogan, Cameron, Netanyahu and Putin, the world looks at Trudeau and sees something fresh and positive - and friendly. They like what they see and, for Canada, after a decade of living with a world pariah, Shifty Steve, it's a wonderful change and we, all of us, should be grateful.

Apparently this video went viral in India. Pick it up at the 9:00 mark.

Roseanne Lays Waste to the BDS Movement

Take it from Roseanne Barr, we of the BDS side are complete, total, crazy, ignorant, bloodthirsty, bigot fascists.

Who needs Stephane Dion, Justin Trudeau, Tom Mulcair or Shifty Harper when you've got Roseanne making the case against BDS.

On Trump's Claim that Other Countries "Owe" America

Donald Trump thinks that the world owes America and he's promising to collect. He thinks the Europeans owe America for their defence arguing that the US is doing the heavy lifting for NATO. Mexico owes America for trade imbalances. China ditto, ditto, ditto. Everybody owes America.

Sure, the United States runs large deficits. Yes the United States has a hefty balance of trade deficit. If America was Greece or Spain or Ireland, it would probably be in the tank. Yet it's not. There must be a reason.

Put simply, the United States has the printing press. It gets to produce the currency, the greenback, in which the entire world trades. The United States dollar is the world reserve currency. Everybody wants it, everybody buys it - often by delivering goods to America's shores.

Galbraith, in "The End of Normal" offers a complex but compelling explanation of how this all works. He demonstrates how it has become necessary for the benefit of the United States and everyone else that America runs hefty deficits. If that scheme stops it will devastate the world economy.

Why would it stop? Well, if Americans put an idiot in the White House, one who decided he'd make the world pay for Uncle Sam's generosity, it could be the straw that broke the camel's back. The rest of the world, on which America depends more than Trump can possibly realize, might say let's switch to a new reserve currency, a basket of currencies - the Euro, the Yuan, the Yen and, of course, the good old USD - all balanced out, averaged if you will.

That would mean that America's debts might have to be paid in a different currency, one not of its own control and that could put the USA in a mighty economic jam - or, as Trump would say, Yuuuge!

You see the existing racket is a confidence scheme. It lives or dies on the acceptance that the US dollar is the best, most secure currency of them all. A replacement reserve currency would shatter that confidence. So far everyone has been prudently reluctant to call America's bluff. Trump could change all that.

Exciting times.

Trump Arrives at Cliff Edge. Doesn't Know How to Step Back.

Kudos to Chris Matthews. In a MSNBC "town hall" sit down with Donald Trump, Matthews forced Trump to get into his position on reproductive rights, specifically abortion and, best of all, he kept Trump on topic and just let him dig his own electoral grave.

Pick up the clip at the 9:45 mark.

Hillary wasted no time pouncing on Trump and she did a pretty good job of it. Some pundits say that Matthews has forever changed the way reporters will treat Trump from here on in. That ox is gored.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Aye, There's the Rub

The era of globalization has created a serious problem - control of strategic resources. Britain is now confronted with the issue due to the decision of a giant, Indian transnational, Tata, to shut down the UK's steel production industry.

...this week’s decision by Tata Steel to pull out of all its UK operations is simply the latest in a long series of blows that have reduced Britain’s steel industry from the world leader to the fifth largest producer within the European Union.

Tata’s decision is nevertheless a body blow to steel in the UK, with wide industrial and political implications. The threat to 4,000 jobs at the UK’s largest steelworks at Port Talbot, a community which is synonymous with the steel industry today in the way Jarrow was with the shipyards a century ago, is existential. But the closure of Tata’s plants, if it goes ahead, could threaten at least 40,000 jobs nationwide and help to make a mockery of the “active and sustained industrial strategy” which George Osborne advocated as recently as last November.

...Global market power in steel production has shifted decisively to China, while decades of underinvestment and a long-term decline in UK steel’s international competitiveness cannot simply be dismissed as unimportant, least of all at a time when public money remains tight. Tata, after all, is a company with a record of trying to take the long view. It invested in a new blast furnace at Port Talbot. But steel’s cost base, especially the prices it had to pay for energy, left it vulnerable to the glut that has followed the slowdown of the Chinese economy. China’s readiness to unload steel on global markets at marginal cost knocked the floor out of the industry elsewhere, including in the UK.

What do you do when a foreign company shuts down a strategic industry such as steel making. It's not just a matter of lost jobs and industrial activity. Some industries, once shuttered, can be difficult or even impossible to restart later. Yet such is the vulnerability often inherent in globalization. Some other country, not particularly like-minded, can gain control of your strategic resources

Bracing for Impact

"Return your seat tray and seat back to the upright position. Lean forward, hands over your head. Feet flat on the floor. Brace for impact." All good advice if you're in an airliner facing an unscheduled return to Earth.

But what about climate change? How do we brace for those impacts? Fortunately we're finally getting around to thinking about the threats and how to respond to them.

There are a number of issues that need advanced planning and preparation. The big one is the replacement or reinforcement of essential infrastructure to ensure it can withstand a more demanding climate with severe weather events of increasing duration, frequency and intensity. Roads, bridges, floodways, essential utilities, the lot.

Then there's the problem of sea level rise, especially when it comes to populated areas most vulnerable to inundation and severe storm damage. You've got to figure out what you can defend and what has to be surrendered to the sea. Some people are going to be displaced and it takes a lot of planning to handle their relocation.

We don't pay a lot of attention to the health and healthcare impacts of climate change and yet they're huge. Extreme weather is very hard on people, especially the young and the old. In Britain they're raising the issue and demanding action from the political caste.

As extreme weather events such as flooding or heatwaves become more common, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change urged ministers not to “wait for disaster” before acting.

The new alliance, made up of leading health bodies including royal colleges, medical faculties, medical publications and doctors’ organisations, called on the government to be “properly prepared”.

The group, launched on Wednesday, said the health service is ill-prepared for dealing with the effects of climate change such as the extreme weather seen this winter.

Where is Canada's national dialogue on climate change and health care? What are we doing to assess the threat and prepare to meet the near to mid-range needs of the Canadian people? This is not an area where you want to play catch-up. That costs lives.

Food security. In other countries they're addressing the problem at both domestic and international levels.  This is a vastly bigger problem than the political attention it gets which is little to nil. We have all but forgotten the December, 2014 report of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that warned most of the world's farmland will be severely degraded within just 60-years.

Generating three centimeters of top soil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue all of the world's top soil could be gone within 60 years, a senior UN official said on Friday.

About a third of the world's soil has already been degraded, Maria-Helena Semedo of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told a forum marking World Soil Day.

The causes of soil destruction include chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation which increases erosion, and global warming. The earth under our feet is too often ignored by policymakers, experts said.

 "Soils are the basis of life," said Semedo, FAO's deputy director general of natural resources. "Ninety five percent of our food comes from the soil."

Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960, the FAO reported, due to growing populations and soil degradation.

Canada is not immune to soil degradation although we are in a better position than most. Yet there's a lot we can do to rehabilitate our farmland and prepare it for a harsher climate with more floods and droughts but we have to be proactive and it will take time.

There are so many threats we have to deal with - severe weather events, floods and droughts, invasive species, biodiversity loss - on and on. The time to begin formulating our strategy is now. We don't have the luxury of time to waste.

Maybe Open Carry on the GOP Convention Floor Isn't Such a Bad Idea

Ted Cruz won't support a guy who insults his wife. The Great Orange Behemoth won't support a successful rival, not after the way he's been mauled by the Republican Party apparatus.

In other words the Republican convention might not be a winner-take-all affair but a loser-storms-out fiasco leaving the GOP having to scramble to reunite warring factions in the months leading to the election as the Democratic Party candidate dances on their graves.

Maybe the Cleveland convention floor should go for a Wild West theme and, in the middle, with clear sight lines from the bleachers, they could recreate the OK Corral. There, Trump's gunslingers could square off with Marshall Cruz and his posse and decide the issue in a manly, Republican way - six shooters at ten yards. That should decide the issue. And the Gun Nutz will absolutely love it.

A Final Word on Ghomeshi

Now that the feeding frenzy seems to have abated with the passing of another news cycle, a last word on Ghomeshi and a judicial system that works just fine.

It seems only fitting that the last word go to Cruella, Ghomeshi's defence counsel, Marie Henein. It's a helpful interview - calm, reasoned - qualities that have been in short supply in the incendiary aftermath of Ghomeshi's acquittal.

Henein also shares some insights about politicians exploiting the popular outrage, notably Tom Mulcair. Sorry folks but Tommy has been shamelessly fucking with you, Presumably the leadership review problem hanging over his head has him scrambling.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How to Piss Off a Despot

The Germans know a tyrant when they see one. Recep Erdogan, Turkey's strongman, got supremely pissed off at a satirical video mocking the Boss of the Bosporus aired by the German public broadcaster, NDR.

By summoning Germany’s ambassador, Erdogan has continued efforts to extend the reach of his crackdown on free speech beyond Turkey’s borders. This month, Der Spiegel, the magazine that broke the story of the diplomatic spat over the video, had to withdraw its Istanbul correspondent over concerns about the government’s treatment of the press.

He Never Ceases to Disappoint

Stephane Dion 2.0 seems to be a lot different from the Stephane Dion of the "Green Shift" days. He's back as foreign affairs minister to his boss, Justin Trudeau, but Dion comes across as though he's personalized his role as if he's the prime minister of foreign affairs.

Dion unveiled his new approach to foreign affairs dubbed "responsible conviction"  and then proceeded to both shirk responsibility and demonstrate the mercantile dimensions of his conviction by a sleazy defence of the Saudi arms deal. As far as Dion is concerned, money trumps both responsibility and conviction although he promises the government will do better in the future when flogging death machines to war criminals and state sponsors of terrorism. Good on you, Stephie!

L'il Steph has also interceded with the United Nations to somehow rescind the appointment of Western University law prof, Michael Lynk, as the UN's Special Rapporteur on human rights in Palestine.

The past one, Makaram Wibisono, an Indonesian former diplomat, quit earlier this year, saying he failed in his mandate because Israel declined to give him access to the Palestinian territories. His predecessor was Richard Falk, who was widely criticized for anti-Israel extremism.

Now, the office is beset with a curiously Canadian scandal, thanks to the swift condemnation of Michael Lynk, the new Canadian appointee, by Stéphane Dion, Canada’s Foreign Minister, arguably on spurious grounds.

Lynk, a professor of law at Western University in London, Ont., defended himself on Monday, saying he has been unfairly attacked with “snippets” of his writings and speeches taken deliberately out of context.

Dion made his call in a tweet on Friday.

The message follows criticism by Jewish groups and the opposition who accused Lynk of having a long-held and public bias against Israel.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs issued a statement Thursday condemning Lynk's appointment, and Conservative MP Tony Clement echoed the group's sentiments.

There you go, Stephie's responsible conviction in action. Dion emphasized that Lynk "does not represent the views of this government." Gee, Steph, thanks for clearing that up.

An Australian Asks "Are We Witnessing the Death of Neoliberalism?"

From the Australian Business Review.  ABR's Steve Keen writes that the "parallel universe of politics has changed immeasurably in the past two years."

Established parties that have dominated their country’s political agendas for decades have been defeated by newcomers that had existed for only a handful of years, and in some cases had not existed at all at the time of the previous election — think Syriza (formed in 2004) defeating PASOK/ND in Greece, and Podemos coming from nowhere in March 2014 to be the third largest party in Spain today.

Establishment candidates are faring badly, whether they are conservative or progressive — look at Hillary Clinton’s travails against the avowed “Democratic Socialist” Bernie Sanders, while Donald Trump lays waste to the Republican establishment. Another avowed socialist, Jeremy Corbyn, now leads a reluctant “Blairite” Labour Party in the UK. Canada deposed the Conservative Stephen Harper for the Liberal’s Justin Trudeau, even though the latter promised to run a budget deficit during the election campaign — and he delivered on his promise last week.

This is not going according to script. The rule for electoral success since the 1980s has been to promise to be, or to be believed to be, a “better economic manager” than your rivals. Now the people promising that — whether inside their parties (Clinton) or in electoral contests (Greece, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Ireland, Canada — the list is growing) either lose or get savaged in the polls, hanging on just by electoral momentum.

...My take is that there is indeed no script — or rather the only script that worked in the last 30 years, promising “good economic management” rather than ideology or passion — has been thrown out by the electorate. Anyone promising it receives the electoral kiss of death.

Why? Not because the public wants “bad economic management” — far from it. It’s because they no longer believe that the package of policies that came with that title — generally called Neoliberalism — actually delivers. If it did, why did an economic crisis occur in 2008? And why does it persist, in the form of outright depressions in much of Europe, and stagnant growth in the rest of the developed world?

Neoliberalism was always sold as a non-populist policy: rather like castor oil, it was supposed to taste bad, but prove ultimately to be good for you. Now, after 30 years of consumption, the public is saying that it tasted bad, and the outcome was bad too. If this is “good economic management”, they seem to be saying, then give me populism.

What John Ralston Saul has been arguing for a decade, that the age of neoliberalism, free market fundamentalism and globalization, has failed, is dead, and that we've entered a period of interregnum as we search for a new model of political economy does indeed seem to be reaching the electorate, generating discontent and a rejection of the old order. Economist James Galbraith also sees the death of the neoliberal foundation - perpetual exponential growth in GDP - in the rise of America's "bubble economy" from the Savings & Loan scandal, to the Dot.Com bubble, to Enron/WorldCom to the most recent and catastrophic housing bubble.

Hard as this might be for true believers to accept, there's a stirring among the public for redistributive solutions to reverse the wave of inequality that swept over society in the neoliberal era. There's just enough of that in Trump's windy talk to draw a good deal of support away from the establishment, neoliberal Republican apparatus.

Hold onto your hat. Change is coming but it won't arrive without a fight.

Hillary Has a Point

It could be Hillary Clinton's best ever one-liner, her advice to troubled Republicans:

"Once you make the extreme normal, you open the door to even worse." Well played, Hillary.

“Donald Trump didn’t come out of nowhere,” Clinton said in a speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “What Republicans have sown with their extremist tactics, they’re now reaping with Trump’s candidacy.”

The Seeds of Revolt

Has America become a giant criminal enterprise where the political and financial elite have launched a recurring Ponzi scheme that continues to impoverish the working blue and white collar classes?

James K. Galbraith, economist son of legendary Canadian-born economist, John Kenneth Galbraith explores the rise of a nation running on fraud in service to what he calls the "looter class" excerpted here from his book, "The End of Normal."

As the criminologist William K. Black has noted, it is logically impossible for the events leading to the great crisis [the global meltdown of 2008] not to have been based on fraud. The underlying activity was, after all, loans for housing. But by the mid-1990s, housing in the United States was a mature industry, having been backed and supported by government policy since the New Deal. Home ownership rates were already very high. There was no chance of rapid growth in the sector based on the standards for credit and underwriting previously considered acceptable. The only way for the sector to grow rapidly was to relax those standards. That necessarily meant seeking out borrowers who did not qualify previously, even while financial innovation made available the funds with which to make the loans. The market for good loans was saturated. But the market for bad loans (the market for loans that will not be repaid) is effectively infinite - by definition, it is limited only by financial imagination, and by the restrictions, or lack of them, imposed by law and supervision.

Black's 2005 study of the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and his concept of control fraud - fraud committed on organizations by those who control them - is a key reference in building the problem of crime into the study of organizations. The theory of control fraud holds that organizations are most vulnerable to being taken down from the top, through devices that transfer funds to the persons who are in control. This can be done in many ways, from the simple device of overpaying top executives to more occult mechanisms that can handle larger sums. Left unchecked, control fraud grows to the point where the self-dealing exceeds the amount that the corporation can extract from its environment. At this point, the organization is no longer a going concern; it exists thanks only to false accounting and is doomed to collapse when this is exposed. This is a critical conclusion of Black's analysis; control frauds always fail in the end.

...In financial firms, the temptation to loot must be ever present. The firm itself consists of nothing more than the manipulation of money and the exploitation of trust. Financial fraud consists of knowingly making contracts that cannot be honored [credit default swaps?], and representing them either as the legitimate securities of a going concern or as speculations based on reasonable risks and undertaken honestly. ...It's all about money. Controls and checks and balances are essential. Weakening or corrupting controls, both internally and by external regulation and supervision, leads toward disaster.

...When should one close a bank and indict the bankers? Is it sometimes better to turn a blind eye, to enjoy the added activity and to hope that the problem of fraud not yet detected is not too bad?

These issues surface repeatedly in the emerging history of the [2008] crisis..  ..there was full recognition within government of pervasive financial fraud and an intense struggle over what to do about it. The struggle was won by the do-nothing faction, headed by the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Department of Justice, and lost by the leadership of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program [TARP].

...It is worth remembering that the resolution of the savings and loan scandal saw more than a thousand industry insiders indicted, prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned. So far the workout of the [2008] Great Crisis, the comparable number of senior bankers most responsible indicted is: zero.

Given the facts of the case, this raises yet another question of responsibility. To what extent did the government deliberately foster the frauds that destroyed the financial system? And if it did so, why did it do so at this particular time? Did economic conditions make tolerance for fraud a more attractive strategy in the 2000s than it was, say, in the late 1980s when the savings and loans were cleaned up? Is the government itself subject to a Minsky-Black dynamic, under which successful regulation leads to deregulation, and deregulation leads to disaster?

My argument is that fraud took over the financial system because it was expedient to allow it. And it became expedient because the relatively new stresses on the system - on a system that had, up until the 1970s, provided the foundation for sustained and stable economic growth.

When resources to fuel economic growth are abundant, fraudulent activities are not generally tolerated. There are opportunities for "honest profit" and those pursuing such profits work to control the system, which means they favor enforcement of laws against cheats and chiselers. However, when resources become scarce or expensive, opportunities for large profits for honest business are few. If the expected rate of profit - the rate that financial markets insist on as a condition for providing loans - nevertheless remains high, then fraud becomes a main channel to profitability, and fraudulent activities become part of standard practice. Fraud is a response, in short, to the failure of lenders to adjust to a decline in real possibilities. This was the pattern in the information technology [""] boom, where ultimately the scarce resource was a "viable business plan."

...In short, the United States, and the world over which it effectively ruled, enjoyed a quarter century of postwar expansion because of stable governing institutions, cheap resources, the military security provided by nuclear stalemate in the Cold War, and high confidence in future prospects, bolstered - in a minor way, but nevertheless - by the academic construct of the theory of economic growth. ...While the good times lasted, honest business could make decent profits, and there was, from every political economy standpoint, a powerful politics behind strong regulation and strict standards. Fraud was present in the era of the great corporation in the 1950s and 1960s, but it could not become dominant because the larger polity saw no interest in tolerating it.

Beginning in the 1970s, the conditions for sustained profitability eroded. Rising import and resource costs were emerging difficulties, even as the success of the previous years had made sustained and even increasing profitability a mental habit and a benchmark for business success. There was an inherent conflict between what was objectively possible and what was conventionally expected. Something would have to give. It would not be the expectation.

In the 1980s, resource costs were again beaten down and confidence was restored, but this time at a fearful price in the rest of the world. The global rise in inequality seen during that decade is proof that growth could no longer be shared. And the enduring governance innovation of the 1980s was deregulation: a device openly intended to reduce "burdens on business" and raise its capacity to earn profits at the expense of workers, customers, taxpayers, and honest competition. In the financial sector, specifically in the savings and loan industry, it became clear quite quickly what this meant in practice. The withdrawal of supervision opened the door to industry-wrecking financial frauds, which were ultimately recognized and beaten back, but only at great cost. 

So [following the bubble of the 1990s] we moved to the 2000s, with rising resource costs once again, the depressing aftermath of the information technology bust, and (as the decade progressed) the realization that military superiority no longer brought enduring economic benefits. And yet the expectation of steady growth and high profitability still remained, powerfully embedded in the national psyche. No president could afford simply to walk away from that responsibility - and especially not one with as little political legitimacy as George w. Bush. In this environment, financial fraud was not merely an incidental feature. It was the solution to a political problem.

Whether President Bush and his associates understood this is a question for historians to investigate, if they can.  ...George w. Bush's problem was that he was out of good options and had to fall back on a set of rogue institutions, from the mortgage originators to the commercial and investment banks - exploiting the world's belief that the American household sector was a sound borrower, when, in fact the recipients of the new lending at the margins were not sound at all. Exactly as in Russia in the late phase of the Soviet Union and thereafter, the response to those in charge of the strategic enterprises (in our case, banks) to the opportunity they had was to loot them for all they were worth. and so the economy stumbled forward until it could no longer do so, and then all hell broke loose.

The implication is that the collapse is definitive. That it was not followed by a normal business cycle upturn on the model of postwar normality should not come as a surprise. We are at the end of the postwar period and those models no longer apply. Moreover, it cannot be cured by the application of Keynesian stimulus, along the lines urged by many of my fellow-Keynesian friends. The institutional, infrastructure, resource basis, and psychological foundation for a Keynesian revival no longer exist. The car does not have magneto trouble. Due in part to the regulatory neglect - the failure to put water in the radiator and oil in the crankcase - it has suffered a transmission failure. A meltdown.

More gas in the engine will not make it go.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Hedges and The Rings of Sorrow

It's one of the most amazing things to see in nature. Two bald eagles lock talons and then spiral to Earth in free fall, releasing each other to fly away when just feet from the ground.  Those eagles are a metaphor for how Chris Hedges sees our struggle with ISIS.

“From violence only violence is born,” Primo Levi wrote, “following a pendular action that, as time goes by, rather than dying down, becomes more frenzied.”

The tit-for-tat game of killing will not end until exhaustion, until the culture of death breaks us emotionally and physically. We use our drones, warplanes, missiles and artillery to rip apart walls and ceilings, blow out windows and kill or wound those inside. Our enemies pack peroxide-based explosives in suitcases or suicide vests and walk into airport terminals, concert halls, cafes or subways and blow us up, often along with themselves. If they had our technology of death they would do it more efficiently. But they do not. Their tactics are cruder, but morally they are the same as us. T.E. Lawrence called this cycle of violence “the rings of sorrow.”

...Flags, patriotic songs, a deification of the warrior and sentimental drivel drown out reality. We communicate in empty clichés and mindless, patriotic absurdities. Mass culture is used to reinforce the lie that we are the true victims. It re-creates the past to conform to the national heroic myth. We alone are said to possess virtue and courage. We alone have the right to revenge. We are hypnotized into a communal somnolence, a state-induced blindness.

Those we fight, lacking our industrial machines of death, kill up close. But killing remotely does not make us less morally deformed.

...The merchants of death, the arms manufacturers, are among the few who profit. Most of the rest of us are caught in a cycle of violence that will not cease until we end the U.S. occupation of the Middle East, until we learn to speak in a language other than the primitive howl of war, death and annihilation. We will recover a humane language when we have had enough, when there are too many of our own dead for us to sustain the game. The victims will continue to be mostly innocents, trapped between killers that come from the same womb.

Running on Empty in the Ganges Basin

Most Canadians live either on or in close proximity to water be it a lake, a river, or an ocean. The availability of water charted the course of our settlement. The St. Lawrence and Great Lakes opened up the eastern half of North America. Canada has 44 rivers more than 400 miles in length and many of them enabled us to open and settle the western half of the country.

Water is life. I live in one of the wettest parts of Canada. Newcomers often find the rain too much to handle but I just think of it as life. Those magnificent, giant trees - water. The snow capped mountains - water. The salmon that spawn in our cold, fast-flowing mountain-fed streams - water.

Most Canadians have little experience of deserts. No, LasVegas doesn't count, that's a man-made oasis. Canada has just one desert, the Okanagan desert of southeastern British Columbia. America has two - the Mojave and the Sonoran desert that extends from the US into Mexico (or from Mexico up into the US).

Before my first motorcycle trip through the Mojave a friend told me that, after the first ten minutes of driving through a desert you've seen it all. Aside from places with the great movie-set geological formations, Joshua Tree national park, that's pretty much right. There's the near constant reek of piss. Truckers carry bottled water to rehydrate and repurpose that bottle to relieve themselves, the end product getting chucked out the window. It's not hard to spot their handiwork, at least the bottles that somehow didn't break. But I digress.

There's a stark beauty to deserts that brings home the fact that everything there - everything - is in a constant struggle to survive. Unfortunately ever increasing numbers of humans will soon be facing that same struggle to survive in a water stressed world.

Just a week ago was World Water Day, the day when we get reminded that 800-million of us have no access to clean water and another 2.5-billion lack sufficient water for sanitation. Two of the most water stressed, water vulnerable countries are the two most populous - China and India. The BBC reports that conditions are becoming dire in parts of India.

On 11 March, panic struck engineers at a giant power station on the banks of the Ganges river in West Bengal state.

Readings showed that the water level in the canal connecting the river to the plant was going down rapidly. Water is used to produce steam to run the turbines and for cooling vital equipment of coal-fired power stations.

By next day, authorities were forced to suspend generation at the 2,300-megawatt plant in Farakka town causing shortages in India's power grid. Next, the vast township on the river, where more than 1,000 families of plant workers live, ran out of water. Thousands of bottles of packaged drinking water were distributed to residents, and fire engines rushed to the river to extract water for cooking and cleaning.

..the evidence about the declining water levels and waning health of the 2,500km (1,553 miles)-long Ganges, which supports a quarter of India's 1.3 billion people, is mounting.

Part of a river's water level is determined by the groundwater reserves in the area drained by it and the duration and intensity of monsoon rains. Water tables have been declining in the Ganges basin due to the reckless extraction of groundwater. Much of the groundwater is, anyway, already contaminated with arsenic and fluoride. A controversial UN climate report said the Himalayan glaciers could melt to a fifth of the current levels by 2035.

Emmanuel Theophilus and his son, Theo, kayaked on the Ganges during their 87-day, 2,500km journey of India's rivers last year. They asked fishermen and people living on the river what had changed most about it.

"All of them said there had been a reduction in water levels over the years. Also when we were sailing on the Ganges, we did not find a single turtle. The river was so dirty that it stank. There were effluents, sewage and dead bodies floating," says Mr Theophilus.

"We would dive into the canal earlier for a swim," says a villager. Not far away, near the shores of the Ganges, fisherman Balai Haldar looks at his meagre catch of prawns and bemoans the lack of water.

"The river has very little water these days. It is also running out of fish. Tube wells in our village have run out of water," he says. "There's too much of uncertainty. People in our villages have moved to the cities to look for work."

It is a concern you hear a lot on the river these days. At the power plant, Milan Kumar says he is "afraid that this can happen again".

"The unthinkable is happening."

Sadly, the unthinkable is happening and not just in India.

What Will They Find When They Open the Bloated Corpse of the Grand Old Party

The GOP, the party of Abraham Lincoln, lies on its deathbed afflicted with a dangerous case of the Creeping Damp, also known as rectovesical trumposis. The prognosis does not look good and the attending physicians say the patient may expire by November and it's time to consider palliative options.

It's the sort of case in which the next of kin will definitely want an autopsy to find out just what went wrong. The New York Times could spare them the wait:

In dozens of interviews, Republican lawmakers, donors, activists and others described — some with resignation, some with anger — a party that paved the way for a Trump-like figure to steal its base, as it lost touch with less affluent voters and misunderstood their growing anguish.

“This is absolutely a crisis for the party elite — and beyond the party elite, for elected officials, and for the way people have been raised as Republicans in the power structure for a generation,” said Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary for President George W. Bush. “If Donald Trump wins, he will change what it means to be a Republican.”

Many trace the rupture to the country’s economic crisis eight years ago: While Americans grew more skeptical of the banking industry in the aftermath, some Republicans played down the frustrations of their own voters.

While wages declined and workers grew anxious about retirement, Republicans offered an economic program still centered on tax cuts for the affluent and the curtailing of popular entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. And where working-class voters saw immigrants filling their schools and competing against them for jobs, Republican leaders saw an emerging pool of voters to court.

“They have to come to terms with what they created,” said Laura Ingraham, a conservative activist and talk-radio host. “They’ll talk about everything except the fact that their policies are unpopular.”

The distance was magnified by the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which gave wealthy donors rising weight in Republican circles, even amid signs that the party’s downscale voters were demanding more of a voice.

...Some conservative intellectuals warned that the party was headed for trouble. Republicans had become too identified with big business and the wealthy — their donor class. They urged Republican lawmakers to embrace policies that could have a more direct impact on pay and economic prospects for these voters: wage subsidies, relocation aid to the long-term unemployed, even targeted infrastructure spending. But much of the party’s agenda remained frozen.

“They figured, ‘These are conservative voters, anti-Obama voters. We’ll give them the same policies we’ve always given them,’” said James Pethokoukis, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “High-earner tax cuts, which people are skeptical of; business tax cuts, even though these businesses seem to be doing great. It didn’t resonate with the problems in their lives.”

...During a recent interview with CNBC, [Republican House leader, Paul] Ryan was asked if Republicans needed to respond to less-affluent voters who believed that Republicans were tending only to the interests of those at the top.

Mr. Ryan, who during the same interview called again for the overhaul of entitlements and the reduction of debt, rejected that idea.

“People don’t think like that,” he said. “People want to know the deck is fair. Bernie Sanders talks about that stuff. That’s not who we are.”

In other words, the Republican establishment, the GOP elite, are doubling down. They're in the pockets of people named Charlie and David and Sheldon, munching on the free snacks from APEC. They know there's a bad rumbling in the lower G.I. tract but they're gambling it'll pass. November nears.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

What Then Would You Have Us Do?

I've read a lot of backlash commentary today on the Ghomeshi acquittals. There's a lot of outrage over the judge's refusal to convict the now reviled deviant. Some blame the justice system, others resort to ad hominem attacks on the judge, others fault Ghomeshi's defence counsel. Almost none of them fault the victims.

None of these denunciators offer the one thing that we need, how we should change the system to achieve a more preferable result. There are changes we could make that might have sent Jian to a lengthy stay in the Greybar Hotel. Here are a few:

In sexual assault cases we could abolish the presumption of innocence. We could go for the "guilty until proven innocent" approach. What could possibly go wrong with that?

In these cases we could dispense with the proof beyond a reasonable doubt as the threshold for conviction. How about "maybe" or "I guess so" or something along those lines. Something a bit vague, nebulous.

And what's with this business about having to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Why not something more like "the truth or as much - or little -  of it as you would like to tell us"?

I know. I've got it. How about we just ditch the presumption of innocence, the reasonable doubt business and that nonsense about the whole truth and nothing but. There is an alternative, time honoured at that -  judicium Dei or Trial by Ordeal, King Athelstan's favourite.

Here's how it works. You get a big brass cauldron full of boiling oil and you drop an iron bar into it. The accused has to plunge his hand and arm in, grab the bar and fetch it out. If he manages to get it out but his skin blisters he's damn well guilty and it's off with his arm or head, entrails maybe.

But, of course, I'm being facetious. Yet the Ghomeshi case reminds us of the old truism that "hard cases make bad law." Ghomeshi got away with it, this time. That's law, it happens sometimes. Blame who you like, doesn't matter to me. I know who the Crown will be blaming and, frankly, me too. That said it's one case and it does not justify fanciful alterations of the judicial system. Let it go.

The Best Critical Analysis of Stealth Warplanes You May Ever Read ...or Need

"It is notable that none of the characteristics for which the stealthy aircraft have been optimized has been useful in combat for the past seventeen years. In the meantime, we have been technologically outmaneuvered by both Chinese and Russian air defense designers, as we double down on a technology that gave us a decisive advantage a quarter century ago. We are building the combat air force for the wrong attributes, and we are unlikely to reconsider this path as long as the Air Force remains stuck in denial."

Colonel Mike "Starbaby" Pietrucha, with 156 combat missions logged, knows a thing or two about warplanes.

When it comes to stealth warplanes he's ready enough to recognize their advantages. He also has a keen sense of the limits to those advantages and the many disadvantages, the minuses that outweigh the plusses. It's a fine essay that deserves to be read in its entirety.

Calling a Spade a Shovel

Now this is a breath of fresh air. An essay at the Brookings web site hits the nail on the head. It doesn't obscure the problem as Islamist radicalism. No, it uses a more focused term - "Sunni militancy."

It's a distinction we usually choose to ignore. The embassy bombings - Sunni militancy. The attack on the USS Cole - Sunni militancy. The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon - Sunni militancy. The bombings - Madrid, London, Paris, Brussels - you guessed it, all Sunni militancy. Cologne - Sunni. The destruction of Yemen - Sunni.  al Qaeda - Sunni. al Nusra - Sunni. ISIS - Sunni. Islamic Jihad and Boko Haram - Sunni.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Egypt, Libya - all Sunni. Radical Islam - Wahhabism, Salafism, Sufi - all Sunni.

And we single out Shiite Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.

And who are we arming to the teeth just as fast as they can turn their oil into greenbacks? The Sunnis. You can't blame them for thinking we're the dumbest assholes on the planet.

As President, Trump's Real Damage Would Begin at America's Borders

Within the territorial boundaries of the United States, Donald Trump would squirm in a legislative and judicial straightjacket. He could not defy the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, he could not spend money Congress didn't authorize. If he broke the law he could be impeached.

At America's borders and beyond, however, it's a radically different story, according to the Brookings Institute's Thomas Wright:

The president enjoys his or her greatest power in foreign policy. His power to use force is well known. As important, though, is what he can choose not to do. He can unilaterally refuse to defend an ally. He can choose to strike a bargain with Russia instead of deterring it. He can pull out of a trade deal. There are fewer checks and balances. Damage done in one year may never be undone.

A Trump administration would pose the greatest shock to international peace and stability since the 1930s. This is not because Mr. Trump would invade other countries but because he would unilaterally liquidate the liberal international order that presidents have built and defended since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. If the word “isolationist” has any meaning, he qualifies as one.

Mr. Trump has a coherent and consistent worldview that dates back almost 30 years when he spent $95,000 on a full-page advertisement in the New York Times to publish an open letter to the American people on U.S. foreign policy. It was this worldview that he described to the Washington Post editorial board on Monday. It appears in virtually every interview and speech he has given about world affairs since the 1980s.

Simply put, Mr. Trump thinks America’s allies and partners are ripping it off and he wants out of America’s leadership role in the international order. Over and over again, Mr. Trump has questioned why the Unites States. defends Japan, South Korea, Germany and other nations without being paid for it. Just this week, he promised to significantly diminish U.S. involvement in NATO and when asked if America “gained anything” from having bases in east Asia he replied “personally I don’t think so”. This is not about a more equitable share of the burden, which many have called for. Mr. Trump believes that the U.S. gains little from having allies unless it is paid handsomely paid by them.

He also opposes every trade deal America has signed over the past 30 years. He wants to use tariffs and other protectionist measures to bludgeon other countries into accepting lopsided agreements that disproportionately benefit the United States. He has suggested charging other countries for use of the sea lanes. Under his presidency, the open global economy would slam shut.

As he shuns America’s allies, Mr. Trump would seek to strike deals with Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, and other authoritarian strong men. Mr. Trump has received Mr. Putin’s endorsement and has called for much better relations with Russia.

Meanwhile, to deal with threats to the American homeland, Mr. Trump has promised his own Chechnya-style scorched-earth policy of targeting civilians and using torture.

Some think that Mr. Trump will moderate these positions if he is elected, but it is unlikely that a 70-year old who has held these views for decades and probably views himself as a prophet will abandon them at exactly the moment he feels vindicated and empowered.

A megalomaniac with the world's largest military and a huge nuclear arsenal. What could possibly go wrong? Suffice to say Trump even has the august Brookings Institute worried, very worried.

Teach Your Children Well

Every parent should teach their teenage children a few steps to take if and when they experience an abusive incident.

It should go without saying that the first priority is to get out of the situation.

The next step, one that's routinely overlooked, is for that person to just sit down with pen and paper and put the entire sequence of events in writing, dated and signed. The nature of the abuse - time, place, who was present, what actually transpired etc. in detail - and any events that immediately preceded the incident. There's no need to record emotions. The individual could be too traumatized or confused to make sense of them in the immediate aftermath. That can be left for a day or two.

Eventually more details of the events of days and weeks leading up to the abusive incident can be added along with a better expression of the emotional toll - fear, love, hate, self-doubt, everything.

I question whether if Ghomeshi's victim had picked up her note the following morning and read "then he punched me in the head three times" she would have remained under any delusion that this was some expression of affection. "He punched me in the head three times" brings a certain clarity to the incident.

Whether the victim has been punched, raped, or defrauded - a contemporaneous written statement is invaluable both for the victim to understand what actually happened and for those who later help.

Teach your children.

Rethinking Natural Gas - the Wrong Fuel at the Worst Possible Time

Many people have bought the company line that natural gas is far less damaging environmentally than the alternatives, especially coal. The truth is it's about as bad, maybe worse - a lot worse.’s the unhappy fact about methane: Though it produces only half as much carbon as coal when you burn it, if you don’t—if it escapes into the air before it can be captured in a pipeline, or anywhere else along its route to a power plant or your stove—then it traps heat in the atmosphere much more efficiently than CO2. Howarth and Ingraffea began producing a series of papers claiming that if even a small percentage of the methane leaked—maybe as little as 3 percent—then fracked gas would do more climate damage than coal. And their preliminary data showed that leak rates could be at least that high: that somewhere between 3.6 and 7.9 percent of methane gas from shale-drilling operations actually escapes into the atmosphere.

To say that no one in power wanted to hear this would be an understatement. The two scientists were roundly attacked by the industry; one trade group called their study the “Ivory Tower’s latest fact-free assault on shale gas exploration.” Most of the energy establishment joined in. An MIT team, for instance, had just finished an industry-funded report that found “the environmental impacts of shale development are challenging but manageable”; one of its lead authors, the ur-establishment energy expert Henry Jacoby, described the Cornell research as “very weak.” One of its other authors, Ernest Moniz, would soon become the US secretary of energy; in his nomination hearings in 2013, he lauded the “stunning increase” in natural gas as a “revolution” and pledged to increase its use domestically.

...That’s why last month’s Harvard study came as such a shock. It used satellite data from across the country over a span of more than a decade to demonstrate that US methane emissions had spiked 30 percent since 2002. The EPA had been insisting throughout that period that methane emissions were actually falling, but it was clearly wrong—on a massive scale. In fact, emissions “are substantially higher than we’ve understood,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy admitted in early March. The Harvard study wasn’t designed to show why US methane emissions were growing—in other parts of the world, as new research makes clear, cattle and wetlands seem to be causing emissions to accelerate. But the spike that the satellites recorded coincided almost perfectly with the era when fracking went big-time.

To make matters worse, during the same decade, experts had become steadily more worried about the effects of methane in any quantity on the atmosphere. Everyone agrees that, molecule for molecule, methane traps far more heat than CO2—but exactly how much wasn’t clear. One reason the EPA estimates of America’s greenhouse-gas emissions showed such improvement was because the agency, following standard procedures, was assigning a low value to methane and measuring its impact over a 100-year period. But a methane molecule lasts only a couple of decades in the air, compared with centuries for CO2. That’s good news, in that methane’s effects are transient—and very bad news because that transient but intense effect happens right now, when we’re breaking the back of the planet’s climate. The EPA’s old chemistry and 100-year time frame assigned methane a heating value of 28 to 36 times that of carbon dioxide; a more accurate figure, says Howarth, is between 86 and 105 times the potency of CO2 over the next decade or two.

If you combine Howarth’s estimates of leakage rates and the new standard values for the heat-trapping potential of methane, then the picture of America’s total greenhouse-gas emissions over the last 15 years looks very different: Instead of peaking in 2007 and then trending downward, as the EPA has maintained, our combined emissions of methane and carbon dioxide have gone steadily and sharply up during the Obama years, Howarth says. We closed coal plants and opened methane leaks, and the result is that things have gotten worse.

...Catastrophic blowouts like the recent one at Porter Ranch in California pour a lot of methane into the air, but even these accidents are small compared to the total seeping out from the millions of pipes, welds, joints, and valves across the country—especially the ones connected with fracking operations, which involve exploding rock to make large, leaky pores. A Canadian government team examined the whole process a couple of years ago and came up with despairing conclusions. Consider the cement seals around drill pipes, says Harvard’s Naomi Oreskes, who was a member of the team: “It sounds like it ought to be simple to make a cement seal, but the phrase we finally fixed on is ‘an unresolved engineering challenge.’ The technical problem is that when you pour cement into a well and it solidifies, it shrinks. You can get gaps in the cement. All wells leak.

...One of the nastiest side effects of the fracking boom, in fact, is that the expansion of natural gas has undercut the market for renewables, keeping us from putting up windmills and solar panels at the necessary pace. Joe Romm, a climate analyst at the Center for American Progress, has been tracking the various economic studies more closely than anyone else. Even if you could cut the methane-leakage rates to zero, Romm says, fracked gas (which, remember, still produces 50 percent of the CO2 level emitted by coal when you burn it) would do little to cut the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions because it would displace so much truly clean power.

Hillary, the gas pusher extraordinaire.

There was one oddly reassuring number in the Harvard satellite data: The massive new surge of methane from the United States constituted somewhere between 30 and 60 percent of the global growth in methane emissions this past decade. In other words, the relatively small percentage of the planet’s surface known as the United States accounts for much (if not most) of the spike in atmospheric methane around the world. Another way of saying this is: We were the first to figure out how to frack. In this new century, we’re leading the world into the natural-gas age, just as we poured far more carbon into the 20th-century atmosphere than any other nation. So, thank God, now that we know there’s a problem, we could warn the rest of the planet before it goes down the same path.

Except we’ve been doing exactly the opposite. We’ve become the planet’s salesman for natural gas—and a key player in this scheme could become the next president of the United States. When Hillary Clinton took over the State Department, she set up a special arm, the Bureau of Energy Resources, after close consultation with oil and gas executives. This bureau, with 63 employees, was soon helping sponsor conferences around the world. And much more: Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that the secretary of state was essentially acting as a broker for the shale-gas industry, twisting the arms of world leaders to make sure US firms got to frack at will.

There are a few promising signs. Clinton has at least tempered her enthusiasm for fracking some in recent debates, listing a series of preconditions she’d insist on before new projects were approved; Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has called for a moratorium on new fracking. But Clinton continues to conflate and confuse the chemistry: Natural gas, she said in a recent position paper, has helped US carbon emissions “reach their lowest level in 20 years.” It appears that many in power would like to carry on the fracking revolution, albeit a tad more carefully.

Oopsie - That's a Cloud of Freedom

It's Easter. Happy Easter.

Happy Easter, you Pagan bastards.

Sure, Why Not?

A group is petitioning for permission to exercise their God-given, Second Amendment rights at the Republican Party convention.

Americans for Responsible Open Carry launched the petition which had gathered 12,000 signatures yesterday. I'll betcha it's a lot longer today.

According to the GOP’s policy on their website, “firearms and other weapons of any kind are strictly forbidden on the premises of Quicken Loans Arena,” where the convention will be held.

The petition claims that “Cleveland, Ohio is consistently ranked as one of the top ten most dangerous cities in America.”

But, “This doesn’t even begin to factor in the possibility of an ISIS terrorist attack on the arena during the convention. Without the right to protect themselves, those at the Quicken Loans Arena will be sitting ducks, utterly helpless against evil-doers, criminals or others who wish to threaten the American way of life.”

The petition also notes, “All three remaining Republican candidates have spoken out on the issue and are unified in their opposition to Barack HUSSEIN Obama’s ‘gun-free zones.'”

It seems reasonably likely that this year’s convention, from July 18-21, will be a brokered one as the Republican party has schemed ways to prevent the current front-runner, Donald Trump, from securing the party’s nomination.

This has prompted Trump to say that there could be resulting violence if he is in fact denied the nomination.

What better way to select a redneck party's presidential nominee than a mass shootout on the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena.

I heard one Republican, possibly Lindsey Graham, suggest the ballot should incorporate a "none of the above" option that, if it got the most support, would trigger a fresh nomination campaign.

If You Can't Accept the Ghomeshi Trial Verdict, the Problem is Yours

This item from CBC News says it all.

Relax. Ghomeshi is still a perv. His celebrity lies at his feet in ashes. His acquittal, however, lies at the feet of the complainants. I know many don't want to hear that. Tough.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Will the Left Coast be Bernie's Salvation?

For those who assume Hillary Clinton has the Democratic nomination cinched, don't count your eggs...  The West Coast could be Hillary's Waterloo.

Bernie Sanders’ momentum appears to be growing as he heads into West Coast contests Saturday, including the largest state to hold a Democratic Party caucus—Washington.

Sanders is drawing huge crowds, speaking to 7,000 people on Thursday in Washington in the SunDome arena on the Yakama Nation’s treaty territory. “Native Americans have been lied to. They’ve been cheated,” he said. “If elected president, there will be a new relationship with the Native American community.”

Sanders was also slightly ahead of Hillary Clinton in a new national poll from Bloomberg Politics, which found he was the first choice of 49 percent of people who already voted or planned to participate in this year’s Democratic nominating contests. He also held larger leads than Clinton against all remaining GOP contenders in hypothetical fall match-ups.

Sanders is drawing huge crowds, speaking to 7,000 people on Thursday in Washington in the SunDome arena on the Yakama Nation’s treaty territory. “Native Americans have been lied to. They’ve been cheated,” he said. “If elected president, there will be a new relationship with the Native American community.”

Sanders was also slightly ahead of Hillary Clinton in a new national poll from Bloomberg Politics, which found he was the first choice of 49 percent of people who already voted or planned to participate in this year’s Democratic nominating contests. He also held larger leads than Clinton against all remaining GOP contenders in hypothetical fall match-ups.

But the more concrete signs of Sanders’ steady monentum come from developments this week, where Sanders won more delegates than Clinton in Tuesday’s contests in Arizona, Utah and Idaho. An analysis by MSNBC found that “he ended up taking away a tidy 57 percent of the pledged delegates up for grabs that day. And as it happens, 58 percent is the percentage of outstanding pledged delegates Sanders needs to win from now on in order to finish the primary calendar with more pledged delegates than Hillary Clinton.”

Will he do it, pull off the upset? Hard to say. Could he do it? Absolutely.

Rockefeller Ditches/Slams Exxon -

A body blow for Big Fossil. A one-two combination has Exxon reeling. The first was a punch to the gut from the Rockefellers. Then came the uppercut to the chin from the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

...the Rockefeller Family Fund announced it would divest from the oil giant, saying it would “eliminate holdings" of Exxon Mobil Corporation (XOM.N) “effective immediately,” asserting that the company associated with the family fortune has misled the public about the risks of climate change.

Because of the long-established threat posed to the planetary ecosystem by fossil fuel extraction and use, the fund said “there is no sane rationale for companies to continue to explore for new sources of hydrocarbons.”

In a letter posted on its website, the fund slammed Exxon's conduct as "morally reprehensible." They write:
"Evidence appears to suggest that the company worked since the 1980s to confuse the public about climate change’s march, while simultaneously spending millions to fortify its own infrastructure against climate change’s destructive consequences and track new exploration opportunities as the Arctic’s ice receded."

Exxon tried to frame the fund’s move as unsurprising. In a statement, Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said, "The Rockefeller Family Fund provided financial support to InsideClimate News and Columbia University Journalism School which produced inaccurate and deliberately misleading stories about ExxonMobil's history of climate research.”

But Stacy Feldman, executive editor of InsideClimate News, stands by those stories. "Exxon has never specified what is inaccurate or misleading in the series, nor has it requested any corrections," she said in a statement. "But our investigation of Exxon's climate duplicity has won five national journalism awards."

The day would only get worse for the multinational energy firm, as the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered a vote on a shareholder resolution that would require the firm to disclose how climate change—or regulations meant to combat it—would impact the stability of the company’s finances. 
The SEC’s move comes just weeks after an investigation by the Government Accountability Project, which revealed that, for years, Exxon had lied to the SEC in its 10-K filings.

Exxon has done a masterful job of hedging its bets, both by omission and commission: omitting mere mention for many years, and then grossly understating, the vast array of direct and indirect risks it faces as a result of climate change,” said Climate Science & Policy Watch, a GAP program that promotes governmental integrity in the use of climate science. “Even worse, Exxon has overtly and flagrantly overstated possible financial and economic risks associated with regulating carbon and other GHGs, both here in the U.S. and in nations around the world."

Let Exxon be the steer leading the Big Fossil herd to the regulatory and investment abattoir floor. Take the big ones down first and the rest will follow.

I Just Hope He's Wrong

It's hard not to respect James Hansen, the man often called "the grandfather of climate science." The retired former director of the NASA Goddard space science laboratory created a stir back in 1988 when he told a Senate hearing that the greenhouse gas effect was changing our climate.

Hansen left NASA to commit his time and effort to the fight against anthropogenic global warming. He's done a lot since then including getting himself arrested twice.

Now Hansen and 18-other prominent climate science types have published a new paper that warns we have dangerously underestimated sea level rise over the course of this century. We've been talking about one metre of sea level rise by 2100. Hansen & Co. warn that could be many metres, not one, enough to drown many coastal cities and trigger a mass retreat from the sea. They also foresee more, massively more powerful storms.

It Had to Come to This

One thing the free traders never raised with us was the day when other countries would try to lock up our farmland. It's called "food security" and, while you haven't given it much thought, it's been weighing heavily on their minds.

We haven't paid much attention to it because so far it's been going on mainly in the Third World. Foreign companies show up, get their hooks into the best farmland available, and begin exporting agricultural production to their home markets.

The countries that were the easiest pickings were those that never had any proper land titles system. A farmer might have worked land that had supported his ancestors for generations but, without some registered title, he was little more than a squatter easily tossed off his ancestral lands by often corrupt government officials who sold him out. Wait a sec, that sounds like the Highland Clearances.

What makes this especially egregious is that these land dispossessions are often happening in poor countries that already have a food insecurity problem. These include nations that endure periodic famine to which the world community responds with food relief.

It's not just the handiwork of China. It's all sorts of countries that are cash rich but land/food poor. The Middle East for example. Britain grows a lot of its off-season delicacies in food insecure Kenya.

But now, predictably, they're coming for us. They're using a more sophisticated approach, one that's far more subtle. Instead of buying the land directly, openly, alarmingly, they simply take over the Agri-business giant that already owns the land*. It's not all that much different than how they got us to offshore our industrial base only the factory stays here.

Fortunately, while the Canadian government snoozes in its free-trade blanket, the Americans are sitting up and taking notice, sort of.

In November 2015, China National Chemical Corp (ChemChina) entered talks to buy the Swiss-based Syngenta for $41.7 billion. Subsequently, ChemChina increased its offer to more than $43 billion. This is the largest overseas acquisition by a Chinese company to date.

In February 2016, Syngenta agreed to the offer from ChemChina. The deal still needs the support of Syngenta’s shareholders and regulatory approval, especially from the U.S. government, given Syngenta’s large presence in the U.S. market. 

While there are already security concerns in the U.S., particularly among agricultural officials, about the deal, it is quite unlikely that the U.S. will block the deal. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has never before blocked a deal on food security grounds. For instance, CFIUS approved Shuanghui’s takeover of Smithfield Foods, despite concerns in the U.S about the implications for America’s food safety and security.

The Sygenta case is about China gaining access to the latest GMO technology, ostensibly to overcome some of its agricultural problems at home. But China has other plans.

* Recently a Chinese firm tried to buy up a large tract of ranchland in Argentina. The government responded with restrictions prohibiting foreign ownership of Argentinean agricultural land. China then responded by simply acquiring a controlling majority of the shares in a major Argentinian cattle company. Problem solved - for now.

It's time that Canada woke up and looked ahead to what our world could be like in 2050 and beyond. We need to treat our resources - our water, farmland, agricultural production - as strategic assets to be protected against the worst impacts of globalization. The time to get that underway is now.

Could this be next? It's not only Argentina's ranch land that's in peril. China is now sending its fishing fleet into Argentinian waters. This led to a confrontation between the Chinese fleet and Argentinian coast guard vessels that ended in the sinking of one Chinese trawler. The Argentinians rescued four of the Chinese crew, the rest boarded another Chinese fishing boat.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

How Pending Trade Deals Could Tie Our Hands on Climate Change

How much of your government do you want run by fossil fuel giants? How much of what remains of our national sovereignty do you want Justin Trudeau to surrender without so much as a fight?

A new report from the Sierra Club contends that the Trans Pacific Partnership and it's trans-Atlantic counterpart spell big trouble. Any hope of keeping fossil fuels in the ground, without which we're pretty much - oh, what's the word - yeah, dead could be lost.

Another Hope Dashed

No secret that the Republicans are in a jam - truly deep kimchee. It's gotten to the point where even Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush are swallowing Xanax by the handful in order to endorse Ted Cruz for their party's nomination. Their suffering is almost unbearable to watch.

That got me to thinking about how to rescue the Republicans from themselves. Then it dawned on me. How about this for a ticket?

Natural-born Cheech for president, Chong for veep. Damn! It turns out that the US Constitution restricts both slots to natural-born Americans. Sort of rules out Vancouver-born Tommy Chong.

Okay, I'm tapped out. Your turn. Who would you suggest for the Republican ticket? Remember, be creative.

Well, When You Put It That Way

Good news. Investment in coal and gas-fired power plants fell to less than half the investment in renewable, clean energy production.  That sounds better than it is.

With more rapid-onset climate change impacts becoming the norm lately, we are in a race. It's a race for the future and there's only one prize - survival. You either come in first and win it or you don't, you lose. Which makes you wonder why we're putting so little effort into getting ahead of the problem.

I'm sure we would like to win. Why would we want to lose? That makes no sense - except when you look at it in the worst possible way. When you look at it as sacrificing today for the benefit of a future generation then it runs afoul of the "What's In it For Me?" test, the WIiFM. It doesn't even register on the Immediate Gratification Scale, or IGS even in metric. It also invokes the ever present but rarely acknowledged Not On My Tax Bill syndrome, NOMTB, a distant cousin of NIMBY.

Put them all together - WIiFM, IGS and NOMTB - and you have powerful corroboration of the theory that all intelligent life is ultimately self-extinguishing which may explain why you don't see vegetables from distant galaxies on the produce aisle of your grocery store. They didn't make it either.