Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Saving Print Journalism - a Humble Proposal

I want print journalism in Canada to survive. I want it to flourish. I want papers like the Victoria Times Colonist popping up in cities across the country.  The Tyee's Shannon Rupp, a devotee of the Winnipeg Free Press has a few interesting ideas on how we can save and rehabilitate print journalism while there's still time. She begins by citing Andrew Coyne:

“This is not a case of market failure, but industry failure,” Coyne writes, dismissing the publishers who cast themselves as victims of the Internet. “Nothing whatever prevents readers from buying what we are selling. There is only our own proven incompetence at providing a product worth paying for.”

Ms. Rupp doesn't claim to have all the answers but she tosses out four ideas for your consideration. Hint: They're not Paul Godfrey-friendly.

1. Adopt the Canada Council model of peer review. Arts grants are awarded based on juries of artists agreeing which work is worth funding. Newspaper subsidies should be awarded by juries of journalists.

2. Exclude publicly traded newspapers from applying for subsidies. Executives in those companies are legally obligated to put the interests of the investors first. The fact that newspapers are arguing they can’t do good journalism without government largesse tells us that there is no business case to be made for civic reporting. So if they want to continue as publicly traded entities, and give their managers million-dollar paydays, let them figure out how to be profitable on their own.

3. To be eligible for subsidies, management compensation has to be tied to workers’ salaries. So perhaps the first thing this new Canada Council for Journalism should do is work out an executive compensation formula. The senior executives can make no more than, say, five times what the lowest paid employee makes.

4. Require outlets receiving subsidies to adhere to a Code of Ethics and have a board-of-review to hear complaints. If they want to fund reporters with conflicts-of-interest, or unlabelled advertorial, or columnists who plagiarize, that’s their business. But citizens who rejected those newspapers in the marketplace, because of their dodgy ethical standards, shouldn’t have to subsidize them via taxes.

Alberta's Urban Time Bombs - Reaping the Whirlwind

There are some 1,500 abandoned oil and gas wells in urban areas of Alberta. One in ten is leaking methane at dangerous levels. The Tyee's energy scribe, Andrew Nikiforuk, got his hands on a unpublished study by - who else - Alberta's industry-compliant energy regulator.

The 33-page study found that 36 of the abandoned wells were leaking methane. Nine of those wells were leaking at a level that Alberta Health says poses a risk of neurological damage to nearby residents.

Six of them were leaking methane at more than 10,000 parts per million (ppm), a level deemed “life threatening” by Alberta Health.

According to a 2015 Alberta Health document titled “Methane from Leaking Abandoned Wells: Health and Safety Concerns” also obtained by The Tyee, leaks of 1,000 ppm could result in neurological effects. Leaks above 10,000 ppm pose explosion risks and should prompt “emergency evacuation,” the Alberta Health report said. 

The Alberta government has not released the health and safety methane document. When The Tyee asked for a copy two months ago, ministry press secretary Laura Ehrkamp said officials couldn’t find it.

The methane leakage study was prompted by new regulations in 2014 that directed industry to locate and test abandoned wells that may pose a risk to communities.

It found that six wells that exceeded the emergency evacuation threshold of 10,000 ppm were outside buildings. Three other hazardous wells had “methane leakage inside buildings.”

In addition the report noted another 53 abandoned wells out of the 1,500 that had been identified as “higher risk” because of sour gas or acid content. “Licensees were directed to locate and test these wells,” the report says. There was no information on the results.

Although leaking methane from wells often travels with well-known public health hazards such as benzene, toluene, xylene and hydrogen sulfide (a potent neurotoxin), the AER study only measured methane.

Alberta's NDP premier, Rachel Notley, and her government can't even protect her own citizens and she wonders why coastal British Columbians give her short shrift whenever she bleats "trust us." We have no reason to trust her or her province's energy industry or, for that matter, our feckless prime minister. Wherever this industry goes it leaves bad debts to be made good from the public purse, bankruptcies of convenience and environmental nightmares. And then Notley has the audacity to tell coastal British Columbians that it's not our coast. Shove it Rachel, shove it all the way.

A Great Liar Who Lies Without Inhibitions

[He] "was a great liar, a very talented actor who lied without inhibitions;

a man capable of self-suggestion, from which he would build his willpower

- the most dangerous combination you could imagine."

Does that sound like anyone you know? Maybe someone now occupying the Oval Office? A great liar, who lies without inhibitions and is capable of self-suggestion that is the foundation of his incredible willpower?

In fact it's a quote from a famous German documentary filmmaker, Hermann Polking.

"All his relatives considered him to be a no-hoper who shied away from all hard work," said boyhood friend August Kubizek of Adolf Hitler. "He was the darling of his mother and adored her the same," commented Hitler's Jewish family doctor. "If Adolf wanted something, he got it - mostly at the expense of others," noted sister Paula Wolf.

These telling impressions of a young Adolf Hitler are among countless quotes from contemporaries of the dictator that make up the much-anticipated documentary, "Wer war Hitler" (Who Was Hitler). The seven-and-a-half-hour TV series premiered this week at the Munich Film Festival.

Using no narrator or talking heads, and sparse additional information, writer and director Hermann Pölking retraces the life of Hitler - from his birth in 1889 in upper Austria to his suicide in Berlin 1945 - entirely from statements made by companions, enemies, victims and observers.

Pölking catalogued 120 archives in 14 countries and reviewed 850 hours of footage in an effort to create a unique, up-close portrayal of the evolution of the 20th century's most infamous historical figure. The hundreds of quotes were recorded by 125 speakers.

At over seven hours, the film is extremely long and demanding - which is why a shortened three-hour cinema version is planned. But the endurance required is rewarded through a fascinating montage of rarely-seen archival film material.

How Desperate is Trump to Cover His Tracks? Would He Resort to War for a Smokescreen?

Here's the theory. The Russia investigation begins to close in on Donald Trump. Congressional Republicans seeking to save their own skins abandon their president. A desperate, authoritarian president throws his own nation to the wolves of war.

Waterloo prof and author of "The Upside of Down," Thomas Homer-Dixon paints a chilling scenario:

"...commentators have generally concluded that the Mueller inquiry is safe. But two factors will destabilize the current equilibrium over time. The first will be Mr. Trump’s rising motivation to stop Mr. Mueller’s inquiry as it progresses. Pursuing the Russian connection, the special counsel will probably ask the Internal Revenue Service to hand over Mr. Trump’s tax returns. Many astute observers think the reason the President hasn’t released his returns is that they contain proof of compromising financial links with Russia. If that’s indeed the case, Mr. Trump will do everything he can to prevent their release.

"The second factor will be Mr. Trump’s manipulation of the broader political environment in which Congress and the presidency operate. As Jack Goldstone, an expert on state failure, and I argued before the 2016 election, Mr. Trump can generate “a new political and social reality – an ‘emergency’ in the U.S. and around the world – that justifies … attacks on democratic institutions.”

"The most likely emergency of this kind is a war, because U.S. presidents have the most room for independent action on the international stage. Also, the start of a war almost always produces a “rally round the flag” effect and a big boost in presidential poll numbers. According to Gallup, George W. Bush saw a 13-per-cent surge in approval at the start of the Iraq invasion in 2003. In the opening days of a new war, a similar surge in Mr. Trump’s poll numbers could encourage congressional Republicans to back the President, should he move to fire Mr. Mueller simultaneously.

"The United States is closer to a war – perhaps more than one – than any time since 2003. Events could easily go awry with North Korea over its nuclear buildup, Iran over its support for insurgents in Yemen and elsewhere or Russia over an incident in Syrian airspace. And Mr. Trump doesn’t have to go to war intentionally to reap the domestic political gains I’ve described. He could stumble into war through his breathtaking foreign-policy ineptitude and then opportunistically exploit the crisis to fire the special counsel.

"After observing Mr. Trump’s first five months in office, no one should now doubt that – if not for the U.S. political system’s checks and balances – the President would accrue to himself dictatorial powers. ‎He’s contemptuous of the rule of law, constraints on executive power, the investigative role of a free press and judicial review. So far, however, those checks and balances have stymied his authoritarian impulses. And to many people’s surprise (but not mine), the President’s sheer administrative and political incompetence has deprived him of opportunities to consolidate and expand his power.

"But in foreign policy, the reverse relationship could easily hold: Incompetence could create crisis and crisis could enable authoritarianism. If so, Mr. Trump still has one very powerful card up his sleeve."

A Man After My Own Heart

"A man walks into a pub..." - the opening line of countless jokes. Only this time it was 53-year old Simon Smith of Reading, England and he'd just been hit by a speeding, out of control, double decker bus.

After dusting himself off, Smith walked in to one of his locals, The Purple Turtle.

Stuart McNaught, the bar manager, said Mr Smith was taken to hospital but had emerged from the accident with just bruises.

Mr McNaught said: "We've known Simon for about 20 years. He went to hospital, he's OK, he's a bit frail today, he's not feeling the best.

"He went to hospital, the paramedics who called the ambulance took him.

"He's bruised and shocked I think. It's absolutely crazy."

The Sheer Numbers Are Devastating

I try to recycle every scrap of plastic that I can. I've kept vaguely current on the state of plastics in our oceans and along our coasts. Still I was shocked to read the latest report in The Guardian about the true magnitude of the problem and its projected growth rate.

A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20% by 2021, creating an environmental crisis some campaigners predict will be as serious as climate change.

More than 480bn plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 across the world, up from about 300bn a decade ago. If placed end to end, they would extend more than halfway to the sun. By 2021 this will increase to 583.3bn, according to the most up-to-date estimates from Euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report.

Most plastic bottles used for soft drinks and water are made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), which is highly recyclable. But as their use soars across the globe, efforts to collect and recycle the bottles to keep them from polluting the oceans, are failing to keep up.

Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and just 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles. Instead most plastic bottles produced end up in landfill or in the ocean.

What the fish eat, we eat.

Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated people who eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year. Last August, the results of a study by Plymouth University reported plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish. Last year, the European Food Safety Authority called for urgent research, citing increasing concern for human health and food safety “given the potential for microplastic pollution in edible tissues of commercial fish”.

Not surprisingly, the Big Drinks companies are responding to this crisis along similar lines to how Big Fossil approaches efforts to tax carbon - that is to say, poorly.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Is Trump's Evangelical Lawyer Just Another Dirtbag?

Why does Donald Trump surround himself with so many real dirtbags?

Trump's latest legal mouthpiece, Jay Sekulow, is a perfect example. The Guardian has published an expose on Sekulow that suggests the Sekulow family grew fat and rich out of his Christian nonprofit.

More than 15,000 Americans were losing their jobs each day in June 2009, as the US struggled to climb out of a painful recession following its worst financial crisis in decades.

But Jay Sekulow, who is now an attorney to Donald Trump, had a private jet to finance. His law firm was expecting a $3m payday. And six-figure contracts for members of his family needed to be taken care of.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow that month approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60m to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.

Even if the Sekulow clan didn't break any laws it's a pretty sordid story.

HuffPo Calls "Bullshit" on Trudeau on Electoral Reform Promise

The title of the piece speaks volumes: "Trudeau Blames Opposition For Not Reading His Mind on Electoral Reform. The prime minister could have been honest with Canadians."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looked reporters in the eyes Tuesday morning and told them he had "no path" to keep his campaign promise on electoral reform because none of the other parties wanted his preferred option: a ranked ballot.

Trudeau, however, never campaigned on bringing in a ranked ballot. (That's a system also known as a preferential ballot or an alternative vote, in which voters rank their first, second and third choices, and votes from the last-place candidate get redistributed until someone emerges with 50 per cent of the vote. The Conservative Party of Canada recently used a modified version of a ranked ballot to elect its new leader.)

Except, there was a path. Trudeau could have told the truth.

The prime minister could have been honest with MPs and with Canadians and said during the campaign that he wanted a preferential ballot. He could have saved taxpayers millions of dollars — in committee travel costs, ministers' travel costs and for a $2-million "" survey — for public consultations that he didn't intend to pay attention to.

Instead, he chose to make a political ploy of letting Canadians — many of them NDP and Green party voters — believe he was open to a proportional voting system that would give their parties a stronger voice in the House of Commons.

"The promise was clear," May said. "It did not say there is only one system we will consider after the election," May said.

"Ranked ballot does not make every vote count," she contended. "Quite the contrary, it distorts it even more.

"I don't want to use the words cynical because it could be naive, it could have been ill-considered, it could have been thoughtless, it could have been hasty, it could have been many things other than cynical, but the reality is, it did not tell Canadians the truth about what the prime minister was willing to bring in."

Now I know it offends the LPT, or Liberal Purity Test, to criticize fair Justin for his pattern of shameless breaking of solemn promises but, bugger that, I'm no Liberal. Those decades are of the past.

And don't pretend that this is an affront to a progressive government. There's damn little that's progressive in Justin Trudeau's government. Progressive is more than an empty word. It has meaning. It is founded on some pretty basic principles and, while this government may pay lip service to those principles, it does precious little of substance to honour them.

What If... Britain Had Won America's Revolutionary War?

Did America really "win" the Revolutionary War in 1776? Just what exactly did it win?

That question is pondered by Neal Pollack, the self-described "Greatest Living American Writer since the dawn of American letters" in today's Salon. His essay is entitled, "We could have been Canada."

When I was a child, the notion of a civic society, born from a social compact written by men wearing wigs, girded our intellects and our loins. But now our loins have begun to soften somewhat. Perhaps that’s because of the gig economy, or incipient fascism, or both. Plus we can always blame millennials, and we’d be right. In the meantime, a slow awareness has dawned slowly. We’ve begun to realize that another reality might be better. Fortunately, other realities are opening up every day.

Most profoundly the scenario where the British won the Revolutionary War and America never ceased to be a colony. In Canada, for instance, students are taught from an early age that England is the mother country that feeds us with her delicious cheese. So let’s imagine a similar scenario: In 1770, instead of getting all bratty and slicing people up with bayonets, American colonists had instead just said, “Fine, tax us whatever, just please don’t fund any more Ricky Gervais projects.” Today, we’d all be drinking top-notch tea and singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” after watching Liverpool matches. And we’d definitely be up for a couple of weeks in Spain. We would have National Health Insurance, refer to French fries as “chips,” and there’d be an old queen with a Netflix show where she’s depicted as a super-sexy young chick married to Dr. Who.

I think, at this point, we all agree that it would be better to be England than America, as long as we get to keep California and the nicer parts of Colorado. America, thanks to its fake historians, has historically imagined itself a nation of homesteading rebels. But come with me through the portal, and you will see that the entire time you were really just a British pussycat grown fat on clotted cream and sunshine.

That is what it will take for this once-great nation to shake off the lugubrious weight of autocracy. We cannot depend on institutions that have been institutionalized, cannot depend on leaders who don’t lead, and, in the end, we cannot depend on Depends themselves, because everything and everyone leaks. Like many of my fellow writers, I long to rejoin the British Empire, or at least to get a book deal that argues the case. For, as Winston Churchill once wrote in “The Endless Sentence,” his history of England, “When, in fact, great nations gather under history’s storm, harrumph harrumph harrumph.” Or, as the British King Arthur put it in “The Legend of the Sword,” the recent documentary film, “Cheerio mate. Jolly good. Off you go to the loo!”

Of that we can be certain.

Sorry, Neal, too late for do-overs now or weepy pleas of contrition. We'll hear no buyer's remorse from the cheap seats. Besides, our side won the War of 1812, the war that ensured we didn't have to become you and, of that, we can indeed be certain - and grateful.

"Comrade Christy" Has BC's Conserva-Liberals' Heads Spinning

In an act of abject debasement, British Columbia premier, Crispy Clark, has thrown her entire, Liberal (in name only) Party under a very large bus. Her "hail Mary" throne speech incorporated so much of the opposition parties platforms that the Liberal Party faithful were stunned by Clark's panicked leap to the Left.

So it’s no wonder that conservatives like ex-BC Liberal finance minister Kevin Falcon were too shocked to even respond to the throne speech.

“I’m still trying to deal with the magnitude of the shifts,” Falcon said Friday.

Others were deeply concerned last week that the party’s fragile coalition will split completely as it bizarrely takes positions left of the NDP and Greens.

Retired energy minister Bill Bennett admitted, “I think there’s likely to be some real angst today on the part of business and fiscal conservatives.”

And former mines minister Blair Lekstrom said he was surprised and questioned if the throne speech promises were affordable.

“I’m not sure that’s the case,” said Lekstrom, adding he expected public cynicism.

Cynicism is an understatement.

The only thing missing is Christy with a big moustache, glasses and a cigar. It was, after all, Groucho Marx who is credited with the line, "These are my principles. If you don't like them ...well, I have others."

Define "Peace" In the Age of Forever Wars.

What is "war"? Hard to tell anymore. Even harder to define these days is "peace." As for "victory" well, good luck.

Our common understanding of these terms is anchored in the era of the Westphalian nation state. That was a paradigm of defined national borders and sovereign nations that exercised a monopoly on violence usually through standing military forces. War was considered the use of military force by one nation against another to achieve the defeat of one of the combattants and compel its submission to the will of the other. War was also seen as intended to restore peace albeit on terms favourable to the victor. War was an interval between periods of peace. Today the top minds in military studies may call that "old war."

The post-war era saw the spread of "new war."  The nation state's monopoly on violence weakened as new players entered the realm of conflict. State actors began to share the stage with a host of quasi-state forces and non-state actors ranging from regional militias formed on tribal or ethnic lines, usually under the control of warlords, to rebel forces, insurgents, guerillas and even criminal organizations, large and small, and run of the mill bandits. The weaker the nation state the more opportunity that weakness affords to these quasi- and non-state actors.

This multiplicity of warring parties injects chaos into the conflict. Afghanistan, for example, has long suffered under the dual scourge of tribalism and warlordism. The country is made up of a diverse ethnicity - Pashtun, Baloch, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, Nuristani, Arab and a few others. Tribalism in spades. And, over the years, those ethnic divides have led to warlordism and banditry.

In the wake of 9/11, America and her allies poured forces into Afghanistan to cleanse the place of al Qaeda forces, to drive out their notional hosts, the Pashtun Taliban, and to implant Western democracy and human rights for a people thought to crave such things even if they didn't know it. We arrived with Old War, Westphalian-style military forces, assuming their unrivalled military prowess would assure a quick victory.

Nobody, it seems, was interested in listening as a Senate Foreign Relations Committee expert testified that democracy had never taken hold in a country like Afghanistan unless warlordism and tribalism were first overcome. In one of the most self-defeating blunders of the modern era we actually abandoned our initial opposition to Afghan's warlords and instead allowed them to achieve high office within the new national government. And we wonder why our side is still fighting there today, a decade and a half later, with no end in sight.

Our adventure in Afghanistan begat the American adventure in Iraq that begat the rise of ISIS and its spread into the nascent civil war in neighbouring Syria that dragged in other regional players including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf State foreign legion; Iraq and its patron, Iran; plus America and its foreign legion; and, of course, Russia. Oh yeah, I forgot, Israel. Add to that the various Kurds (Iraqi, Syrian and Turkish) plus the bad guys ISIS and al Nusra plus the original home team players - Syria and its Sunni Syrian rebel opponents and you've got a battlefield bouillabaisse. How many agendas are at play there? Who's after what? Who is waging a military war and who is also waging a political war? How, if ever, does this possibly end? When? By comparison, Afghanistan looks like child's play.

Lawrence Freedman is the venerable professor of war studies at King's College, London. In a recent essay in Foreign Policy, Dr. Freedman looks at whether America can ever achieve "peace with honour" in Afghanistan and concludes that won't happen unless America's definition of "peace" is watered down.

"Over the next few weeks, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is due to provide President Donald Trump with a new strategy for Afghanistan. This will be the latest in a long series, produced on a regular basis since 2001, all with the core objective of preventing the country reverting to a sanctuary for terrorism. Mattis cannot be accused of ramping up expectations for the new approach he is seeking to develop. He describes the current situation as a stalemate, but with the balance having swung to the Taliban. Reversing this, he argues, will require more troops to help develop Afghan capabilities. When asked what it would mean to win, he says violence must be brought down to a level where it could be managed by the Afghan government without it posing a mortal threat.

"There are several obstacles to even this modest definition of victory. First, it envisions an Afghan government able to competently deal with groups such as al Qaeda without outside assistance; it envisions, in other words, a government very different than the one Afghanistan has had for some time. Another obstacle is posed by the supporters of the former Taliban government, who are well embedded in Afghanistan and have sympathetic backers in Pakistan. Regardless of the strategy Mattis settles on, the war offers little prospect for a stable end-state in which the Afghan government will be able to think about issues other than security, or U.S. forces can withdraw without having to rush back to repair the damage as the Taliban surge once more.

"But Afghanistan is not unique in this regard. The situation in Iraq is similar, as are the wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Ukraine, and any number of other international conflicts. We have entered an era of wars that wax and wane in intensity, and at best become manageable, rather than end with ceremonies to conclude hostilities. The challenge posed to traditional notions of war by these endless conflicts has been the subject of much debate. What is long overdue is reflection on the challenge posed to our definition of peace."

"[W]arfare has become less of a separate, marked-off activity, demarcated in time and space, and instead a messy condition, marked by violence, found within and between states. It can involve examples of force that are intense but localized or else widespread and sporadic. Borders have become permeable, so that neighbors move in and out while denying that they are engaged in anything so blatant as aggression. The absence of large-scale hostilities at any particular moment in any particular region does not mean that peace has broken out because they are often on the edge of war. A true peace needs to be for the long-term, with disputes resolved and relations getting closer — not a pause to allow for restocking and some recuperation before the struggle continues."

"Over long periods countries, such as Afghanistan or Iraq, can experience many different sorts of violence without ever enjoying a lengthy period of tranquility that might deserve to be known as peace. The literature now refers to “war prevention” and “war termination” without requiring any references to the “peace” being left or to which it is hoped to return."

"...when we do get around to discussing peace it is largely in positive terms. Peace must be “just and lasting.” A coming peace is rarely described in terms that acknowledge the challenges facing war-torn societies as they attempt to recover and reform. The promise, once the “evil-doers” are defeated, is of freedom and democracy flourishing, bringing with them prosperity and social harmony. Even when intervening in societies whose future we cannot (and should not) control the West is reluctant to say that we have done little more than calm things down and made things less bad than they might have been. It is difficult to justify the lives lost and the expenses incurred in the most discretionary intervention by proclaiming a so-so result. Indeed, the temptation is to cover the promised outcome with the full rhetorical sugar-coating. Looking back at the claims made about what could be achieved in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ambition is extraordinary: terrorism defeated, a fearful ideology discredited, whole regions turned toward the path of democracy and away from dictatorship, an end to the drug trade, and so on."

"We talk about peace as a utopian condition, as a set of desiderata for a better world to keep us motivated when times are tough, or when inquiring into the requirements of postwar reconstruction. But the nature of the peace we seek needs to be integrated as a matter of course into any military strategy, and in contemporary conditions requires a renewed commitment to realism. There is no point in describing an attractive future if there is no obvious way to reach it. Military planners should remember that the conduct of a war, as well as the cause for which it is fought, shapes any eventual peace. Opportunities need to be taken to consider what might seriously be achieved through the use of force, nonviolent alternatives that might achieve comparable objectives, and also what can be done with a war that others have started but we wish to see finished.

Si vis pacem, para bellum. “If you want peace, prepare for war,” goes the Roman adage. But if you prepare for war then at least think about the peace you want."

It's hard to refute Dr. Freedman's insights and logic. It's harder to imagine our political caste embracing his wisdom.

It's easy to fault the United States for its martial ineptitude that has led to the creation of "forever" wars the live embers of which can spread from one region to another as if borne on the winds. But what of Canada living in the shadow of this "permanent warfare state"? Shall we ever be at peace with the world again or have we been sucked into this modern Maelstrom to be pulled down to the depths?

For years I've been arguing that Canada needs to be far more cautious when it comes to any situation that places Canadian lives at risk or promises to take the lives of foreign nationals, especially civilians. What possible justification can there be for engaging in wars that we commence lacking the means or the will to win?

I so clearly remember our then leader, Harper, rearing up on his hind legs to proclaim that Canada was in Afghanistan to win. We would not cut and run. No we were staying until the Taliban were driven out for good and Afghanistan was a true democracy with Western-style human rights. What a farce.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Python Politics

Theresa May, Brexit, Python - Perfect.

The Perils of Judicial Partisanship

The U.S. Supreme Court has greenlighted Donald Trump's 90-day Muslim travel ban.

The U.S.S.C. hasn't heard arguments yet. No, arguments won't be heard until sometime in the fall, sometime after the 90-day ban is over.

Does that sound vaguely corrupt to you? It should. Then again this is the same court that ignored the greatest "legal fiction" of them all to declare that corporations were persons complete with political rights.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

An Open Book or How to Aid and Abet Your Enemy

Most of us, I suspect, realize that Trump is doing neither himself nor his country any favours with his impulsive and often imprudent tweets. We may realize it but there's nothing like an expert's take on the presidential predilections. These insights come courtesy of Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst and "targeting officer."

Every time President Donald Trump tweets, journalists and Twitter followers attempt to analyse what he means. Intelligence agencies around the world do, too: They're trying to determine what vulnerabilities the president of the United States may have. And he's giving them a lot to work with.
Trump's Twitter feed is a gold mine for every foreign intelligence agency. Usually, intelligence officers' efforts to collect information on world leaders are methodical, painstaking and often covert. CIA operatives have risked their lives to learn about foreign leaders so the United States could devise strategies to counter our adversaries. With Trump, though, secret operations are not necessary to understand what's on his mind: The president's unfiltered thoughts are available night and day, broadcast to his 32.7 million Twitter followers immediately and without much obvious mediation by diplomats, strategists or handlers.At the CIA, I tracked and analysed terrorists and other US enemies, including North Korea. But we never had such a rich source of raw intelligence about a world leader, and we certainly never had the opportunity that our adversaries (and our allies) have now - to get a real-time glimpse of a major world leader's preoccupations, personality quirks and habits of mind. If we had, it would have given us significant advantages in our dealings with them.

While Trump was new to national politics when he started his presidential campaign in 2015, he wasn't new to Twitter. A review of his old tweets would reveal how well flattery can work to get his attention and admiration.

What Trump doesn't say can be very revealing, too. For instance, the lapse of time between when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship off the coast of Japan (12.30pm on June 16, in Washington) and when the president tweeted about the incident (10.08am the next day) was nearly 23 hours. The tragedy marked the US Navy's most significant loss of life aboard a vessel since terrorists bombed the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

The president's frequent contradiction of his own aides also provides useful intelligence for foreign analysts. Last month, Trump tweeted that it was "not possible" for administration officials to be perfectly accurate in describing what his White House is doing. Why not? Is the White House not coordinating messaging? Has Trump defined his own course of action, regardless of what his Cabinet or staff has been told? Policy and public diplomacy typically require interagency coordination, but Trump forces the US government to react to his whims instead - which makes his Twitter feed that much more important to analyse and understand.

Analysts can glean information about Trump's sleep patterns from the time of day or night when he tweets, showing which topics keep him up, his stress level and his state of mind. Twitter also often reveals what Trump is watching on TV and when, as well as what websites he turns to for news and analysis. Knowing this can be useful for foreign governments when they are planning media events or deciding where to try to seek coverage of their version of world events.

Analysts would also be likely to use technology to perform content analysis on the president's tweets in the aggregate. Intelligence agencies can employ a more robust version than the open-source projects that news organisations have used, because they can marry Trump's tweets with information they collect through intercepts and other means. Software could look for patterns in speech or word categories representing confidence related to policy, whether Trump is considering opposing points of view and if he harbors uncertainty toward any subject. Computers can perform metadata analysis to build timelines and compare Trump's Twitter feed with his known public schedule, creating a database of when and where he tweets and what else he's doing at the time. Anything that provides a digital footprint adds context to the analysis.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

You Can't Lead the Pack If You Don't Know Where You're Going

If an enemy of the United States wanted to throw the West into chaos it could not have chosen a better man for president than Donald Trump, a leader whose deepest thoughts are composed of 140 characters or less.

The U.S. likes to imagine that it remains the uncontested leader of the free world. The nations of the free world, however, have discovered there's no one manning Washington's wheel house and with the shoals nearing that's creating a certain amount of worry.

On trade, climate, foreign aid, and more, America’s allies wonder what U.S. policy is — and who, if anyone, can take America’s place.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified last week before Congress, seeking to defend the wisdom of slashing his own budget by more than one-third while sketching his vision of American diplomacy in the years ahead.

But unlike in years past, U.S. allies aren’t poring over Tillerson’s testimony for meaningful signals of what U.S. policy is or will be; diplomats from around the world are learning that what Tillerson says is not necessarily a reliable guide to U.S. policy. The problem is that nothing much else is, either.


“Even if we do get meetings” with the Department of State, a European source told Foreign Policy, “most of the time what happens is that they speak in personal capacity — they don’t have capacity to speak for the administration.”

The same is true for the National Security Council at the White House, “including on very sensitive issues.” People say, “I cannot speak for the president, because I’m not sure what his position on this is.”

That lack of clarity isn’t limited to nitty-gritty points of policy. More than five months into the Trump administration, many allies and even rivals are still trying to figure out how the United States now sees its role in the world. Trump came into office blaring an “America First” message, and despite repeated soothing noises from some administration officials, has, especially in non-military matters, redoubled his rhetoric ever since.


More than five months into the Trump administration, many allies and even rivals are still trying to figure out how the United States now sees its role in the world. Trump came into office blaring an “America First” message, and despite repeated soothing noises from some administration officials, has, especially in non-military matters, redoubled his rhetoric ever since.

Or, as Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland put it in a speech earlier this month, the United States “has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership.”

After a tumultuous first meeting between NATO and Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated late last month that Germany could no longer fully rely on others.


Washington’s reluctance to keep carrying Freeland’s “mantle” of global leadership creates a quandary for everyone, because nobody else is willing or able to take its place. And history shows that the global system, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

China has been hankering for a place in the sun all century — but, like Augustine, doesn’t want it quite yet, and Beijing’s values aren’t the same as those long preached by Washington or Brussels.

Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is happy to shoulder a bigger role in regional defense and security — but that could put the government on a collision course with China, and even with the people of Japan, who are still, broadly speaking, pacifistic. And as seen in the scramble after the U.S. withdrawal from TPP, Tokyo is hard-pressed to drive Asian economic integration on its own.

Europe has been roused from its groggy decades — more because of the threat from a resurgent Russia than from Trump’s admonitions to spend more on defense — but hasn’t sought to play more than second fiddle for almost a century. (“We don’t see ourselves acting as new superpower or pretending to be one,” said the European diplomat.)

The chaos of Trump's incoherent administration extends beyond trade and diplomacy. It's the sort of thing that's been known to spark wars. Take, for example, Washington's ramshackle policy in the Middle East.

The present political dynamics in the Middle East are unsettled and kaleidoscopic. But in the interests of brevity, ...the basic configurations of power in the region since the 2011 Arab Spring can be simplified in terms of five loose groupings.

First, a grouping of Sunni monarchies (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Bahrain); Arab secular nationalists (Egypt since President Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi took over in 2013, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia); and Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s faction in eastern Libya.

Second, a grouping of Turkey; Qatar; and Muslim Brotherhood affiliates such as Hamas in Gaza, Egypt under President Morsi before 2013, and the internationally-recognized Libyan government based in the western part of that country.

Third, a grouping of Iran and its Shiite allies, including Iraq (at least among key factions of the Baghdad government), the Assad regime in Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Fourth, the collection of various Sunni jihadi networks, including the Islamic State, various al Qaeda affiliates, and any number of smaller factions.

Fifth, there is Israel, which does not fit into any of the above, but is most closely aligned with members of the first grouping.

Syria, which had all the makings of a perfectly suitable proxy war, has now drawn direct and at times hostile intervention from major powers, America and Russia, regional players such as Turkey, Israel and Iran, plus the Gulf States and the NATO and friends chorus line. The "my enemy's enemy" rule does not apply here.

Now Fareed Zakaria predicts the U.S. is about to embark on another decade of permawar.

Play It Again, Sam

America's pointless, indecisive and interminable wars in the Middle East deserve to be called the "forever war." These are "military wars" being waged for the apparent objective of nothing more than merely not losing. Winning is not in the cards. With the West's massive technological superiority we can just keep on bombing and shelling those we don't like until the money runs out or the people at home take to the streets and that's simply not going to happen.

As for the other war, the "political war," well we seem to be losing that one. In this David and Goliath struggle, David, our opponent, wins just by showing up day after day for as long as it takes before we leave.

Speaking of that, when is America and its vast Foreign Legion (NATO) planning to move on to something productive? Don't get your hopes up. According to Fareed Zakaria, the U.S. is "stumbling into another decade of war."

Put simply, the United States is stumbling into another decade of war in the greater Middle East. And this next decade of conflict might prove to be even more destabilizing than the last one.

Trump came into office with a refreshing skepticism about U.S. policy toward the region. “Everybody that’s touched the Middle East, they’ve gotten bogged down. . . . We’re bogged down,” he said during the campaign. But Trump also sees himself as a tough guy. At his rallies, he repeatedly vowed to “bomb the s--- out of” the Islamic State. Now that he is in the White House and has surrounded himself with an array of generals, his macho instinct seems to have triumphed. The administration has ramped up its military operations across the greater Middle East, in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia — more troops, more bombings, more missions. But what is the underlying strategy?

The United States has been in Afghanistan for 16 years. It has had several surges in troop numbers and has spent almost a trillion dollars on that country. Last year, U.S. aid to Afghanistan was equivalent to about 40 percent of that nation’s gross domestic product. And yet, Mattis acknowledges that the United States is “not winning.” What will an additional 4,000 troops now achieve that 130,000 troops could not?

In Yemen, the United States is more actively engaged in a conflict that does little to advance the fight against radical Islamist terrorism. With the latest arms sale, Washington is further fueling Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Iran — a war that has led the kingdom into a de facto alliance with al-Qaeda in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, seems likely to persist in this conflict, even though it has gone much worse than expected and has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe. A child in Yemen is dying of preventable causes every 10 minutes, according to UNICEF, and the poorest country in the Arab world has been turned into a wasteland in which terrorist groups will compete for decades to come.

In almost every situation that U.S. forces are involved in, the solutions are more political than military. This has become especially true in places such as Syria and Afghanistan, where many regional powers with major interests have staked out positions and spread their influence. Military force without a strategy or deeply engaged political and diplomatic process is destined to fail, perhaps even to produce unintended consequences — witness the past decade and a half.

During the campaign, Trump seemed to be genuinely reflective about America’s role in the Middle East. “This is not usually me talking, okay, ’cause I’m very proactive,” he once saidon the subject. “But I would sit back and [say], ‘Let’s see what’s going on.’ ” Yes. After 16 years of continuous warfare, hundreds of thousands dead, trillions of dollars spent and greater regional instability, somebody in Washington needs to ask — before the next bombing or deployment: What is going on?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Get Your Head Around This. Is 9 the Number of Symmetry in Nature?

What do you think?

Prying Canada Free of the Death Grip of Neoliberalism While There's Still Time.

It's time for Ottawa to put the Canadian people ahead of the interests of corporations. In fact, that's the indispensable key to breaking the death grip of neoliberalism on our nation and our society.

Governments such as the current regime and the one it succeeded treat the economy as their priority. In every one of the mandate letters prime minister Trudeau issued to his cabinet, he stressed that the economy was their co-priority. That was a blatant dereliction of duty on the part of the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau.

The first responsibility of government is to safeguard the people and their future well-being. Not just their future prosperity, their well-being. That's where Trudeau has gone off course.

I've just finished a second reading of "Disaster Alley: Climate Change Conflict & Risk," by Ian Dunlop and David Spratt. Published by the NGO, Breakthrough, the paper is targeted at Australia's political leadership but much of their work could apply just as readily to Canada's political caste.

Disaster Alley pulls no punches. It emphasizes that we are on the brink of a truly existential catastrophe, one that our governments are unwilling to acknowledge and confront head on. The report runs to about 25 pages. You can find it in pdf. at the link above. In many cases you can simply substitute "Canada" for "Australia." Here are a few salient excerpts:

This report looks at climate change and conflict issues through the lens of sensible risk-management to draw new conclusions about the challenge we now face. 

• From tropical coral reefs to the polar ice sheets, global warming is already dangerous. The world is perilously close to, or passed, tipping points which will create major changes in global climate systems. 

• The world now faces existential climate-change risks which may result in “outright chaos” and an end to human civilisation as we know it. 

• These risks are either not understood or wilfully ignored across the public and private sectors, with very few exceptions. 

• Global warming will drive increasingly severe humanitarian crises, forced migration, political instability and conflict. The Asia–Pacific region, including Australia, is considered to be “Disaster Alley” where some of the worst impacts will be experienced. 

• Building more resilient communities in the most vulnerable nations by high-level financial commitments and development assistance can help protect peoples in climate hotspots and zones of potential instability and conflict. 

• Australia’s political, bureaucratic and corporate leaders are abrogating their fiduciary responsibilities to safeguard the people and their future well-being. They are ill-prepared for the real risks of climate change at home and in the region. 

• The Australian government must ensure Australian Defence Force and emergency services preparedness, mission and operational resilience, and capacity for humanitarian aid and disaster relief, across the full range of projected climate change scenarios. 

• It is essential to now strongly advocate a global climate emergency response, and to build a national leadership group outside conventional politics to design and implement emergency decarbonisation of the Australian economy. This would adopt all available safe solutions using sound, existential risk-management practices.

Climate change is an existential risk that could abruptly end human civilisation because of a catastrophic “failure of imagination” by global leaders to understand and act on the science and evidence before them.

The problem is widespread at the senior levels of government and global corporations. A 2016 report, Thinking the Unthinkable, based on interviews with top leaders around the world, found that: “A proliferation of ‘unthinkable’ events… has revealed a new fragility at the highest levels of corporate and public service leaderships. Their ability to spot, identify and handle unexpected, non-normative events is… perilously inadequate at critical moments… Remarkably, there remains a deep reluctance, or what might be called ‘executive myopia’, to see and contemplate even the possibility that ‘unthinkables’ might happen, let alone how to handle them.” (Gowing and Langdon 2016)

Such failures are manifested in two ways in climate policy. At the political, bureaucratic and business level in underplaying the high-end risks and in failing to recognise that the existential risk of climate change is totally different from other risk categories. And at the research level in underestimating the rate of climate change impact and costs, along with an under-emphasis on, and poor communication of, those high-end risks.

[T]he evidence is clear that climate change already poses an existential risk to global stability and to human civilisation that requires an emergency response. Temperature rises that are now in prospect could reduce the global human population by 80% or 90%. But this conversation is taboo, and the few who speak out are admonished as being overly alarmist. 

Prof. Kevin Anderson considers that “a 4°C future [relative to pre-industrial levels] is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable” (Anderson 2011). He says: “If you have got a population of nine billion by 2050 and you hit 4°C, 5°C or 6°C, you might have half a billion people surviving” (Fyall 2009). 

Asked at a 2011 conference in Melbourne about the difference between a 2°C world and a 4°C world, Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber replied in two words: “Human civilisation”.

Human civilisation faces unacceptably high chances of being brought undone by climate change’s existential risks yet, extraordinarily, this conversation is rarely heard. The Global Challenges Foundation (GCF) says that despite scientific evidence that risks associated with tipping points “increase disproportionately as temperature increases from 1°C to 2°C, and become high above 3°C”, political negotiations have consistently disregarded the high-end scenarios that could lead to abrupt or irreversible climate change. In its Global Catastrophic Risks 2017 report, it concludes that “the world is currently completely unprepared to envisage, and even less deal with, the consequences of catastrophic climate change”.

Working from "Best Case Scenario" Data. A Dollar Short and a Day Late.

The scientific community has generally underestimated the likely rate of climate change impacts and costs. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports are years out of date upon publication. Sir Nicholas Stern wrote of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report: “Essentially it reported on a body of literature that had systematically and grossly underestimated the risks [and costs] of unmanaged climate change” (Stern 2016).

Too often, mitigation and adaptation policy is based on least drama, consensus scientific projections that downplay what Prof. Ross Garnaut called the “bad possibilities”, that is, the lower-probability outcomes with higher impacts. In his 2011 climate science update for the Australian Government, Garnaut questioned whether climate research had a conservative “systematic bias” due to “scholarly reticence”. He pointed to a pattern, across diverse intellectual fields, of research predictions being “not too far away from the mainstream” expectations: and observed in the climate field that this “has been associated with understatement of the risks”. (Garnaut 2011)

A prudent risk-management approach for safeguarding people and protecting their ways of life means a tough and objective look at the real risks to which we are exposed, including climate and conflict risks, and especially those “fat tail” events whose consequences are damaging beyond quantification, and which human civilization, as we know it, would be lucky to survive. We must understand the potential of, and plan for, the worst that can happen and be relieved if it doesn’t. If we focus on “middle of the road” outcomes, and ignore the “high-end” possibilities, we will probably end up with catastrophic outcomes that could have been avoided.

It is not a question of whether we may suffer a failure of imagination. We already have.

Minding the Neighbours

“ We are seeing the steady erosion of the nation-state as the primary international security entity. Non-state actors, such as globalized financial institutions and corporations, and even internet-empowered individuals – or the causes they represent – are having increasing impacts on the political landscape. The world has also become more politically complex and economically and financially interdependent. We believe it is no longer adequate to think of the projected climate impacts to any one region of the world in isolation. Climate change impacts transcend international borders and geographic areas of responsibility.” (CNA 2014)

Sixty per cent of Vietnam’s urban areas are 1.5 metres or less above sea level. The Mekong Delta provides 40% of Vietnam’s agricultural production, and more than half of national rice production and agricultural exports. Yet the Delta is also very vulnerable to coastal inundation, with over half its area less than two metres above sea level.

The consequences of unabated climate change cannot be resolved by an emphasis on increasing militarisation, as demonstrated by the example of sea level rise. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of climate-driven forced mass migrations: 

Perhaps the most worrisome problems associated with rising temperatures and sea levels are from large-scale migrations of people – both inside nations and across existing national borders… potentially involving hundreds of millions of people. The more severe scenarios suggest the prospect of perhaps billions of people over the medium or longer term being forced to relocate. The possibility of such a significant portion of humanity on the move, forced to relocate, poses an enormous challenge even if played out over the course of decades.” (Campbell et al. 2007)

Try Substituting "Canada" in place of "Australia"

Australian institutions are failing in their fiduciary responsibility to safeguard the people and their future well-being. Australia is also failing as a world citizen, by downplaying the profound global impacts of climate change and shirking its responsibility to act. 

Australia’s per capita greenhouse emissions are in the highest rank in the world, and its commitment to reduce emissions are rated as inadequate by leading analysts. For example, Climate Action Tracker says that “Australia’s current policies will fall well short of meeting” its Paris agreement target, that the Emissions Reduction Fund “does not set Australia on a path that would meet its targets” and “without accelerating climate action and additional policies, Australia will miss its 2030 target by a large margin” (CAT 2016).

The most dangerous aspect of fossil-fuel investments made today is that their impacts do not manifest themselves for decades to come. If we wait for catastrophe to happen – as we are doing – it will be too late to act. Time is the most important commodity. To avoid catastrophic outcomes requires emergency action to force the pace of change. 

To have a realistic chance of meeting the Paris aspiration of constraining the temperature increase “to well below 2°C, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C” means that no new fossil fuel projects – coal, oil or gas – can be built globally, and that existing operations have to be rapidly replaced. As well, carbon drawdown technologies to reduce the amount of atmospheric carbon – which do not currently exist at scale – need to be rapidly deployed.

Ditching Neoliberalism While There's Still Time.

Climate change is now a wicked problem. Very rapid cuts in emissions are required, but are considered unachievable within the prevailing economic orthodoxy.

The challenges we face are not amenable to a “politically realistic” response. Emergency action is essential when events threaten to overwhelm the capacity to respond; when failure is not an option; when action is time sensitive (delay leads to event escalation, to the point of passing climate system tipping points); and when the costs of inaction massively outweigh the costs of acting

An emergency response is not alarmism. It is a rational precautionary “due care and diligence” response to an existential risk crisis. 

Confronting What Really Imperils Us.

The scale of the challenge is reflected in a recent “carbon law” articulated by a group of leading scientists (Rockström et al. 2017). They demonstrated that for a 66% chance of holding warming to 2°C and a 50% chance of holding warming to 1.5°C (with overshoot), their “carbon law” requires: 

• Halving of global emissions every decade from 2020 to 2050; 

• Reducing carbon dioxide emissions from land use to zero by 2050; and 

• Establishing carbon drawdown capacity of 5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2050.

Lead author Johan Rockström says: ”It’s way more than adding solar or wind… It’s rapid decarbonization, plus a revolution in food production, plus a sustainability revolution, plus a massive engineering scale-up [for carbon removal].” In other words, an emergency-scale effort. 

As noted on page 21, the world has passed some disturbing climate milestones at the current level of 1°C of warming, so the goal must be the restoration of a safe climate well under that figure, if multi-metre sea-level rises are not to occur. The “carbon law” does not describe a safe-climate path. Such a path would include: 

• A large scale transition to a safe-climate economy that delivers zero emissions and large-scale carbon drawdown as fast as humanly possible; 

• All known safe solutions implemented at maximum scale now; and 

• Critical research and development of solutions to close the gap between what is needed for effective protection and what is currently possible.

The first step forward is to stop believing the fantastic lies being spun by our political leaders who, with a straight face, tell us that the path to a green future for Canada rests on rapid and wholesale expansion of our fossil fuel extraction and export. That's complete rubbish even if it does come from the mouth of our photogenic prime minister.

Trudeau, like Harper before him, has succumbed to a "catastrophic failure of imagination" that places him in conflict with the mountain of evidence and science before him. In this he is abrogating his most fundamental responsibility to safeguard our people and our future well-being.


Mexico Is the New Syria. Say What?

Chances are you've holidayed there. No, not Syria, Mexico. That Mexico, our NAFTA partner. Which makes it all the more troubling that Mexico is poised to overtake Syria as the most violent country on the planet.

In total, Mexico recorded 9,916 murders in the first five months of 2017, roughly a 30 percent increase over the same period last year. Reports say that in states like Guerrero, just south of Mexico City – where drug gangs fight for control of the heroin trade – morgues have been unable to handle the number of corpses.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a U.K.-based think tank, claimed in 2016 that Mexico had recorded more than 23,000 homicides, putting it just behind Syria in the list of the world’s most violent countries. The Mexican government questioned the decision to include Mexico in the Armed Conflict Survey, saying “the existence of criminal groups is not a sufficient criterion to speak of a non-international armed conflict.”

Despite this objection, the rate at which homicides are taking place has undoubtedly been increasing. In contrast, the death toll in Syria, which is still in the grip of a bloody civil war, has been on the decline. According to the latest figures from the Violations Documentation Center in Syria, fatalities as a result of the conflict fell from 1,171 in May 2016, to 665 in May 2017.

Mexico has been in the grip of a war on drugs since then-President Felipe Calderón came to power in December 2006, immediately deploying tens of thousands of troops onto the streets in an attempt to crack down on drug activity by the cartels. However, corruption within the security forces undermined the effort and led to more deaths — leading to public mistrust in the scheme. By the time Calderon left office six years later, his brutal war had seen the murder count soar to well over 20,000 per year.

I've wanted to do one more motorcycle journey to southern Mexico but that's simply not feasible any more.  Too bad. Just a few years ago it was a wonderful country to ride.

Is It Time to Topple the Neoliberal Order?

Has neoliberalism finally run its course? Are Western countries poised to move their political centre back to the progressive left? What we're seeing underway in Britain may point the way to the future.

Guardian columnist Owen Jones writes that the old Tory order is crumbling:

The political consensus established by Margaret Thatcher’s Tories – neoliberalism, for want of a more sexy word – is disintegrating. It is going the same way as the postwar social democratic consensus established by Clement Attlee, which fell apart in the late 1970s. That model – public ownership, high taxes on the rich, strong trade unions – delivered an unparalleled increase in living standards and economic growth. A surge in oil prices, and the collapse of the Bretton Woods international financial framework, helped bring that era to an end. The death of this political consensus was increasingly obvious at the time: its morbid symptoms were everywhere. Those who wanted to keep it together were powerless against the incoming tide of history. “There are times, perhaps once every 30 years, when there is a sea change in politics,” said Labour’s James Callaghan, days before he was ousted from No 10 by Thatcher. “It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of.”

If any episode sums up the collapse of our own neoliberal era, it is surely Grenfell Tower. The right decry the “politicisation” of this human-made disaster, but to avoid talking about the politics of this calamity is like trying to understand rain without discussing weather, or illness without biology.

The Tories are desperately attempting to shore up a system that has engineered the longest squeeze in wages since the Napoleonic wars, with deteriorating public services, mediocre privatised utilities, a NHS plunged into “humanitarian crisis”, and exploding debt. It can’t even provide affordable, comfortable and safe housing for millions of its own citizens. It is incapable of meeting the needs and aspirations of the majority. The right, therefore, is left with a dilemma. It can either double down and make the ideological case for its failings and increasingly rejected system, or it can concede ground. That’s what Labour did 40 years ago. In 1977, Callaghan formally renounced Keynesianism, arguing that the option of “spending our way out of recession no longer existed”, and had only ever worked by “injecting bigger and bigger doses of inflation into the economy”. The Tories may well now try abandoning cuts in favour of investment; but surrendering ground to the enemy didn’t save Labour back then.

Nothing scares Britain’s vested interests more than a politicised, mobilised population. Our social order is tottering, but it can continue to disintegrate, with painful consequences, for a long time. A new society intolerant of injustice and inequality can be created. But only the biggest mass movement in Britain’s history can make it so.

But what of Canada where neoliberalism has become the political orthodoxy of all our mainstream parties, the NDP included? Trudeau had an opportunity to wean Canada off neoliberalism by reinstating progressive democracy but instead declared himself a confirmed globalist. Perhaps that explains why his government beat such a shameful retreat from its solemn promise of electoral reform.

For anyone who believes that neoliberalism/globalist free market fundamentalism is some divine wisdom carved in tablets of stone you would do well to read John Ralston Saul's discussion of economic models in his 2005 book, The Collapse of Globalism, demonstrates that the current political-economic order, like all the models before it, is rooted in ideology. Like a religion it is essentially faith based which accounts for neoliberalism's longevity beyond the point of its failure. Even the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization have proclaimed it a failure. So too did its guru, Milton Friedman, prior to his death. Yet its disciples, its true believers, including our current and past prime ministers still cling tenaciously to it.

The Guardian scribe, Owen Jones, is correct. It's going to take a mass movement to topple the high priests of neoliberalism. That's as true for Canada as it is for Britain.

Move Over

It was sometime around mid-May that the world's population broke the 7.5 billion mark.

In the 12,000 year history of civilization, it took most of that time, almost all of it in fact, for humankind to reach one billion, sometime around 1814. When I was born that one billion had swelled to a record 2.5 billion. In one lifetime, my own, that record has been broken by a factor of three.

Now it's predicted we'll add another half billion by 2023, barely another 6 years. 8 billion by 2023. Can you see where this is going?

The world’s population will break through the 8 billion mark in 2023, there are more men than women, and next year the number of over 60s will top 1 billion for the first time, according to the latest findings and forecasts from the United Nations annual population survey.

More than half of the global population growth by 2050 will come from sub-Saharan Africa, where fertility rates will persist at levels far higher than in the rest of the world, the UN predictions released on Wednesday show.

But wait, there's more. There's always more. By 2050 the population is expected to be 9.8 billion. That would be net growth of over 7 billion in just one century.

Here's the thing. Even if you have a reasonable expectation of still being around in 2050, I don't think you'll see mankind's numbers anywhere near 10 billion. My guess is that we'll see a massive, global collapse long before then. 

We're already consuming Earth's resources at 1.7 times the planet's carrying capacity. We, you and me, mankind are absolutely dependent on our biosphere providing more than it produces, much more. Earth Overshoot Day this year will be another record, falling on August 2nd. We're exceeding our planet's resource capacity sooner every year and the planet is looking awfully worn out.

In case you're wondering what may be in store in the next decade or two, the people who calculate Overshoot Day each year worked out that mankind first exceeded our then still healthy Earth's resource carrying capacity in the early 70s when we passed the three billion mark. We've been degrading the hell out of the place ever since.  Assuming that Earth could again sustain a human population of three billion, how do we get from eight billion down to three in a decade, maybe a bit more?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Worth a Look

Elon Musk has released his vision for colonizing Mars. I'm a skeptic but he does make some interesting points. Musk has plainly done a lot of homework. I, like most of us, have done virtually nil.

Musk wants to make humans a multi-planetary species. He admits it's a long shot with grave risks but argues that the alternative is eventual extinction of humanity on Earth. What do you think?

This Won't Set Well With the Donald

Who can forget the glory days when Donald Trump bragged about putting the kibosh on plans by Ford to build its Focus compact cars in Mexico? He sure straightened them out, didn't he - pilgrim?

The Ford Focus will not be built in Mexico. It will be built in China and those compact cars will then be sold in the United States of Murca.

Ford already makes some Focus cars in China, but starting in 2019, Ford Focus cars sold in North America will be made there, too. It will mark the first time the automaker will make cars in China and export them back to the United States.

After the switch is completed, China will produce most of the company's Focuses, with some coming from Europe as well.

The move will save the car company $1 billion US, including $500 million from cancelling a new plant in Mexico that was intended to build the Focus.

But who can forget this, Trump the Jyna-Slayer:

“I beat the people from China. I win against China. You can win against China if you’re smart. But our people don’t have a clue. We give state dinners to the heads of China. I said why are you doing state dinners for them? They’re ripping us left and right. Just take them to McDonald’s and go back to the negotiating table,” Trump said in July 2015.

Canada's Energy Policy - Flying At the Speed of Stall.

BC's Christy Clark had fantasies of massive tankers ferrying liquid natural gas to eager markets in Asia.  Every Alberta premier since Peter Lougheed and every recent Canadian prime minister has had similar wet dreams about vast wealth to be had for allowing foreigners to extract and export Athabasca bitumen. Surely China, wonderful China, was simply waiting to bury us in their mighty yuan.

Maybe not.

Reuters reports that China is experiencing petro-bloat.

Some of China's top oil refineries are having to take the highly unusual step of cutting operations during what is typically the peak demand summer season when hot weather drives up power usage and families take to the road during school holidays.

Almost 10 percent of China's refining capacity is set to be shut down during the third quarter, signaling that demand growth from the world's top crude importer is stuttering further.

West African and European suppliers are already feeling the chill from China's reduced demand, and a global glut has dragged spot prices for crude this week to their lowest since November, 2016.

Major Chinese oil refineries, including PetroChina's Jinzhou will set their run rates around 6,500 barrels per day (bpd) lower than the second quarter, sources at the affected refineries said.

Petrochina's Fushun refinery, with an annual capacity of 233,200 bpd, began a 45-day full shutdown at the start of June, the sources said on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to media.

Rival Sinopec is considering slashing as much as 230,000 bpd, equivalent to about 5 percent of its average daily production last year, in what would be only the second time in 16 years that the firm has cut runs.

Imagine Canada having to compete with China across the rest of Asia Pacific.

To whittle down the surplus weighing on the domestic market, analysts expect China to export refined product, putting more pressure on a well supplied global markets.

"China will have to export product... onto Asian markets, which given demand conditions regionally does not appear particularly constructive," said Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity strategy at French bank BNP Paribas.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How Hot Is It?

Too damned hot for planes, that's how hot.

Officials at the Phoenix, Arizona airport say 40 flights have been cancelled because some airplanes aren't designed to fly when temperatures hit 49 degrees Celsius today. The superheated air is just too thin to generate enough lift for airliners such as Bombardier's CRJ class.

It's a well-known problem - a 2016 report from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) even warned that higher temperatures caused by climate change could "have severe consequences for aircraft take-off performance, where high altitudes or short runways limit the payload or even the fuel-carrying capacity".

Those problems are why many countries in the Middle East, and some high-altitude airports in South America, tend to schedule long flights for the evening or night, when it is cooler.

Today's cancellations at Phoenix airport come just a day after the publication of a new study from Dr. Mora at the University of Hawaii warning of a significant increase in heatwave intensity and frequency around the world. 

Because It's 2017

According to a national pollution inventory, large polluters discharge millions of kilograms of toxic substances into the Canadian environment annually, yet the Toronto Public Library collects more fines for overdue books each year than the federal government collected from polluters over the first 25 years that CEPA was in force.

I don't know about you but it doesn't sound to me like the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, CEPA, is working. Ask any Toronto librarian.

Three Canadian law profs are calling on the industry-friendly Trudeau government to implement proposed reforms to CEPA recommended by the Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development.

As law professors who have studied the regulation of toxic chemicals in Canada for many years, we urge Parliament to embrace these recommendations as a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Implementation would make the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) more effective in preventing pollution and protecting all Canadians from the risks posed by toxins in the environment. As it stands, air pollution kills 7,000 Canadians every year, but Canada is the only wealthy industrialized national that lacks enforceable national standards for air quality.


One such proposal is the creation of new enforcement tools and an increased budget to make sure that polluters pay, not the public.

Another critical proposal is the reversal of the burden of proof for substances of very high concern, such as carcinogens like asbestos and benzene, and chemicals that do not break down in the environment and build up in the food chain, like musk xylene.

Chemicals are not people: they shouldn't be presumed innocent.

Under existing law, those who want to restrict use of a chemical must prove harm to humans or the environment. This is fundamentally backwards. The burden of proof should fall on those who seek to profit from the manufacture or use of the chemical.


Canadians are increasingly exposed to toxics through air and water pollution, and in our everyday use of such consumer products as plastics, electronics, furniture that contains the chemical compound Bisphenol A, flame retardants, and other substances. As it stands, the law allows government to do nothing, even once it classifies a substance as "toxic."

This means that the most privileged of us can shop our way out of toxic exposure, by living in the best neighbourhoods and buying all the right things, but everyone else — especially those socially or economically marginalized communities — are left to bear the toxic burdens. It's a phenomenon known as "environmental racism" or "environmental injustice," and is well-documented both in academic and journalistic literature.

One in four low-income Canadians, for example, lives within one kilometre of a major source of industrial air pollution, resulting in higher rates of hospitalization for heart disease and respiratory illnesses. Only one in 14 wealthy urban Canadians lives within one kilometre of such a facility. Indigenous people across Canada often have much higher body burdens of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other toxic chemicals.


CEPA is outdated and ineffective compared to chemical regulation in other jurisdictions, such as the European Union, which has stringent regulation to protect people and the environment from chemical health risks, and imposes the burden of proof on companies. In order to protect what thousands of Canadians argue is a right to live in a healthy environment, the law needs amendment, as the committee recognizes.

Canada is among a minority of countries that up until now has refused to recognize that its citizens have the right to live in a healthy environment. For background, the right to a healthy environment enjoys constitutional protection in at least 110 countries, and is a legal right in a total of more than 150 countries. Incorporating this right into CEPA, as the Committee recommends, would be a major breakthrough for Canada.

Do it Justin. Do it "because it's 2017."