Saturday, December 30, 2017

That's the Problem With Uncharted Waters. They're Uncharted.

Looking back over the changes we've experienced and those we've set in motion over the past decade or two, one thing becomes clear. We really don't have much idea of where we'll be in another decade or two.

It's not that we don't have some idea. We do. On questions of hard science - physics, geology, hydrology, oceanography, glaciology - we've got volumes of educated guesses even if they usually turn out to be optimistic predictions quickly overtaken by events.

Yet there are few problems/challenges/threats that stand alone. Most of the biggies are in some way, often many ways, connected. They all have knock-on effects that spread across the palette of human dysfunction. In fact the common thread that runs through them all is human dysfunction.

Whether it is global warming, overpopulation, the rapacious over-consumption of finite resources, or any of the other wholly or partly man-made threats that, by some accounts, see us poised on the brink of another mass extinction event, it all boils down to human dysfunction.

Dysfunction lies at the root of our every form of human organization - economic, industrial, geo-political, even social. In one way after another, mankind absolutely refuses to live in harmony with our environment, our one and only biosphere, Spaceship Earth. We've been reckless and wanton and defiant, angrily refusing to be restrained. Today our most precious right seems to be our right to rampage.

Dysfunction, left unchecked, tends not to end well.  Look at America today, post-truth America. What is that but a manifestation of dysfunction of an advanced, perhaps terminal, stage? Denial isn't some coping mechanism. It stands as a societal operating system. Knowledge is displaced by belief, faith. Fact yields to whatever in hell we demand or are convinced to believe.  Social cohesion succumbs to factionalism, Lord of the Flies tribalism driven by fear, confusion and the inevitable resort to base human instincts.

Ask yourself how democracy - liberal democracy - will fare in this era of upheaval. Again we're in uncharted waters but the eddies and shoals are beginning to emerge.

What do you imagine life will be like under a different system of political organization? What if liberal democracy yields to either illiberal democracy or outright oligarchy? Illiberal democracy where first the rule of law and judicial independence are suppressed, paving the way for gutting of constitutional freedoms and protections. The organs of the state serving neither the nation nor its people but its rulers instead.

We tend to conflate that which we have experienced during our own lifetimes as normal, reality, the way things are. That's foundational to our greater dysfunctions.  Yet, while our lifetimes may not have been racked by wars and disasters so familiar to earlier times, we still have experienced massive and constant change. As I like to point out, when I was born humankind set an all-time record of 2.5 billion in numbers. Today, in just one lifetime, that has tripled to 7.5 billion and it is still increasing at an astonishing rate. It's thought that human civilization dates back around 12,000 years. It took all but two centuries of that, the last two centuries, for mankind to first reach the one billion mark. 12,000 years to reach a billion strong. One hundred years to hit 2.5 billion. Less than another 70 years to rocket to 7.5 billion. How's that for "massive and constant change"?

On Cooper's Hill sits this modest monument overlooking the meadow of Runnymede by the river Thames where Magna Carta was signed in 1215.  The monument, constructed by the American Bar Association, honours the Great Charter as the "foundation of the rule of law for ages past and for the new millennium."  The words suggest a lasting order, permanence, immutable truth bordering on immortality, notions that we may soon find wishfully ambitious and illusory.

Eight hundred years. Such a long time and yet such a brief interval. Full of retreats, setbacks and hesitations. Even then, true democracy, marked by universal suffrage, is something both recent and novel, about just a hundred years old. Women received the right to vote in Canada in 1917, in Britain a year later, and in the United States with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.  My grandmother received the right to vote in the same year that she bore her second child, my father. That's not very long.

Now there are signs that this grand experiment, democracy, is on the wane, perhaps in peril. The past few years have caused us to watch anxiously at the spread of anti-democratic populism across Europe. Foreign Policy offers this graphic.

'FP calls 2017, "the Year of False Promise in the Fight Against Populism."

The clearest way of understanding the rapid advance of the populists is to chart their progress on a time-series map. A first glance reveals the basic story: a blue wave has slowly conquered the continent. But a closer look reveals three key — and hitherto underappreciated — features of the populist rise.

First, populism is now the predominant form of government in a huge, populous, and strategically crucial part of Central Europe. It is now possible to drive from the Baltic Sea all the way to the Aegean without once leaving a country ruled by a populist.

The implications are enormous. Far from being a small, insurgent force, populism has proved capable of capturing power in a large number of countries. As a result, hopes of a democratic Europe that extends from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic — containing all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe celebrated by Winston Churchill in his Iron Curtain speech — has been dashed: Barely three decades after these parts of Europe were liberated from Soviet domination, democracy is now fighting for its very survival in Budapest and Prague, in Belgrade and Warsaw.

Second, right-wing populists have not yet led the government in a single Western European country. It would be easy to conclude that their influence remains limited in much of the continent. But that would be a mistake: As our map shows, right-wing populists are now part of the government in many countries, from Greece to Austria to Norway.

What’s more, the influence of the populists is rapidly growing even in countries where they are not in power: To stave off the competition from the extremes, traditionally moderate parties in countries including France and Austria have recently lurched to the right. Indeed, when members of France’s Les Republicains were faced with a choice between traditional conservatives like Florence Portelli and Maël de Cala or a much more radical candidates by the name of Laurent Wauquiez, they chose the man who likes to make sly allusions to theories according to which a mass of immigrants threatens to replace the white race. Similarly, Austria’s conservative People’s Party has quickly radicalised under the new leadership of Sebastian Kurz, and so it does not come as a surprise that the new Kurz-led government, which includes a heavy presence from the populist Freedom Party, has already announced plans to confiscate all money from arriving asylum seekers and to purge left-wing voices within the country’s public broadcaster.

Finally, it is a mistake to focus exclusively on right-wing populism. Just as a populist belt, mostly composed of right-leaning parties, has already covered much of Central Europe, so too a second populist belt, mostly composed of left-leaning parties, may one day conquer much of Southern Europe. Many of these movements have grown strong in debtor countries as a result of the euro crisis and a decade of economic stagnation. But while much of their anger is directed at austerity policies that really have done a lot of damage, some of these parties are also proving to be increasingly open to xenophobic appeals, or have started to undermine the independence of the media.


The political transformations we are currently seeing are a long-term trend, and the only plausible explanation for that must be that they are caused by structural drivers which have been at play for a long time. While debate about their exact identity persists, it seems likely that they include economic insecurity; a rebellion against immigration and the notion of a multi-ethnic society; and the greater ease with which extreme voices can make themselves heard in an age of social media.

Past trends, of course, are never a sure predictor of the future. Perhaps those structural drivers are about to exhaust themselves, making it easier for moderate parties to regain the initiative in the years to come. But to think that the populist wave has crested just because the record performances of Germany’s far-right AfD and France’s Marine Le Pen were not enough to catapult them into the very heart of government is deeply misguided; unless politicians manage to identify and counteract the structural drivers of populism, populism is very unlikely to disappear of its own accord. 

The Guardian, meanwhile, laments, "the curious demise of the Europe's centre-left."

The spectre that haunts Europe’s centre left has a name: Pasokification. In 2009, Greece’s once-great social democratic party won 43.9% of the national vote. Barely six years later, it could manage just 6.3%.

Atomised in France, all but wiped out in the Netherlands, humiliated in Germany, Europe’s mainstream centre left is in full retreat. Even in its one-time stronghold of Scandinavia, social democracy is now struggling.

There are many reasons. The embrace-the-market “Third Way” policies of leaders such as Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder worked fine in the turn-of-the-century boom years but seem to offer little to today’s vulnerable centre-left voters.

The fallout from the 2008 financial crash – high unemployment, lower living standards, ongoing public spending cuts – has combined with long-term trends (globalisation, automation, immigration, changing class identities, declining union membership) to eat into the centre left’s core electorates.

Openly addressing those fears, populist far-right parties have attracted the votes of many who traditionally supported the centre left. The rise of a new anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation, anti-establishment far left has proved equally damaging.

The moderate European left that played such a fundamental part in rebuilding western Europe’s post-war democracy is not yet dead. But unless it can once more offer voters credible solutions to their present-day problems, it could be in terminal decline.

Is the European experience all that much different to what is well underway on our side of the Atlantic Ocean? Trump certainly rode to power by convincing the Gullibillies that he was anti-capitalist, anti-globalist, even anti-establishment, a ruse he maintains today even after screwing over his followers on health care and debt-funded tax breaks.

And what of our Canada? How fares the centre-left and liberal democracy north of the 49th? We have a "don't worry, be happy" prime minister who persistently reveals himself oblivious to the sources of popular discontent and the threats to our democratic freedoms.

Layton and Mulcair abandoned the centre-left for the power prospects, positioning the New Dems as Latter Day Libs. The Liberals migrated right to become Conservative Lites. The Tories? We would have to await their return to power to properly gauge their populist resurrection.

We are not only in uncharted waters, we are rudderless and drifting. There'll be no talk about the restoration of progressive democracy. The easiest and most powerful remedy, electoral reform, is not in the cards. We can't be bothered. We will not trifle ourselves either with the restoration of a robust free press so essential to the functioning of democracy.  So much for "informed consent." We look the other way that Quality People may get away with tax fraud while we demand that lesser people capitulate to a miserable, eeking-out future of "job churn." We will not defend liberal democracy. And if we fail to defend liberal democracy, we leave it weakened, perhaps mortally. If we will not defend liberal democracy how can we demand that others respect it?

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017, The Year of Fear and Loathing. Bring On 2018.

2017. Where is Hunter Stockton Thompson now that we most need him?

Fortunately we have the Sydney Morning Herald's Nick O'Malley to staunch our reportorial hemorrhaging with a delightful look back over a wild, weird and ugly year.  He begins, quite appropriately, with foul-mouth bad-boy, Tony Scaramucci.

Anthony Scaramucci, a man with no experience in either politics or communications, began his duties as one of the most prominent political communicators on Earth on July 25, though his official start date was not to have been until August 15. Having perhaps had time to unpack his office, he then placed an unbidden call to a leading political journalist and unleashed a rant so foul and incoherent that even US President Donald Trump blanched. He was sacked on July 31, a fortnight before he began.

I bring up Scaramucci not because he held an important role in public affairs over the past year – he was wind passed in a hurricane – but because his was an emblematic one. Scaramucci was as shameless as he was unqualified, as incompetent as he was profane. He appeared out of nowhere for no apparent reason and he made no sense at all. He left in his wake only vague sense of discomfort and dismay and the echoes of his boasting.

He was 2017 in human form.
Lacking the White House's keen sense of the post-modern absurd, much of the press corps set about keeping a tally of Trump's lies. According to The New York Times by mid-December he had told 103 "lies or falsehoods" compared with 18 during the same period for Barack Obama. The Washington Post was far testier, measuring 1628 false or misleading statements in the year to mid-November.

Chapter Two - Martin Shkreli

His comeuppance finally came in June 2017, when he faced a trial for securities fraud. For days the court struggled to lock in a jury because, it turned out, so many people hated him.

Harpers Magazine published excerpts of the selection process:

Juror No. 1: I'm aware of the defendant and I hate him ... I think he's a greedy little man.
Juror No.52: When I walked in here today I looked at him, and in my head, that's a snake - not knowing who he was. I just walked in and looked right at him and that's a snake."
Juror No.28: Is he stupid or greedy? I can't understand.
Juror No.144: I don't think I can [be open-minded] because he kind of looks like a dick.
Juror No.77: You'd have to convince me he was innocent rather than guilty.
Juror No.125: I already sense the man is guilty.
Juror No.59: It's my attitude toward his entire demeanour, what he has done to people.
The court: All right. We are going to excuse you, sir.
Juror No.59: And he disrespected the Wu-Tang Clan.

Shkreli was eventually convicted and released on bail pending sentencing, which was revoked when he offered, via Facebook, $5000 to anyone who could bring him a strand of Hillary Clinton's hair. He is now in jail.

Chapter Three - The Outing of Julian Assange

During the US election campaign, Julian Assange's special loathing for Clinton became clear with his own public statements, as did apparent ties between WikiLeaks and Russia and Trump. Nigel Farage, the right-wing Brexit campaigner, paraded around Trump's nomination convention in Cleveland as a VIP guest, only to beat a path straight to Assange's spider-hole in the Ecuadorian Embassy the moment he returned to Britain.

The Trump adviser Roger Stone, who maintains close ties to both his own Russian contacts and the Trump campaign, was able to foreshadow anti-Hillary document drops from WikiLeaks, documents which appeared to come from Russian hacking of Democratic Party computer files. Minutes after The Washington Post released video tape of Trump boasting how he liked to "grab" women "by the pussy", Assange was at work releasing documents damaging to the Clinton campaign.

Chapter Four - Legitimizing Racism

By August some of the only stable themes of the year were clear. Trump was the most unpopular new president in modern history, having failed to either wedge the Democrats with the infrastructure spending bill or reward Republican loyalty by destroying Obamacare as promised.

But he had maintained the support of his nationalistic base, including the majority of Republican voters. He kept the faith of the former even when a gathering of far right-wing activists groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, descended into violent mayhem, leading to the murder of Heather Heyer, a protester against the rallying racists.

In normal circumstances the political playbook here was clear. A president would unequivocally condemn the group that had been filmed chanting "Sieg Heil" and "blood and soil" and offer the nation's condolences to Heyer's grieving family. Instead in the hours after her death on Saturday, August 12, Trump found an equivalence between the groups of protesters, declaring: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides."

This language was reported to have originated with Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart boss who had harnessed the political power of nationalism and hitched it to Trump's wagon early in the presidential campaign. Trump stood by his comments days later, telling reporters: "You also had some very fine people on both sides." And in a peculiarly 2017 twist he went on to plug a local vineyard that he owned. "I know a lot about Charlottesville," he said. "It's a great place that has been badly hurt over the last couple days. I own one of the largest wineries in the United States. It is in Charlottesville."

Chapter Five - Women Fire Back

A look at Alabama's exit polls confirms something significant about this dark, odd year. Trump's first serious electoral loss was inflicted by women, two-thirds of whom voted against Moore. This made sense. In January it had been the vast rallies of women around America – and the world – against Trump the day after his inauguration that had prompted Spicer's tantrum at the White House.

And since October it has been women who have upended the standing social order with revelations of sexual harassment. It began with a story in The New York Times about the relentless abuse of women by the most powerful man in Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein, but since then the #metoo movement, or variants of it, have spread around the world, serving as both an assertion of basic human rights and a kind of proxy war against Trumpism.

Through October, November and December the revelations kept coming. It wasn't just the extent of the behaviour that was being revealed that shocked, but the kinds of behaviour. Weinstein grabbed and groped, harassed and terrorised. He stands accused of rape. But the journalist Lauren Sivan also reports that after she refused Weinstein's advances he blocked her exit from a deserted restaurant and masturbated into a potted plant in front of her. This method of abuse is apparently not unique to Weinstein either. The comedian Louis CK has confessed to similar behaviour in his abuse of women. The po-faced business magazine Forbes was reduced to running an article entitled "Why Would High-Powered Men Masturbate in Front of Women".

By the end of the year just keeping abreast of the news seemed to inflict a kind of psychic tachycardia. On November 29 the online magazine Slate published a blog post entitled, "Today Has Been Harrowing, but at Least It's Friday".

The piece, which was published on a Wednesday, simply listed some of the day's breaking stories. The star anchor of NBC's Today show, Matt Lauer, and the beloved NPR variety host, Garrison Keillor, had been sacked for sexual misconduct; Trump had promoted via Twitter a false video being spread by a British neo-Nazi group; North Korea had revealed it had a missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead to most of the continental United States; a former Bosnian-Croat general convicted of war crimes had killed himself by drinking poison before cameras during a court appearance in The Hague; and the organiser of the Charlottesville rally had announced he would mark the anniversary of Heather Heyer's murder with another far-right rally.

So we have that to look forward to.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Maybe This Is a Good Thing

Imagine if he'd been away golfing the entire year?

Dear Roy.

Dear Roy Moore:

You're a God fearin', God praisin', God lovin' man.

You proudly proclaim that God's law, or at least your God's law as you perceive it, is the highest law of the land.

Now, Roy, here's the thing. If your all knowing, all seeing, omnipotent God wanted your sorry ass in the United States Senate, He would not have packed those ballot boxes with 20,000 extra votes for Democrat Doug Jones. God would have packed those ballot boxes with an extra 20,000 votes for your devout ass.  Only He didn't.

So calm your tits, Roy. Have a quiet word with God. Ask him why He screwed up. He's probably got some good reason.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Did Canada Cave to American Intimidation?

According to America's National Public Radio, the Trudeau government was intimidated into abstaining on yesterday's General Assembly vote to repudiate Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. NPR reports that the federal government wanted to vote with the overwhelming majority but was pressured into abstaining on warnings that NAFTA negotiations could be at risk.

Reminds me of that line attributed to Churchill: "Madam, we have already established what you are. Now we are merely haggling over the price."

And it seems Canada should be watching its back when it comes to the far north. My kids bought me one of those Amazon Echo devices. So I asked it this morning where Santa lives. Got the proper answer, the North Pole. Pursuing this line of enquiry I followed up by asking if Santa was Canadian to which I got an abrupt, "no." Then I asked if Santa Claus was American. I wasn't quite ready for the response, "yes." Oh dear.  Don't tell the kids.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Forcillo Charged with Perjury, Obstruction

Life seems to be going from bad to worse for disgraced Toronto cop, James Forcillo, appealing the attempted murder conviction for his slaughter of Sammy Yatim on a street car in 2013.

Forcillo was arrested for breaching the conditions of his bail but now he's facing charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Unfortunately there's no information on what Forcillo did to receive those extra charges.

The Republican Myth of Corporate Tax Cuts/Job Growth Comes Crashing Down

The Gullibillies sure liked it. "We're going to cut taxes for corporations so that they can create all sorts of new, high-paid jobs. You'll be in hog heaven then."

Of course the US government remains securely in the red so these tax cuts are being paid for with more debt, more borrowed money, but, if it creates this new Workers' Paradise, who cares?

Only there's this glitch. Corporations aren't using their windfall tax cut for expansion and job creation. They're using it to restructure to enhance their own profitability.

WEEKS BEFORE THE Republican-led Congress moved toward final passage of its corporate tax cut bill, major companies had already begun a surge of stock buybacks — confirming critics’ fears that the windfall of lower rates will be used for self-enrichment rather than job growth.

Home Depot led the buyback splurge, pocketing $15 billion. On an earnings call held earlier this month, the company’s CFO Carol Tomé quietly admitted the strategy, when asked about the impact of tax reform on the firm:

"It really all depends on if it happens and when it happens and how we would spend it. Cash is fungible. Right now, we’re thinking it might not happen until 2019, so obviously we are using internally generated cash in 2018 to invest in the business and return capital to our shareholders. If it were to happen in 2019, we might use the tax — cash tax savings to invest in the business and then use — generated cash to back buy [sic] shares, it’s all fungible. The point is, we’re going to generate a lot, we may get some from tax reform and we will use it. We will invest back in the business, and we will return it our [sic] shareholders."

By “return it to our shareholders,” she is referring to a buyback, which drives up the price of a stock and can come with dividends as well. Typically, executives hold much of their wealth in company stock, and their compensation is tied to the performance of the shares.

Other corporations are expected to use the windfall to increase mergers and acquisitions (M&A) or invest in automation. “Industry executives have been eagerly anticipating tax reform in earnings calls, interviews and casual conversation all year. Multiple CEOs have projected major M&A activity will follow if any kind of corporate rate reduction is finalized, further accelerating the rapid pace of consolidation in the industry,” wrote one industry publication about how waste companies are anticipating tax reform.

There's a couple of  tired and true 'job killers' for you - automation and consolidation.

Sorry, Gullibillies, but Trix are for kids. Someone told you that Trump was going to liberate you from the shackles of neoliberalism and return you to some fictitious time of milk and honey. No, ain't gonna happen. Remember Donald's motto - "you play ball with me and I'll stick the bat right up your arse."

Into the Wild

That's a tree?  Hell yes, in the Land of the Giants it is!

There's a lovely, divided 4-lane highway that connects my town to Nanaimo in the south and Courtenay/Comox to the north and most people in my neighbourhood see that as their one and only corridor for transiting the island.

Sure, it's got gentle corners, uphills and downhills, plenty of trees and some mountain vistas but it's 4-lane asphalt, much as you might find anywhere. Most people I know have no experience of what lies just a mile or two inland of this vital highway, back on the old logging and forestry roads. You get back there and you get a taste, just a smidgen, of wilderness. It's spectacularly beautiful and, especially after a rain washes the gravel dust from the branches, you may remember that the real inhabitants of this place aren't human. It's an entirely different world than the world we've manufactured for our convenience. It's a place where we're not the top of the food chain, something that reminds me to take bring a rifle on my outings.

The world was once dominated by wilderness but the malignancy of human growth has claimed most of it. Here's a map showing what remains.

It's mainly Canada, Russia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Amazon and a few bits and pieces here and there. However, when it comes to all things natural these days, what wilderness does remain is in peril and a new study finds most of it could be gone in 50 years.

The world’s last great wildernesses are shrinking at an alarming rate. In the past two decades, 10% of the earth’s wilderness has been lost due to human pressure, a mapping study by the University of Queensland has found.

Over the course of human history, there has been a major degradation of 52% of the earth’s ecosystems, while the remaining 48% is being increasingly eroded. Since 1992, when the United Nations signed up to the Rio convention on biological diversity, three million square kilometres of wilderness have been lost.

 According to the UQ professor and director of science at the Wildlife Conservation Society James Watson, senior author on the study, “If this rate continues, we will have lost all wilderness within the next 50 years.”

This wilderness degradation is endangering biodiversity, as well as the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle and pollination. And, says Watson, once they have been damaged or cleared, the wildernesses are gone for good; there is no scientific evidence that degraded eco-systems could ever return to their original condition.

These pristine wild places exist in inhospitable locations: the deserts of Central Australia; the Amazon rainforest in South America; Africa; the Tibetan plateau in central Asia; and the boreal forests of Canada and Russia.

The wilderness is life. The Amazon rainforest, for example, has created its own climate, its own hydrological cycle that has been the primary source of freshwater for major cities such as Sao Paulo.  The Amazon has provided the rain water that filled the reservoirs on which Sao Paulo and Rio depend. Now, after decades of illegal logging, those reservoirs are running dry.

The wilderness is also a carbon sink. The trees and vegetation draw CO2 out of the air for photosynthesis and return badly needed oxygen.

The Australian wilderness is being particularly hard hit but Canada's is anything but immune to encroaching human activity and climate change. The lodge pole and mountain pine beetle infestations that have devastated pine forests across the west can be traced directly to warmer winters where the beetle populations are no longer held in check by extended winter freezing.

In Canada, where the majority of our population centers hug the American border, we tend to take our wilderness for granted. It's up there somewhere. Besides, if we want that we can go to a national or provincial park. Only that's about as close to wilderness as the woolly mammoth in the natural history museum is to the real thing.

Isn't it time we sat down and developed some long-term policy to protect this bountiful wilderness that Canada enjoys - while there's still time?

Canada Abstains - Naturally

Another proud day for Canada at the UN General Assembly.

The majority of the world's nations shrugged off the Mango Mussolini's threats of retaliation to support a resolution to reject Trump's move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Despite the warning, 128 members voted in favour of the resolution in support of the long-standing international consensus that the status of Jerusalem – which is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians as a capital – can only be settled as an agreed final issue in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Only nine states – including the United States and Israel voting against the resolution.

There were 35 abstentions, including Canada – which Palestinian officials had expected would support the US position. Ambassadors from several abstaining countries, including Mexico, used their time on the podium to criticise Trump’s unilateral move.

While support for the resolution was somewhat less than Palestinian officials had hoped, the meagre tally of just nine votes in support of the US and Israeli position was a serious diplomatic blow for Trump.

Trump's UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, repeated the threat that those who defied the Great Bloat will pay.

"The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very right of exercising our right as a sovereign nation," she said.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Have We Just Witnessed the Biggest Scam Ever Perpetrated by the US Congress on the American People?

According to MSNBC host, Joy Reid, the Republican congressional caucus has just filleted the American people.

With mid-term elections less than a year away, why would Republicans in the House and Senate drive through a deeply unpopular tax bill with such unseemly haste?

Better yet, why were even prominent Republicans such as senator Lindsey Graham so blatantly open about their corruption?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday became the latest Republican to admit the GOP is trying to ram through massive tax cuts for the rich to satisfy its wealthy donors, telling a journalist that if the party’s tax push fails, “the financial contributions will stop.”

Lindsey Graham says “the financial contributions will stop” if tax reform fails.

— Alan Rappeport (@arappeport) November 9, 2017

David Sirota, reporter with the International Business Times, responded by noting that it is both “laudably honest for Graham to admit this” and “a repulsive glimpse of how politicians see so many public policies as private financial transactions between them and their donors.”

As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) has made a similar comment recently, complaining that his donors are pressuring him to pass tax cuts or “don’t ever call me again.”
Critics had the same response to Graham as they did to Collins: “Dude, you’re not supposed to actually admit that out loud.” 

Joy Reid knows what's going on and it is simply astonishing. The Republicans, she says, are "cashing out."  Reid took to Twitter to report:

I had a Republican source tell me quite plainly: @BobCorker and other Republicans don't care what Americans say. They are "cashing out." That's what this GOP tax bill is about.

This could be the greatest act of corruption in the history of the United States government.  Perhaps these Republican stalwarts see the writing on the wall, the battles that await with the lunatic fringe seeking to take over the GOP, moderates swept aside in primaries by the horde candidates. Perhaps they saw this as their last, best chance to cash out and get while the going is still good.

Letting Go

One of the hardest things most of us endure in life is letting go. Whether it's the death of a loved one, a failed relationship or a particularly hurtful personal slight, letting go can be an ordeal.

We have now embarked on an era where letting go will be a constant, inescapable requirement. Of necessity we will have to become accustomed to letting go.  This came through loud and clear when I read an article by Grist writer, Eric Holthaus, "Let It Go, The Arctic Will Never Be Frozen Again."

The region is now definitively trending toward an ice-free state, the scientists said, with wide-ranging ramifications for ecosystems, national security, and the stability of the global climate system. It was a fitting venue for an eye-opening reminder that, on its current path, civilization is engaged in an existential gamble with the planet’s life-support system.

In an accompanying annual report on the Arctic’s health — titled “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades” — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees all official U.S. research in the region, coined a term: “New Arctic.

Until roughly a decade or so ago, the region was holding up relatively well, despite warming at roughly twice the rate of the planet as a whole. But in recent years, it’s undergone an abrupt change, which now defines it. The Arctic is our glimpse of an Earth in flux, transforming into something that’s radically different from today.

It was jarring when I first read those three words, "let it go." It implies an acceptance of defeat, some measure of giving up. It's not hard to accept intellectually. Scientists have given us ample warning, an evidence and fact-based "heads up." Yet it's extremely difficult to accept, for me at least, on an emotional level. If this fight is lost before it even began what other defeats are already in the works, coming our way? On what issues will we fight back? On what issues will we simply concede?

The Decadent States of America

Has America succumbed to decadence, the terminal stage of the once great state? Foreign Policy's James Traub sees clear parallels between modern day America and  Rome at its end or Louis XVI's France or the dying days of the Habsburg empire.

In The History of the Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon luridly evokes the Rome of 408 A.D., when the armies of the Goths prepared to descend upon the city. The marks of imperial decadence appeared not only in grotesque displays of public opulence and waste, but also in the collapse of faith in reason and science. The people of Rome, Gibbon writes, fell prey to “a puerile superstition” promoted by astrologers and to soothsayers who claimed “to read in the entrails of victims the signs of future greatness and prosperity.” 

Perhaps in a democracy the distinctive feature of decadence is not debauchery but terminal self-absorption — the loss of the capacity for collective action, the belief in common purpose, even the acceptance of a common form of reasoning. We listen to necromancers who prophesy great things while they lead us into disaster. We sneer at the idea of a “public” and hold our fellow citizens in contempt. We think anyone who doesn’t pursue self-interest is a fool. ...A decadent elite licenses degraded behavior, and a debased public chooses its worst leaders. Then our Nero panders to our worst attributes — and we reward him for doing so.

“Decadence,” in short, describes a cultural, moral, and spiritual disorder — the Donald Trump in us. It is the right, of course, that first introduced the language of civilizational decay to American political discourse. A quarter of a century ago, Patrick Buchanan bellowed at the Republican National Convention that the two parties were fighting “a religious war … for the soul of America.” Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) accused the Democrats of practicing “multicultural nihilistic hedonism,” of despising the values of ordinary Americans, of corruption, and of illegitimacy. That all-accusing voice became the voice of the Republican Party. Today it is not the nihilistic hedonism of imperial Rome that threatens American civilization but the furies unleashed by Gingrich and his kin.


Trump functions as the impudent id of this culture of mass contempt.
Of course he has legitimized the language of xenophobia and racial hatred, but he has also legitimized the language of selfishness. During the campaign, Trump barely even made the effort that Mitt Romney did in 2012 to explain his money-making career in terms of public good. He boasted about the gimmicks he had deployed to avoid paying taxes. Yes, he had piled up debt and walked away from the wreckage he had made in Atlantic City. But it was a great deal for him! At the Democratic convention, then-Vice President Joe Biden recalled that the most terrifying words he heard growing up were, “You’re fired.” Biden may have thought he had struck a crushing blow. Then Americans elected the man who had uttered those words with demonic glee. Voters saw cruelty and naked self-aggrandizement as signs of steely determination.

Perhaps we can measure democratic decadence by the diminishing relevance of the word “we.” It is, after all, a premise of democratic politics that, while majorities choose, they do so in the name of collective good. Half a century ago, at the height of the civil rights era and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, democratic majorities even agreed to spend large sums not on themselves but on excluded minorities. The commitment sounds almost chivalric today. Do any of our leaders have the temerity even to suggest that a tax policy that might hurt one class — at least, one politically potent class — nevertheless benefits the nation?

There is, in fact, no purer example of the politics of decadence than the tax legislation that the president will soon sign. Of course the law favors the rich; Republican supply-side doctrine argues that tax cuts to the investor class promote economic growth. What distinguishes the current round of cuts from those of either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush is, first, the way in which they blatantly benefit the president himself through the abolition of the alternative minimum tax and the special treatment of real estate income under new “pass-through” rules. We Americans are so numb by now that we hardly even take note of the mockery this implies of the public servant’s dedication to public good.

Here is something genuinely new about our era: We lack not only a sense of shared citizenry or collective good, but even a shared body of fact or a collective mode of reasoning toward the truth. A thing that we wish to be true is true; if we wish it not to be true, it isn’t. Global warming is a hoax. Barack Obama was born in Africa. Neutral predictions of the effects of tax cuts on the budget must be wrong, because the effects they foresee are bad ones.

It is, of course, our president who finds in smoking entrails the proof of future greatness and prosperity. The reduction of all disagreeable facts and narratives to “fake news” will stand as one of Donald Trump’s most lasting contributions to American culture, far outliving his own tenure. He has, in effect, pressed gerrymandering into the cognitive realm. Your story fights my story; if I can enlist more people on the side of my story, I own the truth. And yet Trump is as much symptom as cause of our national disorder. ...One of our two national political parties — and its supporters — now regards “science” as a fighting word.


...What is new and distinctive, however, is the lack of apology or embarrassment, the sheer blitheness of the contempt for the public good. When Teddy Roosevelt called the monopolists of his day “malefactors of great wealth,” the epithet stung — and stuck. Now the bankers and brokers and private equity barons who helped drive the nation’s economy into a ditch in 2008 react with outrage when they’re singled out for blame. Being a “wealth creator” means never having to say you’re sorry. Enough voters accept this proposition that Donald Trump paid no political price for unapologetic greed.

The worship of the marketplace, and thus the elevation of selfishness to a public virtue, is a doctrine that we associate with the libertarian right. But it has coursed through the culture as a self-justifying ideology for rich people of all political persuasions — perhaps also for people who merely dream of becoming rich.

Decadence is usually understood as an irreversible condition — the last stage before collapse. The court of Muhammad Shah, last of the Mughals to control the entirety of their empire, lost itself in music and dance while the Persian army rode toward the Red Fort. But as American decadence is distinctive, perhaps America’s fate may be, too. Even if it is written in the stars that China will supplant the United States as the world’s greatest power, other empires, Britain being the most obvious example and the one democracy among them, have surrendered the role of global hegemon without sliding into terminal decadence.


Our political elite will continue to gratify our worst impulses so long as we continue to be governed by them. The only way back is to reclaim the common ground — political, moral, and even cognitive — that Donald Trump has lit on fire. Losing to China is hardly the worst thing that could happen to us. Losing ourselves is.

Trump Goes Full Thug

America's UN ambassador, Niki Haley, has a warning for her colleagues. Donald Trump has his eye on them.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has warned UN members she will be “taking names” of countries that vote to reject Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In a letter seen by the Guardian, Haley told countries – including European delegations – that she will report back to the US president with the names of those who support a draft resolution rejecting the US move at the UN general assembly on Thursday, adding that Trump took the issue personally.

Haley writes: “As you consider your vote, I encourage you to know the president and the US take this vote personally.

“The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those who voted against us,” she continued.

Haley followed the letter by tweeting: “At the UN we’re always asked to do more & give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American ppl, abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don’t expect those we’ve helped to target us. On Thurs there’ll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names.”

Nice little alliance you got here. It'd be a shame if something happened to it.

It will be interesting to see what countries buckle under Trump's threat - starting with Canada.

Just What Was Going On With the Republican Tax Overhaul?

By all accounts the Republicans' tax coup d'etat is massively unpopular among the American people. Given that its benefits will mainly flow to corporations and the 1% that's not surprising.

The question becomes how do the Republicans feel electorally secure enough to do something so contrary to the public will? Look at what they have pulled? A tax bill that was never circulated. No hearings. No consultations. It was simply sprung on the American people and rammed through before any objections could permeate Congress.

It's a work of social engineering and the Republicans seem proud to acknowledge that. Of all the developed nations, America has the most serious levels of inequality - of wealth, of income, and of opportunity - and those are worsening. This tax swindle throws fuel, gallons of it, on that fire. What other word is there for that but "perverse"?

Here's another question. What is democracy without informed consent of the public? Can there be democracy based on manufactured consent?  Most of the tyrants of our day stand for election and, predictably, do insanely well at the polls. That includes Putin, Orban, Erdogan and, to some extent, Trump.

Politics has always been a game of hustlers and pitchmen. Look at the fanciful promises Trudeau made to get elected only to renege on them at the first opportunity. Today, however, we've crossed a line in voter manipulation that goes beyond hustling into the realm of brainwashing. Data mining, computer psychology that plumbs your individual psyche, ferreting out and playing on your preferences, your biases, your neuroses with powerful, individually-tailored messaging designed to exploit your every weakness and vulnerability. This is how you create a world in which the political caste can do as they and their benefactors like without regard to the needs, interests and will of the public.

There was a time when votes could be bought for cash handouts or when political liquor flowed freely on election day. We wound up outlawing that because it undermined democracy. Yet what's going on today is worse, far worse and yet our political elites stand mute. Democratic restoration from that gang, are you kidding?

My point is that, if our elected elite won't defend democracy and protect our electoral process then they're preying on us. If they're not introducing legislation to prohibit this sort of brainwashing then they have to be taken as supporting it. And, if our elected representatives won't defend democracy then we either do it on our own or forfeit it. What's it going to be?

It's Called "Creeping Normalcy" and It's a Killer

It's part of human nature. It's what we do. We develop a form of mild amnesia about our reality of twenty or thirty years earlier as we accept our current state as "normal."

The Guardian's enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, writes that our selective blindness is lethal.

As the psychologist Richard Wiseman points out: “At any one moment, your eyes and brain only have the processing power to look at a very small part of your surroundings … your brain quickly identifies what it considers to be the most significant aspects of your surroundings, and focuses almost all of its attention on these elements.” Everything else remains unseen.

Our selective blindness is lethal to the living world. Joni Mitchell’s claim that “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” is, sadly, untrue: our collective memory is wiped clean by ecological loss. One of the most important concepts defining our relationship to the natural world is shifting baseline syndrome, coined by the fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly. The people of each generation perceive the state of the ecosystems they encountered in their childhood as normal and natural. When wildlife is depleted, we might notice the loss, but we are unaware that the baseline by which we judge the decline is in fact a state of extreme depletion.

So we forget that the default state of almost all ecosystems – on land and at sea – is domination by a megafauna. We are unaware that there is something deeply weird about British waters; they are not thronged with great whales, vast shoals of bluefin tuna, two-metre cod and halibut the size of doors, as they were until a few centuries ago. We are unaware that the absence of elephants, rhinos, lions, scimitar cats, hyenas and hippos, that lived in this country during the last interglacial period (when the climate was almost identical to today’s), is also an artefact of human activity.

And the erosion continues. Few people younger than me know that it was once normal to see fields white with mushrooms, or rivers black with eels at the autumn equinox, or that every patch of nettles was once reamed by caterpillars. I can picture a moment at which the birds stop singing, and people wake up and make breakfast and go to work without noticing that anything has changed.

I can tell my children of a world of which they'll have no experience. Their memory starts somewhere in the 90s and it's been in flux ever since. The climate in which I grew up seemed not appreciably different than the climate during my parents' and grandparents' youth. That climate, the tail end of the Holocene, is gone and it's not coming back. Now we're into the Anthropocene and a climate far less benign.

I know from my memories that today is not normal because I have something to measure today against. They have no such memories, no similar yardstick. Their today is normal.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

If We Want Solutions We'll Have to Pay For Them

An excellent article from Forbes that shines a light on the link between climate change and global poverty. The upshot is that, if we're to have any hope at all of staying within two degrees Celsius of global warming, the developed world - that's us - will have to shell out huge sums to kick start green technology for the spread of  economic growth in the Third World.

The point is that impoverished countries cannot afford to not do what we did, springboard economic development on the back of fossil fuel energy.

While it is entirely appropriate that leaders of developing countries seek to raise their citizens’ standard of living and develop their economies, they must avoid emulating China in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change and local pollution. Like the West before it, China built its development on the back of dirty energy: petroleum burned by vehicles and coal burned in power plants and industrial facilities.

China may have had little choice in how to power its growth, as clean energy options – such as solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars – were less technologically mature and considerably more expensive than they are today. Nonetheless, China’s ferocious consumption of fossil energy has led to severe human and environmental harms. More than 60% of the country’s groundwater is polluted with toxins, the soil is contaminated with arsenic and mercury, people in northern China die more than five years early due to air pollution, and China now contributes far more than any other nation to greenhouse gas emissions and hence to global warming

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that in order to have a 66% chance of keeping the world below 2°C of warming, humanity cannot emit more than one trillion tons of carbon dioxide, in total across time – our “carbon budget.”

As of 2017, humans have already emitted 62% of that limit, and we are on track to exceed the limit in 2036. In order to avoid 2°C of warming, global emissions must decline to near-zero by 2050 and must become negative (that is, removing more CO2 from the air than is added) in the second half of the century.

Even if global population and economic development were to remain stable, achieving these emissions cuts would require a heroic effort. But the world is not static. Many countries are still growing, industrializing, and urbanizing.

Many people are aware of China’s rise, but fewer notice that similar growth is happening across the developing world. In 2016, India’s PPP-adjusted GDP was the same as China’s just ten years before, in 2006. Sub-Saharan Africa, collectively, is roughly as productive as China was in 1997. Two other huge countries, Brazil and Indonesia, are similar to China in the mid-1990s. This growth will drive world energy demand – the International Energy Agency forecasts global energy demand will rise 30% between 2017 and 2040 (the equivalent of adding another China and India’s worth of demand), with two-thirds of that growth coming from developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Many of these countries are pursuing carbon-intensive development strategies. India has enacted policies that have worsened air pollution, at terrible cost to the health of the Indian people. More than 100 coal plants are being constructed in Sub-Saharan Africa, and ironically, many of these are being funded and built by Chinese companies, even as China scales back its own use of coal. (Chinese companies are behind roughly 700 coal plant projectsworldwide, many outside of China, as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative.)

Developing nations should have the full support of developed nations to build new economies and achieve prosperity for their citizens; they cannot be asked to pay the price for the past emissions of wealthy nations. Yet, the developing world cannot burn fossil fuels in the same manner that the West and China have done- it is impossible for these countries to receive a “fair share” of the Earth’s capacity to store carbon emissions, since too little capacity remains. Therefore, another path to prosperity must be followed.

To build their economies and improve the quality of life for their citizens, developing nations may be best served by deploying renewable energy, electric vehicles, highly efficient industry, net-zero energy buildings, and other green technologies, thereby “leapfrogging” over the dirty phase of economic development. Only through such leapfrogging can the dual goals of conquering global poverty and protection of the human species be accomplished. Fortunately, clean energy technologies are reaching cost parity with fossil fuels in time to meet growing demand in developing nations, and steps to improve energy efficiency are already cost-saving.

Developed nations, particularly the United States, should make strenuous efforts to support developing nations’ transition to sustainable prosperity, including the provision of financial assistance to enable them to deploy the necessary infrastructure in sufficient quantity.

China, the West, and other developed nations should follow the World Bank’s example by committing to fund neither coal plants nor upstream oil and gas projects anywhere in the world. China should use its expertise at manufacturing clean technology to export renewable energy systems, electric vehicles, and efficient building components.

War Is a Racket

I stumbled across - or over - this recently. War is a racket. It's a phrase attributed to a US Marine, Maj.-Gen Smedley Darlington Butler, a soldier who twice earned America's Medal of Honor.

It's a phrase that Smedley penned in 1925 and yet, if you read the text of his address here, you may find it eerily contemporary.

My military days behind me  by well over thirty years, I was drawn back in recent years to war studies, online courses put on by Kings College, London and other unis.  It was the first time in decades that I had been able to focus on warfare, the nature of war, what caused or triggered wars and such. Man, I thought we had it bad in the dangerous Cold War days. Smedley's "racket" has brought us to an entirely different place this time around.

We now fight - to fight. The proof of that is that we no longer fight to win. We fight to fight. We absolve ourselves of responsibility. We're there - or at least our young men and women are there - as part of a greater community of mutually absolving nations in harness to a dominant nation for the sake of, let's admit it, fighting.  It's a bit like 5th grade track day where you get the blue ribbon for showing up, not actually winning anything.

Okay, okay, in fairness we only lost about 150 dead.   Even compared to Canada's war in Korea (1950-53) our decadal adventure in Afghanistan claimed less than a third as many lives. It was about the same as a bad night for Bomber Command in WWII.

About 150. Ah, there's the rub. One hundred fifty plus for what exactly? I'm not uncomfortable with this conversation. I served. A lot of my uncles served in WWII, one of them I've never met and never will. My late Dad was one of the worst off and how he survived - and thrived - when medical opinion held he sustained life-extinguishing wounds in 1944 reflects an insane amount of luck and great timing.

It's 150, maybe a dozen more.  I remember the flag waving "patriots" who lined the overpasses on the 401 "Highway of Heroes" to venerate our returned dead. Wow, did that make me cringe. It was so un-Canadian. Where were these people when the wounded and maimed came home? Where were they when successive governments turned on those people?

The question we're not asking, the one that most demands clarification, is, in what circumstances, will we commit Canadian troops to combat in the future? Should we ever send our soldiers into 'harm's way' unless we have a clear purpose, a viable plan to achieve that purpose and a commitment to see it through from inception to conclusion.

If you're not "in it to win" then every life lost is a life cheaply gambled and squandered. You know that some of them are going to die but you have to be able to justify every death.  How can you do that if your government isn't in it to win, every day, all day.  How can you order mechanized patrols for roadside IEDs (that, too often, leave our people dead or wounded) if you're not committed to winning the war?

Before we accept any other military adventures for the Canadian Armed Forces we need to ask the questions that we ducked for the past nearly two decades. And we need straight answers.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Mueller Sets His Sights on Cambridge Analytica

At what point does the political interest in swaying public opinion during elections cross the line into anti-democratic electoral manipulation, brainwashing?

Grownups know that politics is a dirty business. It attracts a good many scumbags who find a ready home At for their unique talents.  America has a rich history of dirty tricksters as explored in this 2012 article from Time Magazine.

Whether it's been robo-calls, race baiting or outright slander, most of it has been tolerated. It's been a "shame on you" affair but little more.

In recent years, the internet and algorithms have been added to the mix with devastating effect. One prominent example now under scrutiny in the UK is a Victoria, B.C. company, Aggregate IQ, and the role it played in putting the "leave" campaign over the top on the Brexit referendum.

Aggregate IQ and one Chris Wylie are said to have developed the software later adopted by Cambridge Analytica, a company owned by Robert Mercer in which Steve Bannon is said to have millions invested.

"It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.”

“The danger of not having regulation around the sort of data you can get from Facebook and elsewhere is clear. With this, a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behaviour. It’s what the scientologists try to do but much more powerful. It’s how you brainwash someone. It’s incredibly dangerous."

Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. ...with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. “Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves.”

So far there’s been a lot of speculation about the potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and most of the stories have orbited around the financial dealings of the Trump family and people like Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager. But this story is specifically about how team Trump, with the help of this data company, might have facilitated Russia’s meddling in the US presidential election.

We know from the reporting of Nicholas Confessore and Danny Hakim at the New York Times that Jared Kushner, who was charged with overseeing Trump’s digital operations, is the reason Cambridge Analytica joined the Trump campaign.

Kushner hired a man named Brad Parscale, a Texas-based digital expert who had worked previously for team Trump. According to Confessore and Hakim, Cambridge Analytica convinced Parscale (who has since agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee) to “try out the firm.” The decision was reinforced by Trump’s campaign manager, Steve Bannon, who is also a former vice president of Cambridge Analytica.

War on Korea by March, 2018?

There have been news reports in recent days that Washington has assured Beijing that, if American troops enter North Korea, it will be a limited mission to neutralize Kim's nuclear weaponry after which all US forces will quickly withdraw.

Meanwhile in the Global Times, the English-language outlet of the Beijing government's People Daily China, former Chinese army commander, Lt. Gen. Wang  Hongguang, warned that war in North Korea could break out any time between now and March.

"The war on the Korean Peninsula might break out anytime between now and March next year," Wang said, stressing that "China should be psychologically prepared for a potential Korean war, and the Northeast China regions should be mobilized for that."

"Such mobilization is not to launch a war, but for defensive purposes," he added.

"Defensive mobilization" focuses mainly on the military, a passive coping mechanism in the country's bordering regions which could be affected by nearby battles, Song Zhongping, a military expert and a TV commentator, told the Global Times on Sunday.

The military defense will be activated in the border area, deploying anti-missile weapons, while humanitarian aid should be prepared for potential North Korean war refugees, Song added.

Once war erupts in the peninsula, South Korea will be the most damaged, followed by China, and there will be a huge risk of being exposed to nuclear contamination and earthquakes, Wang said.

If China is prepared, it would limit the damage that such conflicts could create and protect its national security, Song said, noting that defensive action could lead to engagement if US action on the Korean Peninsula threatens China's core interests.

Song said China's People's Liberation Army is prepared for potential conflicts in the area, and the outside world should not underestimate China's defense capabilities.


The South Korean news service, Yonhap News Agency, reports on a joint, US-SK exercise, "Warrior Strike," to train troops to infiltrate North Korea and remove Kim's nuclear weapons on the outbreak of war.

The "Warrior Strike" exercise was held at Camp Stanley, located north of Seoul, and other places from Tuesday to Friday, involving hundreds of soldiers from the two sides, they said.

The U.S. 2nd Infantry Division said on Facebook on Friday that Gen. Jung Kyung-doo, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, and Lt. Gen. Thomas S. Vandal, commander of Eighth Army-Korea, visited the U.S. base and observed Warrior Strike training on the final day of the drill.

Ain't life grand?

A New Way to View Your Political Leadership

Around the world democracy is giving ground to plutocracy, oligarchy and authoritarianism. In some nations, the US in particular, it happened so incrementally that only a few really noticed and, when they sounded the alarm, they were largely ignored.

There was a time, decades ago, when conservatives harped on endlessly about the perils of "creeping socialism." Today there's no equivalent outrage at creeping authoritarianism or the triumph of oligarchy over democracy. From The Guardian:

Last week the landmark World Inequality Report, a data-rich project maintained by more than 100 researchers in more than 70 countries, found that the richest 1% reaped 27% of the world’s income between 1980 and 2016. The bottom half of humanity, by contrast, got 12%. While the very poorest people have benefited in the last 40 years, it is the extremely rich who’ve emerged as the big winners. China’s economic rise has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty but the wealth share held by the nation’s top 1% doubled from 15% to 30%. Such has been the concentration of wealth in India and Russia that inequality not seen since the time of the Raj and the tsar has reappeared. By 2030, the report warns, just 250 people could own 1.5% of all the wealth in the world.

In the west the prevailing ideology of the last 40 years has been of privatisation, deregulation and most recently austerity. This was grounded in rules that served to hold in check the collective power of electorates. The result was higher profits and dividends, lower personal taxes and – for the richest – a higher share of national income. A culture has embedded the perpetual making and lavish expenditure of wealth. However, this came at the expense of almost everyone else: the age of globalisation has seen the pay of lower- and middle-income groups in North America and Europe stagnate. The toxic afterburn of these policies – moulded by domestic choices as much as global pressures – has poisoned politics. Support for anti-establishment parties is now at its highest level since the 1930s. At the same time, mainstream parties have either been radicalised or considerably weakened.

Citizens must recover the idea that politics offers democratic protection, rooted in an egalitarian tradition. In the UK, it is bewildering to see a housebuilding company pay its chief executive £110m when the firm reaped the benefits of a large government subsidy and share prices that bounced back from post-crash lows. Why are ministers not asking for him to publish his tax return to show he will pay £45m back to the Treasury? A laissez-faire approach has for too long subdued democracy and fostered a hyper-exploitative political economy.

The US supreme court justice Louis Brandeis once correctly observed: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Politicians need to make the case for a more equitable settlement: advocating more progressive taxes and a global financial register to stop wealth being shielded in offshore havens. Government spending on health, education and wellbeing is required for the meaningful exercise of citizenship. The rich must share the burden of common challenges – not just sail away in their tax-haven-registered yachts. The mutinous mood among voters will only deepen when they begin paying carbon taxes, and the rich don’t even pay taxes. Contemporary life rests on a fragile consensus that governance works because people believe it does. This faith rests on the rich pulling their weight. Which is why they should.

We plainly, urgently need a progressive restoration. You won't get it from the Trudeau Liberals. You sure as hell won't get it from the Scheer Conservatives and, as for Singh, he couldn't find his ass with both hands. Which means they're all standing in our way. They will defend the rancid status quo, the same tortured order that has undermined democracy elsewhere and, unless checked, may do much the same here.

Trudeau enshrined this status quo when he skulked away from electoral reform. He's at it again over tax evasion prosecutions. His national revenue minister, Diane Lebouthillier, indignantly defends the revenue agency's crackdown on tax cheats only a CBC investigation finds that they're not cracking down on Trudeau/Morneau-class cheats, the Panama-papers and Paradise-papers cheats.  No, they're after tax protesters and small business cheats who don't declare every dime.  People of quality have little to fear from this government. That's why we all need to accept, Liberals included, that there'll be no progressive restoration for Canada while the political caste as currently constituted continues to tightly grip the reins of power.

It's time we judged our betters not by the colour of their banners but by whether they consistently put the public interest above the special interest, especially when the two conflict. We need to recognize when they fail to put labour over capital as both Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt so forcefully urged. And if you find that they have failed you need to recognize that these supposed leaders, Liberal or Conservative or New Democrat, are an impediment to progress in our society and in our country.


The Empire of Delusion

We'll know by the end of the day what the world will look like to the United States and what the States, Trumpland, will look like to the world.

In the course of this day the Mango Mussolini will take to the teleprompter to unveil Amerika's new national security policy.

America's new security posture is expected to be an extension of Trump's 'America First' blather. Amerika's already battered and bruised alliances will probably take another boot to the ribs as Team
"USA, USA, USA" distances itself from all those freeloaders.

Yet Trump will bring the Gullibillies good news too. Climate change henceforth will no longer present a threat to America's national security no matter how much those Pentagon pussies claim it is. And, once 'climate change' has been erased from the chalk board, Amerika will be unleashed to find greater national security in burning coal, oil and gas wherever it can be found.

It's shaping up to be an interesting day.


Foreign Policy has a report on Amerika's new national security policy.

New strategy. The new National Security Strategy document set to be unveiled by President Donald Trump at 2:00 p.m. on Monday describes a world locked in unceasing economic competition, in which Washington has little time for things like promoting democracy abroad, and instead will focus on great power competition, economic rivalry, and homeland security.

Outlining the document for reporters on Sunday, several administration officials called the document a dose of “principled realism” in an “ever-competitive world.”

Cold war is back. The document calls Russia and China “revisionist powers” seeking to change the global status quo, and paints a stark picture of the world, rejecting cooperation in favor of competition.

The United States has to “rethink the policies of the past two decades — policies based on the assumption that engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners,” the document says, according to the New York Times. “For the most part, this premise turned out to be false.”

Democracy promotion out. The strategy also jettisons the idea of democracy promotion, traditionally a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. One official said Sunday that economic relationships will guide the administration, while “ultimately it’s their choice” in how states govern at home.

“America’s economic security is national security,” the official said. “We will demand fair and reciprocal economic relationships around the world. The economic piece gets much more attention.”

Climate change out. The document is also at odds with the long-time Pentagon recognition that climate change is a problem. “Climate change is not identified as a national security threat,” one official said, noting the new strategy was “inspired by the president’s speech” in June that pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord.

But just last week however, president Trump signed off on the 2018 defense spending bill that states, “climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States,” and calls for the Pentagon to submit a report to Congress within a year listing the ten most vulnerable military installations, and what steps have to be taken to ensure they remain operational.

Chris Hedges - The "Permanent Lie"

We've seen this before. It's a standard feature of authoritarian/totalitarian governments - the "permanent lie." Now it's America's turn as it drifts into the grip of rightwing authoritarianism.

Chris Hedges notes that all presidents lie from time to time but the Trump administration lies freely, constantly and in a different manner.

Clinton, when he signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement, promised “NAFTA means jobs, American jobs and good-paying American jobs.” George W. Bush justified the invasion of Iraq because Saddam Hussein supposedly possessed weapons of mass destruction. But Clinton did not continue to pretend that NAFTA was beneficial to the working class when reality proved otherwise. Bush did not pretend that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction once none were found.

The permanent lie is not circumscribed by reality. It is perpetuated even in the face of overwhelming evidence that discredits it. It is irrational. Those who speak in the language of truth and fact are attacked as liars, traitors and purveyors of “fake news.” They are banished from the public sphere once totalitarian elites accrue sufficient power, a power now granted to them with the revoking of net neutrality. The iron refusal by those who engage in the permanent lie to acknowledge reality, no matter how transparent reality becomes, creates a collective psychosis.
“The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed,” Hannah Arendt wrote in “The Origins of Totalitarianism.”

The permanent lie is the apotheosis of totalitarianism. It no longer matters what is true. It matters only what is “correct.” Federal courts are being stacked with imbecilic and incompetent judges who serve the “correct” ideology of corporatism and the rigid social mores of the Christian right. They hold reality, including science and the rule of law, in contempt. They seek to banish those who live in a reality-based world defined by intellectual and moral autonomy. Totalitarian rule always elevates the brutal and the stupid. These reigning idiots have no genuine political philosophy or goals. They use clichés and slogans, most of which are absurd and contradictory, to justify their greed and lust for power. This is as true on the Christian right, which is filling the ideological vacuum of the Trump administration, as it is for the corporatists that preach neoliberalism and globalization. The merger of the corporatists with the Christian right is the marrying of Godzilla to Frankenstein.

When reality is replaced by the whims of opinion and expediency, what is true one day often becomes false the next. Consistency is discarded. Complexity, nuance, depth and profundity are replaced with the simpleton’s belief in threats and force. This is why the Trump administration disdains diplomacy and is dynamiting the State Department. Totalitarianism, wrote novelist and social critic Thomas Mann, is at its core the desire for a simple folktale. Once this folktale replaces reality, morality and ethics are abolished.

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities,” Voltaire warned.

Hedges contends that our only option at this point is to establish sanctuary communities with worker run co-ops and local food supply from which to launch acts of civil disobedience against what Galbraith calls "the predator state."