Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hey Trump. They're Taking the Piss Out of You.

There was quite a giggle when the Great Orange Bloat joined Egyptian thug, Fattah el Sisi and Saudi king Salman to place their hands on the magical glowing orb.

Today the prime ministers of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland decided to take the piss out of the Cheeto Benito and join their hands on a magical orb of their own. Wait, maybe it's just a soccer ball.

What? It's Not Our Coast?

Them's fighting words, Rachel.

According to the Alberta premier, we're just people who happen to live on the Pacific coast, nothing more. That still gives Alberta some overarching right to ship whatever the hell it wants through our waters.

British Columbia cannot lay solitary claim to western tidewaters and must allow landlocked Alberta to have access to the coast for export markets, says Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

"At the end of the day, we can't be a country that says one of its two functional coastlines is only going to do what the people who live right beside it want to do," Notley said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

Oh Rachel, please, go fuck yourself.

What if we played your game, Rachel? What if we told you there was no reason for you not to refine your hazmat bitumen on site in your own greedy province? Clean it up as you might your own kids for church on Sunday. Refine out the pet coke. Refine out the acids, the heavy metals, the abrasives and the carcinogens. You keep claiming the stuff is oil. But it's not oil you want to ship across our province and through our coastal waters.

So, Rachel, let me borrow your own words. We can't be a country where one province says it can needlessly imperil the terrestrial and marine environment of another province because that works to their financial advantage. We can't be a country where one province gets to "externalize" such massive risk by unloading it on another province for the sake of a better return.

We're not your garbage dump, Rachel. Clean up your act and then we might talk. Until then, as I said before, go fuck yourself.

And, by the way, it is our coast.

A Deal for British Columbians

It's a sad reality that, when deals are made between politicians, they have to be viewed from the context of what each side gets out of it. Partisan advantage often obscures the public interest. Which is why it was so refreshing to read the text of the agreement by which the B.C. Green Party will back the NDP to form the next government of this province. I think it's an accord that progressives in any province could support.

We've heard empty political promises before. Justin Trudeau rode to power on solemn promises he shamelessly abandoned the moment that became expedient.

Is it wishful thinking, naivete, to believe the NDP and Greens will live up to both the letter and the spirit of their deal? Maybe. For the moment we can only live in hope.

They're Calling It "The GreenDP" and Predicting It'll Be Good News for Education in B.C.

From the National Observer I learned of the name, GreenDP, the next government of British Columbia forged out of an accommodation of the small but grossly under-represented Green Party and the much larger New Democrats.

According to NatObs education editor, the new government is the "best-case scenario" for public education in B.C.

My conclusion: the dark days of the B.C. Liberals' war on public education are over. After so many years of bleak financial news for public schools, it’s hard to get my head around the idea. But it’s true.

So long Christy Clark (who apparently still won’t go without a fight, but she’ll go soon), her “low-hanging-fruit” administrative savings, school closures and Peter Fassbender’s “affordability zone.” Good riddance to annual budget cutting, the on-again, off-again 95 per-cent-capacity-utilization requirement and stalled seismic upgrades, along with unfunded cost downloads and constant pressure to close schools.

The long, dark, stormy night is over and a new day is dawning for B.C.'s public education system. It won’t help the hundreds of thousands of kids like mine who were part of the generation who went through school under B.C. Liberal governments, but it bodes well for present and future students.

America's Undeclared Civil Wars

Is America in a state of undeclared civil war? Maybe more than one?

An article from The New Republic suggests that Trump's conservative backers see the president as their commander in chief in an undeclared civil war pitting them not just against liberals and America's liberal tradition but also against moderate conservatives - George Will, David Frum and those of their ilk.

The Trump wars are still raging among conservative intellectuals. Indeed, the divide between Never Trump writers and broader pro-Trump conservatives remains as wide now as it was during last year’s elections. In National Review on Tuesday, syndicated columnist Dennis Prager argued that this battle isn’t over the president himself, but competing visions of America. Whereas pro-Trump conservatives “believe that America is engaged in a civil war, with the survival of America as we know it at stake,” anti-Trump conservatives have a less Manichean view of politics.

“While they strongly differ with the Left, they do not regard the left–right battle as an existential battle for preserving our nation,” he wrote. “On the other hand, I, and other conservative Trump supporters, do. That is why, after vigorously opposing Trump’s candidacy during the Republican primaries, I vigorously supported him once he won the nomination. I believed then, as I do now, that America was doomed if a Democrat had been elected president.” Prager returned to the military analogy at the end of his essay, calling on anti-Trump conservatives to do their duty and fall in line behind the commander-in-chief:

"They can join the fight. They can accept an imperfect reality and acknowledge that we are in a civil war, and that Trump, with all his flaws, is our general. If this general is going to win, he needs the best fighters. But too many of them, some of the best minds of the conservative movement, are AWOL. I beg them: Please report for duty."

The great conservative English thinker Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990) expounded on the dangers of thinking of political activity as analogous to military life. While war might be necessary, it is a centralizing activity that is inimical to conservatism as Oakeshott understood it.

“War has accustomed the subjects of modern governments to the experience of having their wealth, their property, their occupations, and their activities managed by those in authority,” Oakeshott explained in posthumously published lectures. “It has reinforced all those other circumstances from which the single, independent, centralized powerful government of modern states have sprung. It has been a generator of ‘equality’ more important than any other—the equality of the besieged.” In another set of lectures, he said that the analogy of military leadership “has little or nothing to offer to subjects engaged in enterprises of their own choosing and who are disposed to want to choose their opinions and beliefs for themselves and to change them when they feel inclined to do so.” In Oakeshottian terms, conservatives who see politics as a war led by generals (be it Trump or anyone else) have already lost because conservative virtues of privacy and individualism can’t exist in wartime.

In many ways, Trump-era conservatives are closer to Oakeshott’s German rival, Carl Schmitt (1888-1985), who believed it was delusional to hope for a respite from political warfare, either domestically or in foreign relations. The “friend-enemy distinction,” for which he’s famous, asserts that politics is inherently combative, everyone an ally or foe. “The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy,” he wrote in The Concept of the Political (1927). “Only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict.”

Prager struck a Schmittean note in calling for conservatives to follow Trump into battle, as did Townhall columnist Kurt Schlicter in a Monday tweet declaring war on liberals:

"Why did I (since Cruz dropped out) and still do support President Trump?

Because fuck liberals.
We win, they lose.
Nothing else matters.
🗡️— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) May 29, 2017"

In his response to Prager, Atlantic writer David Frum flipped the wartime metaphor by noting that conservatives have very good reasons to worry about Trump’s Russia policy. Frum tweeted that he did not believe America was facing a civil war. “Meanwhile I fear that those who *do* believe this false claim about their own country are failing to defend America against a foreign threat,” Frum added. “It’s the sin that enabled Vichy: hating your domestic political opponents so much that you collaborate with the foreign invader.” By Frum’s account, pro-Trump conservatives are so consumed by hatred for their domestic foes that they are willing to turn a blind eye to a hostile intervention in an American election by a foreign power.

But perhaps Russia’s role goes even deeper than Frum suggests. During the Cold War, right-wing anti-liberalism was slightly tempered by the need for a bipartisan foreign policy. Soviet communism was a useful enemy, bringing together political opponents in the U.S. Once that threat vanished, conservative ire turned inwards, fueling the ever more partisan politics we’ve seen since the 1990s. This analysis vindicates Schmitt as the truest exponent of right-wing thinking. The right always needs a foe to destroy, and if it isn’t Russia in the international arena, it’ll be liberals at home. War is the constant, the only question being, “Who is the enemy?”

Weimar anyone?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Showdown at the OK Corral

The soon-to-be former premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, is not going to go gracefully.

Clark has announced she intends to stay on as premier because, after all, elections are for losers, voters and other people who really don't matter.

Christy Clark has announced she intends to try to stay on as British Columbia's premier, despite the province's NDP and Green Party leaders making a pact that would give the New Democrats the support of a majority of the MLAs in the legislature.

But she also admitted she was likely to lose a confidence vote — and if so, would resign as premier.

"Our province is at a really historic moment. This is a moment comes with responsibilities," Clark said.

"We have reviewed the constitutional advice and the historic precedents ... and we will live up to those responsibilities we have. We have a duty to meet the House and to test its confidence ... and I intend to do that in very short order."

My job, according to constitutional convention, is go to the Lieutenant-Governor [and] ask for an opportunity to test the confidence of the House."

But David Moscrop, a political scientist with Simon Fraser University, said that isn't necessarily the case.

"Christy Clark didn't have to meet the House. She could have resigned," he said.

"She knows she's going to lose the vote, so this could be a play to try and make the NDP and Greens wear this in the next election after she's tried to 'constructively' set up a government."

When Does a Carbon Tax Work?

When it comes to carbon taxes, it's all about pricing. The purpose of the tax is to discourage consumption of fossil fuels thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It seems to work, sort of, but carbon taxes are hindered by a lack of political will, a.k.a. cojones.

So where to set the carbon tax/price bar? According to two influential economists, Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz and Britain's Nick Stern, a hundred U.S. dollars a metric tonne should do it.

A hun per tonne. That's enough to send Rachel Notley, Brad Wall and, yes, Capt. Selfie into terminal apoplexy. Their blood would boil until their eyeballs popped.

Experts including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern said governments needed to move quickly to tackle polluting industries with a tax on carbon dioxide at $40-$80 per tonne by 2020.

A tax of $100 a tonne would be needed by 2030 as one of a series of measures to prevent a rise in global temperatures of 2C.

In a report by the High Level Commission on Carbon Prices, which is backed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, they suggest poor countries could aim for a lower tax since their economies are more vulnerable.

The aim of a tax on carbon would be essential to meet the targets set by the Cop21 Paris Agreement in 2015, they said.

Wait a second. Our then freshly minted Liberal government was instrumental in formulating that 2015 Paris climate accord.  Justin and Cathy went to the City of Lights to proclaim that "Canada is back." They squeezed every drop of political capital that they could out of that performance and the world cheered them on.

That, of course, was before Canada's enviro-duo said "bugger that, we've got bitumen to sell," at which point all their credibility was rapidly flushed down the political crapper, their false majority government.

There is a way for Justin to redeem his enviro-cred, an export carbon tax on bitumen. Figure out how much greenhouse gas will be emitted from the processing, transportation and end use of that energy and tax it, per tonne, right on the dock. And no cheating. You have to tax the carbon bomb hidden in that bitumen, the pet coke, the high sulphur/high carbon granular coal that comes free with every boatload of bitumen. The end user is going to burn that crud sure as hell and Justin needs to tax every kilo of that stuff.

And what do you think the chances are of any of that happening?

America is "Far Bigger" Than Trump

Donald Trump has many problems, one of the biggest being some old dude from Arizona. That would be Republican senator John McCain.

McCain must recall the oath he took as a U.S. naval aviator to defend the Constitution against  "all enemies, foreign and domestic." It seems pretty obvious how he views his nation's chief executive. That would be the same draft-dodging pile of refuse who mocked McCain's courage while held in captivity at North Vietnam's "Hanoi Hilton" prison camp.

The senator sees what Trump does not - that America's essential alliances, from Asia to Europe, across the northern and southern hemisphere, are unravelling. He sees China eagerly picking up every shred of influence, power and loyalty that Trump is so stupidly discarding.

And so McCain is riding to America's rescue. His message is "please don't give up on us just because of that idiot."

Donald Trump’s administration is mired in scandal, senior republican senator John McCain has said, but he urged America’s allies to stand by the nation as it navigates “troubled times”.

In a speech in Sydney, Australia, McCain said the US remained the most important country on Earth, and the global defender of “truth over falsehood”.

“My friends, I know that many of you will have a lot of questions about where America is headed under President Trump. Frankly, so do many Americans. What I would say is that the new administration is just that – new. It is still finding its feet.”

McCain conceded America’s reputation had suffered in the early months of Trump’s presidency as scandals over ties to Russia, alleged obstruction of an FBI investigation, nepotism and foundering relations with other world leaders rocked the administration with crippling regularity.

“We are going through a rough period,” McCain said. “We really are, and for me to tell you that we aren’t, politically, is not fair. But we’ve gone through other troubled times. I can remember the Watergate scandal and how it brought down a president. I’m not suggesting that’s going to happen to this president, but we are in a scandal and every few days another shoe drops from this centipede, and we’ve got to get through that.”

What, a "centipede"? A human centipede. Wait, I thought there was a movie about that. Haven't seen it. Don't intend to. Never, ever.

McCain concluded his address with a plea to Australia and other US allies to “stick with us”. He said: “We need your help, my friends. Now more than ever.

“I realise that some of President Trump’s actions and statements have unsettled America’s friends. They have unsettled many Americans as well. There is a real debate under way now in my country about what kind of role America should play in the world and, frankly ... the future of the world will turn on a large extent on how this debate in America is resolved.”

Poor John, he just wants to get this Trump mess out of the way so he can get back to his favourite pastime, demanding that America bomb the hell out of some distant place.

Okay, Justin, Now Tell Us What Those Facts Are

Serial bullshitter, JustinTrudeau, was quick off the mark to defend the Kinder Morgan bitumen pipeline expansion in the wake of the announcement that the NDP, backed by the provincial Greens, will form the next government of British Columbia.

With a straight face the prime ministerial bullshitter defended his government's decision to toss out his election campaign promises and approve the hazmat pipeline.

"The decision we took on the Trans Mountain pipeline was based on facts [and] evidence, on what is in the best interest of Canadians."

What Canadians would those be, Justin?  It can't be the companies behind it. They're American. It can't be the supertanker armada owners. They're offshore. So I suppose you've defined Canadians as everybody except me and those like me, the majority of the people of British Columbia who stand opposed to this damned pipeline, the same people who just tossed Christy Clark and her Liberals out of office. 

Believe me when I say that doesn't come as a shock. We got over that when you turned into just another greasy opportunist and reneged on your solemn promise that there would be no pipeline without First Nations approval and "social licence" (the consent of the municipalities through which the pipeline would be routed).

Save the righteous indignation you jackass. What about that other promise of yours, that your government's decisions would follow the science? There's plenty of science involved in this decision and you've got plenty of scientists to advise you. Show us your science, Slick. What do your scientists tell you? 

Let's see these "facts" you talk about. Why have you not laid all that out already? This isn't about facts. They're not on your side. This is about political opportunism of the very worst kind. This is real Harper-grade shit. At least have the decency to wear that proudly.

What are the facts behind the stellar spill record of Canada's pipeline operators? What are the facts about what happens when there's a dilbit spill in our coastal waters. We've got plenty of evidence on record - from Canadian naval commanders to mariners to Coast Guard experts - that tanker accidents are inevitable. It's not a matter of "if" but "how often." All that evidence was given at your rigged National Energy Board hearings.

What are the facts about what happens when dilbit pours into our coastal waters with their tides and currents and storm-tossed waters? Does it float in a nice blob where it can be sucked up and safely removed? Or does it, as the facts state, head to the bottom, delivering all the acids and heavy metals, all the carcinogens, to the seabed and into our marine environment? 

What about your government's concession that you're powerless when that spill happens? What concession, what admission, what smoking gun? That evidence comes from your enviromin, Dame Cathy's approval of the use of Corexit as an oil spill dispersant.

The Americans used Corexit on the Exxon Valdez spill. It sickened the clean up workers. BP used it on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It sickened clean up workers and people of the Gulf coast. It plagues the Gulf fishery to this day and will for years, perhaps decades to come. The thing is, those were conventional crude oil spills, kid's stuff compared to bitumen.

If it's facts you want, Slick, read the manufacturer's warning labels:

Corexit isn't an oil dispersant. In an open water spill, Corexit causes the oil to sink straight to the bottom where it can contaminate the marine ecology for many, many decades.

This is "in the best interests of Canadians"? I always thought I was one of those Canadians. It doesn't seem quite that way any longer. Thanks for the heads up.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Too Good/Bad to Be True? The End of Internal Combustion Propulsion?

It's been rumoured to be coming. Now it seems that a truly seismic event may be almost on our doorstep.

A report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) shows that within as little as eight years, electric cars in Europe and North America will be cheaper to buy and run than traditional vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.

The report comes at a vital moment for the world's oil industry.

Enter the Beast, Donald J. Trump. The Fossil Fuelers aren't going anywhere, not without a fight.

As a representative of established business interests, few would be surprised if Trump dumped the Paris agreement.

That's because vested interests in the existing industrial economy — based on fossil fuel extraction, distribution and consumption — would like to hold back the changing tide.

That includes the auto retail sector.

On a recent visit to a Toyota dealership to check out a plug-in hybrid, none were available to see. The salesman actively encouraged this potential customer to buy something else.

According to BNEF, a trend to improving battery technology and falling costs, combined with higher costs for diesel and gasoline cars, will mean electrics will match the cost of internal combustion engines by about 2025.

As is usual with such long-range predictions, the exact dates can only be an estimate, but the direction of the trend is clear: People are going to be using less gas.

And while the world continues to pump out more and more oil, total demand will begin to slow and then decline.

The Down Side.

The fossil energy giants are carrying an estimated 27 trillion dollars worth of proven fossil fuel reserves on their books. Those reserves are, in turn, subscribed by investors on the world's stock markets and bourses. Those investors span the gamut from institutional investors and mutual funds to pension plans to Ma and Pa's retirement funds.

There is a massive Carbon Bubble that is poised to burst. The current and former governors of The Bank of England have for years warned of global economic catastrophe if that bubble bursts with investors unprepared. The problem is that some can get out in time but not many, not at this point. Confidence won't dwindle. It will shatter. The bubble won't deflate. It will burst and, when it does, many trillions of dollars of wealth will suddenly cease to exist.

B.C. Greens Support NDP. Adios Christy.

The B.C. Liberal government's reign appears to be at an end. The Green Party has agreed to support the Horgan NDP.

The agreement, announced by Green Leader Andrew Weaver and NDP Leader John Horgan at a news conference in Victoria, would see the Greens and New Democrats use their combined one-seat majority in the legislature to bring down the BC Liberals. The Greens would then agree to support an NDP government in confidence votes, such as throne speeches or budgets, for four years.

“In the end, we had to make a difficult decision – that decision was for the B.C. Greens to work together to provide a stable minority government for the four-year term,” said Mr. Weaver.

Details of the agreement, which both Mr. Weaver and Mr. Horgan said ran “many pages,” were not released on Monday.

Mr. Weaver said he and the other two Green members in the legislature have signed on, while Mr. Horgan said his caucus would vote on ratifying the agreement on Tuesday.

Mr. Weaver had set out three “deal breakers” that include official party status, campaign finance reform and proportional representation, although other issues, including the party’s opposition to several Liberal resource priorities, also would have factored into such talks. 

The announcement should sit well with most British Columbians. From The Tyee:

Just over half of respondents to an Insights West survey released Friday said they believed the Greens should support the NDP led by John Horgan, while 38 per cent wanted the Greens to help the BC Liberal Party and leader Christy Clark hold government.

Among Green voters, the preference for supporting the NDP was even more pronounced, with 62 per cent favouring a Green-NDP alliance. Less than 25 per cent of Green voters favoured backing the Liberals.

The poll, conducted online between May 22 and 25, surveyed 803 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Insights also found that just over half of British Columbians are satisfied with the current first-past-the-post electoral system. Almost two-thirds said any change should be put to a referendum.

The Green Party’s election platform called for introducing proportional representation without a referendum. The NDP promised to introduce and campaign for a new electoral system but said any change must be approved in a referendum.

Putin Couldn't Have a Better Ally

In just four months, Donald Trump has done more for Vlad Putin than the Russian strongman has managed to accomplish in years of scheming and struggle.

It must have been music to the Kremlin's electronic ears over the weekend as the leader of the free world, Germany's Angela Merkel, stated the obvious - America is no longer Europe's reliable partner. Europe now needs to go its own way. The pact that has held Europe and America together for 70-years has come unglued.

Even before Trump was inaugurated, Merkel voiced her reservations about the president-elect.

The opening line in Der Spiegel says it all: "Doubts are growing inside Angela Merkel's Chancellery that the incoming American president will mature and become a statesman. The chancellor is preparing for frosty trans-Atlantic relations while at the same time trying to pull Europe together."

Think about that. Angela Merkel doubts that a 70-year old man "will mature and become a statesman." Hmm. If he's not mature at 70 it sounds like a safe bet that he won't become mature later on.

The hour-long video didn't exactly put the German chancellor in a cheerful mood. The footage was from Donald Trump's recent appearance in Pennsylvania during his so-called Thank You Tour and Angela Merkel, as she told the national executive committee of her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), watched the rally in its entirety. She recommended that her fellow party members do the same. "It is interesting to see the thought environment he inhabits," she said.

Trump retaliated by giving Merkel the cold shoulder when she made her mandatory pilgrimage to the White House in March. She seems to have gotten her fill of the grandiose boor last week as Trump lectured first the NATO leaders and then the G7 summit.

Reaction to Merkel's latest assessment was predictably quick in coming.

Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haas, a veteran US diplomat, described Merkel's comments as a "watershed" in relations between the two allies. "(It's) what the US has sought to avoid since World War II," said Haas.

But Trump's supporters have taken Merkel's comments as a sign of the president's success. Bill Mitchell, a conservative commentator dubbed Trump's "most unrelenting social media surrogate" by US media, took the opportunity to lampoon Merkel.

"Merkel, hero of the left and train wreck of Europe says, 'she cannot rely upon Donald Trump.' Awesome. He opposes your raging stupidity," Mitchell said in a tweet.


David Frum, senior editor of the US news magazine The Atlantic, said that Trump's behavior as caused a rift between Germany and the US has effectively served Russian interests.

"Since 1945, the supreme strategic goal in Europe of the USSR and then Russia was the severing of the US-German alliance. Trump delivered," Frum said.

Agreeing with Frum's comments on its benefits for Moscow, Ian Bremmer, founder and director of the consultancy Eurasia Group, said that the "most important postwar relationship," the transatlantic alliance, is "now unraveling."

"There's not been a statement like this from Germany in generations," Bremmer said.

When it comes to the American president and his aides, stupidity and ignorance are never in short supply. From Der Spiegel:

U.S. President Donald Trump voiced significant displeasure over Germany's trade surplus on Thursday during a meeting with European Union leaders in Brussels. "The Germans are bad, very bad," Trump said, according to meeting participants.

According to a report in the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, many EU officials were appalled by how little the Americans appeared to know about trade policy. The guests from Washington seemed not to be aware that EU member states only negotiate trade treaties as a bloc. According to the paper, Trump's chief economic advisor, Gary Cohn, claimed during meetings, for example, that different customs tariffs are in place between the U.S. and Germany than between the U.S. and Belgium.

For years, Germany has exported more than it imports and Trump has criticized the country's trade surplus before - in an interview with the German tabloid Bild prior to his inauguration, for example. In that interview, too, he voiced particular frustration at the number of German cars he sees on the streets of New York. "I would tell BMW if they think they're gonna build a plant in Mexico and sell cars into the U.S. without a 35 percent tax, it's not gonna happen. It's not gonna happen." It was a clear threat to slap punitive tariffs on German automobiles.

It's fair to say that the editors of Der Spiegel don't think better of Trump than Germany's chancellor as the magazine's recent editorial, "It's Time to Get Rid of Donald Trump," made plain.

Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn't read. He doesn't bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees.

He is a man free of morals. As has been demonstrated hundreds of times, he is a liar, a racist and a cheat. I feel ashamed to use these words, as sharp and loud as they are. But if they apply to anyone, they apply to Trump. And one of the media's tasks is to continue telling things as they are: Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world.

The fact is that every nation, whether America's friend or adversary, is affected by the schism opening between the cornerstone of modern Europe, Germany, and the United States.

The Guardian columnist, Suzanne Moore, has high praise for chancellor Merkel.

Angela Merkel – or “leader of the free world” as she is now to be known – did not wait long to see the back of Donald Trump before she made it clear that things have changed. She told a rally of 2,500 people in Munich ...that the EU must now be prepared to look after itself, that it could no longer depend on the UK or America. “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over … I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans have to take fate into our own hands.”

This is a truly dramatic statement from a leader who doesn’t do drama. She is not going to be holding Trump’s hand any time soon. He may be relieved to hear that, but then the underestimation of Merkel as a dowdy physicist has often allowed her to run rings around egotistical male leaders.

Watching her at the G7, her statesmanship, her ease, her ability to broker deals and relationships is ever more impressive. More and more I hear people say they that they like her. Even those on the left respect her though she is a centrist. While Trump shambled around Europe with his goon display of ignorance of other languages, cultures or even basic manners, Merkel was in her element. While he was trailing behind in a golf cart as he lacked the stamina to actually walk anywhere at all, she strode out with the other leaders.

And look where she is now, unlike our prime minister, able to oppose Trump directly and to say his America is not a friend of Europe.

What an extraordinary woman. There are no problems, she says, only “tasks” to be solved, as she sits rapidly texting in meetings. Refusing to see herself as a female leader, she prefers to think of herself as part of a class of political heavyweights. Increasingly she is in a class of her own and watching her, one thought comes to mind: this is what strong and stable actually looks like.

A Word of Thanks To (or maybe for) Donald Trump

It's not the sort of thing you might expect from Tom Englehardt of Tom Dispatch, a word of thanks for Donald Trump.

Think of him as the end of the world as we, or maybe anyone, including Vladimir Putin, knew it. To me, that means one thing, even though most of you won’t agree: I think we owe Donald Trump a small bow of thanks and a genuine debt of gratitude. He’s teaching us something invaluable, something we probably wouldn’t have grasped without him. He’s teaching us just how deeply disturbed our American world actually is, or he wouldn’t be where he is.

Think of him as a messenger from the gods, the deities of empire gone astray. They sent us a man without a center, undoubtedly because 17 years into the twenty-first century our country lacks a center, and a man without a fixed opinion or a single conviction, except about himself and his family, because this country is now a swirling mess of contradictory beliefs and groups at each other’s throats. They sent us our first billionaire president who left countless people holding the bag in his various, often failed, business dealings. He brings to mind that classic phrase “those that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind” just as we’re now reaping the results of the 1% politics that gained such traction in recent years; and of a kind of war-making, American style, that initially seemed aimed at global supremacy, but now seems to have no conceivable goal. We're evidently destined to go on killing ever more people, producing ever more refugees, cracking open ever more nations, and spreading ever more terror movements until the end of time. They sent a man ready to build a vanity wall on the Mexican border and pour more money into the U.S. military at a time when it’s becoming harder for Americans to imagine investing in anything but an ever-more powerful national security state, even as the country’s infrastructure begins to crumble. They sent a billionaire who once deep-sixed a startling number of his businesses to save a country that couldn't be more powerful and yet has proven incapable of building a single mile of high-speed rail.

Into this quagmire, the gods dispatched the man who loves MOAB, who drools over “my generals,” who wants to build a “big, fat, beautiful wall” on our southern border, but was beyond clueless about where power actually lay in Washington.

His victory was, in a sense, a revelation that both political parties had been hollowed out, as every Republican presidential candidate except him was swept unceremoniously off stage and out of contention in a hail of insults. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, by now a remarkably mindless (and spineless) political machine without much to underpin it, came to seem ever more like the domestic equivalent of those failed states the war on terror was creating in the Greater Middle East. In short, American politics was visibly faltering and, in the whirlwind that deposited Little Big Man in office, a far wider range of Americans seemed in danger of going down, too, including Medicaid users, Obamacare enrollees, meals-on-wheels seniors, and food stamp recipients in what could become a slow-motion collapse of livable lives amid a proliferation of billionaires. Think of us as a nation in the process of consuming itself, even as our president turns the White House into a private business. If this is imperial “decline,” it’s certainly a curious version of it.

It was into the growing hell that passed for the planet’s “sole superpower” that those gods dispatched Little Big Man -- not a shape-shifting creature but a man without shape and lacking all fixed ideas (except about himself). He was perfectly capable of saying anything in any situation, and then, in altered circumstances, of saying the opposite without blinking or evidently even noticing. His recent trip to Saudi Arabia was a classic case of just that. Gone were the election campaign denunciations of the Saudis for their human rights record and for possibly being behind the 9/11 attacks, as well as of Islam as a religion that “hates us”; gone was his criticism of Michelle Obama for not wearing a headscarf on her visit to Riyadh (Melania and Ivanka did the same), and of Barack Obama for bowing to a Saudi king (he did, too). Out the window went his previous insistence that any self-respecting American politician must use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” which he carefully avoided. And none of this was different from, say, swearing on the campaign trail that he would never touch Medicaid and then, in his first budget, offering plans to slash $880 billion from that program over the next decade.

Humanity had, in the years before his arrival, come up with two quite different and devastating ways of doing ourselves in, one an instant Armageddon, the other a slow-motion trip to hell. Each of them threatens to cripple or destroy the very planet that has nurtured us these tens of thousands of years. It was not, of course, Donald Trump who put us in this peril. He’s just a particularly grim reminder of how dangerous our world has truly become.

After all, Little Big Man now has unparalleled access to the most “beautiful” weapons of all and he’s eager to update and expand an already vast U.S. arsenal of them. I’m talking, of course, about nuclear weapons. Any president we elect has, since the 1950s, had the power to take out the planet. Only once have we come truly close. Nonetheless, for the control over such weaponry to be in the hands of a deeply unpredictable and visibly disturbed president is obviously a danger to us all.

It could be assumed that the gods who sent him into the Oval Office at such a moment have a perverse sense of humor. Certainly, on the second of those deadly dangers, climate change, he’s already taken action based on another of his fantasies: that making America great again means taking it back to the fossil-fueled 1950s. His ignorance about, and actions to increase the effects of, climate change have already taken the U.S., the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet, out of the climate change sweepstakes and into uncharted territory. These acts and the desire to promote fossil fuels in every way imaginable will someday undoubtedly be seen as crimes against humanity. But by then they will already have done their dirty deed.

If luck doesn’t hold, Donald Trump may end up making Caligula and Nero look like statesmen. If luck doesn’t hold he may be the Littlest Big Man of all.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dammit, Do We Really Need Fareed Zakaria to Tell Us This?

Fareed Zakaria thinks Trump was played for a chump by the Saudis during his opening visit of the 2017 Boor Tour.

Even Canadians have to realize how Harper and now Trudeau are shamelessly supporting the very nation that empowers terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS while condemning Shiite Iran for "state sponsored terrorism." Ask yourself why is Justin Trudeau kowtowing to Riyadh and the House of Saud? Why is he making Canada complicit in this?

Here, Zakaria rehashes what we've long known about Saudi perfidy.

President Trump’s journey to the Middle East illustrated yet again how the country central to the spread of this terrorism, Saudi Arabia, has managed to evade and deflect any responsibility for it. In fact, Trump has given Saudi Arabia a free pass and a free hand in the region.

The facts are well-known. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has spread its narrow, puritanical and intolerant version of Islam — originally practiced almost nowhere else — across the Muslim world. Osama bin Laden was Saudi, as were 15 of the 19 terrorists of 9/11.
And we know, via a leaked email by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that in recent years the Saudi government, along with Qatar, has been “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to (the Islamic State) and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” Saudi nationals make up the second largest group of foreign fighters in ISIS and, by some accounts, the largest in the terrorist group’s Iraqi operations. The kingdom is in a tacit alliance with al-Qaida in Yemen.

ISIS draws its beliefs from Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi version of Islam. As the former imam of the kingdom’s Grand Mosque said last year, ISIS “exploited our own principles, that can be found in our books. ... We follow the same thought but apply it in a refined way.” Until ISIS could write its own textbooks for its schools, it adopted the Saudi curriculum as its own.

Saudi money is now transforming European Islam. Leaked German intelligence reports show that charities “closely connected with government offices” of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait are funding mosques, schools and imams to disseminate a fundamentalist, intolerant version of Islam throughout Germany.
In Kosovo, the New York Times’ Carlotta Gall describes the process by which a 500-year-old tradition of moderate Islam is being destroyed. “From their bases, the Saudi-trained imams propagated Wahhabism’s tenets: the supremacy of Shariah law as well as ideas of violent jihad and takfirism, which authorizes the killing of Muslims considered heretics for not following its interpretation of Islam. ... The charitable assistance often had conditions attached. Families were given monthly stipends on the condition that they attended sermons in the mosque and that women and girls wore the veil.”

Iran, the evil state sponsor of terrorism. It wasn't Shiites behind the embassy bombings. No that was the handiwork of Sunni Muslims, the Saudi's gang. The bombing of the USS Cole? Saudi, not Iranian Shiites. The first World Trade Center bombing (the parkade attack). Sunni radicals. The 9/11 attacks? Sunni terrorists. The Paris, London, Madrid, Libyan and Tunisian atrocities? Sunni. al Qaeda, al Nusra, ISIS? They're all Sunni, the Saudi's farm teams.

Yet Justin Trudeau supports the Saudis, calls them our allies. Just what is wrong with Trudeau and his Liberal government?

America First = America Alone and America Cannot Stand Alone

Donald Trump and the Gullibillies who installed him in the Oval Office have a childish grasp of America's place in the world. They don't understand what made America great and they dangerously overlook how dependent America is on its allies.

They don't realize that there are people who would undermine the United States or that Trump is playing straight into their hands.

Given the global contests for the affections of other nations, even the perception that the United States is preoccupied with only its own interests undermines its ability to attract nations to align with its priorities.

Candidate Trump placing conditions on NATO support and referring to it as obsolete fanned the flames of doubt that Putin lit. At the NATO summit this week, Trump did little to assuage those doubts.

As for Britain, America’s Western rook, the allure of significant commercial opportunities has drawn the U.K.’s interest in China’s One Belt, One Road infrastructure effort. Trump’s recent disclosure to Russia of intelligence obtained from allied sources has called the continuance of the “special relationship” into question.

As for Japan, America’s Eastern rook, the United States canceling the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe exhibited great political courage to join has strained the relationship. Not only does pulling out of the TPP undercut America’s Pacific alliances, but it paves the way for China to assemble an Asian trade alliance with America on the outside looking in, instead of a Pacific trade alliance with America at its center.

America’s global power rests on it remaining unchallenged in North America, giving it the freedom to pursue foreign challenges without worrying about its position at home. There are few things that would more undermine American foreign policy than genuine friction with either of its bishops: Canada or Mexico. Trump’s criticisms of the North American Free Trade Agreement and derogatory comments about Mexico seem oblivious to this reality.

As for those, who like knights in chess, could extend America’s reach, China’s economic gravitational pull, accentuated by its commercial might and massive infrastructure investments, is capturing the attention of South Korea, Turkey, and even Australia, although India remains skeptical.

An “America first” policy risks leaving America alone, as important allies question America’s commitment and carefully weigh the attractiveness of switching or splitting their allegiances.

Americans have chosen an utter buffoon as their commander in chief, a cheaply-gilded version of "Larry the Cable Guy."  He's barely been in office four months and he's already damaging the United States and its essential alliances. The pact, that has bound America and her allies together for the past 70 years is unraveling.  Europe is withdrawing into itself. Across Asia and the western Pacific, Chinese hegemony is largely unchecked. 

What's the Big Deal with Kushner?

So Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, sought to open a "back channel" line of communications with Russian officials. So, so what?

Trump's homeland security secretary, retired general John Kelly, dismissed the report as much ado about nothing. Kelly said these things happen all the time and even though they're "back channel" the information gathered is regularly circulated through the government. No harm, no foul.

Only that's not what Kushner was up to.  Former NSA and CIA director, Michael Hayden, says Kushner's channel was intended to conceal back channel communications from the United States government.

Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a top White House adviser, floated the possibility of setting up a secure line of communication between the Trump transition team and Russia when he met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak late last year, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Those talks would take place in Russian diplomatic facilities in the US, the Post said, creating a secure line that would essentially conceal the administration's interactions with Russian officials from US government scrutiny.

Kislyak reportedly passed along that request to Moscow, in a phone call that was promptly intercepted by US intelligence agencies during their routine eavesdropping of foreign agents on US soil.

It also would have raised a big red flag, Hayden said. He was unequivocal when asked if he would have sought to unmask the US person cited by Kislyak as having proposed a secret backchannel to Russia.

"Oh my, yes," Hayden told Business Insider on Saturday. "Anyone would have."

That intercepted communication could have led 
[former national security advisor Susan] Rice — who obtained reports containing summaries of monitored communications between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, according to Bloomberg — to try to identify who on Trump's transition team was trying to set up this kind of backchannel.

The names of the US persons mentioned in the conversations would have been redacted in those reports. But high-level government officials like Rice can request from the appropriate agency — in this case, the National Security Agency — that the US person's identity be revealed. 

Meanwhile, Foreign Policy's Emile Simpson, former British army officer and research fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows has dropped the "T" word. Simpson argues that treason is more than a legal term.

At any time in the Cold War, what Kushner did would certainly have attracted the stigma of treachery. Should the same standard apply today?

Let’s consider Kushner’s best defense. Backchannels are an accepted part of diplomatic relations. A relationship may be too controversial for public consumption, and it is useful to have fora where diplomats and those entrusted with the leadership of states can speak frankly, without the glare of the media.

But this appears to have been no ordinary proposal for a backchannel. First and foremost, the intent was to avoid monitoring by the United States’ own intelligence agencies. And second, Trump’s team weren’t in government yet (unless the intent was for the backchannel to continue, or to start, after the inauguration, and thus provide a means to avoid U.S. intelligence monitoring while in office, which would be even more dubious).

Let’s be clear. There would be nothing inherently illegitimate with the Trump transition team pursuing better relations between the United States and Russia. Indeed, it was a major part of the campaign platform Trump used to win the election. Foreign policy debate between Russia doves and hawks has been going back and forth since the deterioration of post-Cold War relations following the West’s intervention in Kosovo 1999, and those who want the West to have warmer relations with Russia have many reasonable arguments.

But it’s the very legitimacy of wanting better relations with Russia, given Trump’s democratic mandate to pursue such a course, that makes Kushner’s desire to hide the Trump transition team’s connections with the Kremlin from U.S. intelligence so dubious, especially if he did intend for the backchannel to continue, or to start, after the inauguration. That is the kernel of the illegitimacy here: not the effort to improve relations through a backchannel, but the extraordinary measures to keep it secret from one’s own side.

In the Cold War, Kushner’s actions would have attracted the stigma of treachery because Russia was an enemy of the United States. But his actions would not have gotten him indicted because there was no ongoing open war in accordance with the legal definition of treason (18 U.S. code § 2381): “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason”.

Similarly today, what we are talking about is not the legal offense of treason but the stigma of treachery — the broader social meaning of treason.

If Kushner’s actions should come to attract the stigma of treachery, it would be in the old Roman Republican sense of maiestas, when public values and their expression in state institutions still meant something. Thus, in the Roman Republic, maiestas was about punishing individuals for hijacking their state positions for their personal gain. It could be used, for example, to prosecute official maladministration, like corruption by provincial officials or military officers. An apt modern equivalent would be soliciting personal investments by selling political access or expedited visas to rich Chinese people, which Kushner’s family business has already independently been accused of.

We’ll have to wait for the facts to see what Kushner may have been trying to hide from U.S. intelligence. But my hunch is that far from the “Manchurian Candidate” theories, this will turn out to be a sorry case of operating in the grey areas of the law to enrich oneself whilst in office. Not as bad as aiding the enemy, but still rancid. It is exactly what treachery as maiestas meant in Republican Rome: An offense against the dignity of the state understood as a community bound by its public values.

In Rome, the punishment for maiestas was normally exile. Kushner’s fate is still to be determined. But the public response to it will tell us much about whether the American people, under their new monarch, still have the dignity to protect their ancient majesty.

Merkel Writes Off America, Britain as "Reliable Partners" for Europe

Angela Merkel, it seems, has had her fill of the America's fatuous president and Britain's cadaverous prime minister also.  Having endured Trump and May first at the NATO summit and then the G7, Merkel - a.k.a. new Leader of the Free World - said the U.S. and the U.K. can no longer be considered Europe's "reliable partners."

Merkel's comments came on the heels of what she called a "difficult" and "unsatisfactory" G7 summit. The summit included leaders of the US, UK, Germany, Japan, France, Canada, and Italy, and Merkel characterized the discussions as "six against one."

Trump's platform often runs counter to those endorsed by other G7 members, especially as it relates to issues like climate change, immigration, and trade.

At the end of the G7 summit on Saturday, Trump refused to endorse the Paris climate pact, saying he needed more time to decide.

However, Axios reported that Trump had already made his decision. Trump reportedly told multiple people, including Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, that he would be pulling out of the deal, according to three sources with knowledge of the conversations.
Trump really did make a first class ass of himself on his 2017 Boor Tour to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, the NATO heads of state meeting and the G7 Summit. Fortunately for Trump, many Americans are no longer capable of being embarrassed by their president.

Here, Merkel celebrates the return of a Trump-free Europe:

Saturday, May 27, 2017

"Six Against One"

Donald Trump is wrapping up his "Fabulous 2017 Boor Tour" at the G7 summit in Sicily.

The Cheeto Benito emerged to praise the G7 chin wag as "tremendously productive." Apparently the rest of the leaders had other thoughts.

Leaders of the G7 group of rich nations have failed to agree a statement on climate change.

Six world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris accord, the world's first comprehensive deal aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

However, the US has refused to recommit to the agreement, saying it will make a decision next week.

Mr Trump, who once dismissed global warming as a "hoax", has previously threatened to pull out of the accord.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the discussion on climate change had been "very unsatisfactory", adding "we have a situation of six against one".

Mr Trump tweeted: "I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!"

His economic adviser, Gary Cohn, said Mr Trump "came here to learn. He came here to get smart. His views are evolving... exactly as they should be."

Not Even Twenty Years

It was December, 1997, not that long ago yet, in many ways, an eternity. Bill Clinton was president. 9/11 was still years off. We hadn't invented "perma-war" that now holds us hostage in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other hell holes still to emerge in the public consciousness.

It was December, 1997, and The Atlantic published an essay on democracy written by Robert D. Kaplan.  It's a terrific piece, eerily prescient when read today. Friend Dana sent me the link and I'll extend his courtesy to you. Here are a few passages to pique your interest:

I submit that the democracy we are encouraging in many poor parts of the world is an integral part of a transformation toward new forms of authoritarianism; that democracy in the United States is at greater risk than ever before, and from obscure sources; and that many future regimes, ours especially, could resemble the oligarchies of ancient Athens and Sparta more than they do the current government in Washington.

HITLER and Mussolini each came to power through democracy. Democracies do not always make societies more civil—but they do always mercilessly expose the health of the societies in which they operate.

As an unemployed Tunisian student once told me, "In Tunisia we have a twenty-five percent unemployment rate. If you hold elections in such circumstances, the result will be a fundamentalist government and violence like in Algeria. First create an economy, then worry about elections." There are many differences between Tunisia and its neighbor Algeria, including the fact that Tunisia has been peaceful without democracy and Algeria erupted in violence in 1992 after its first election went awry and the military canceled the second. In Kurdistan and Afghanistan, two fragile tribal societies in which the United States encouraged versions of democracy in the 1990s, the security vacuums that followed the failed attempts at institutionalizing pluralism were filled by Saddam Hussein for a time in Kurdistan and by Islamic tyranny in much of Afghanistan. In Bosnia democracy legitimized the worst war crimes in Europe since the Nazi era. In sub-Saharan Africa democracy has weakened institutions and services in some states, and elections have been manipulated to restore dictatorship in others.


Because both a middle class and civil institutions are required for successful democracy, democratic Russia, which inherited neither from the Soviet regime, remains violent, unstable, and miserably poor despite its 99 percent literacy rate. Under its authoritarian system China has dramatically improved the quality of life for hundreds of millions of its people. My point, hard as it may be for Americans to accept, is that Russia may be failing in part because it is a democracy and China may be succeeding in part because it is not.

Look at Haiti, a small country only ninety minutes by air from Miami, where 22,000 American soldiers were dispatched in 1994 to restore "democracy." Five percent of eligible Haitian voters participated in an election last April, chronic instability continues, and famine threatens. Those who think that America can establish democracy the world over should heed the words of the late American theologian and political philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr:

'The same strength which has extended our power beyond a continent has also . . . brought us into a vast web of history in which other wills, running in oblique or contrasting directions to our own, inevitably hinder or contradict what we most fervently desire. We cannot simply have our way, not even when we believe our way to have the "happiness of mankind" as its promise.'

The demise of the Soviet Union was no reason for us to pressure Rwanda and other countries to form political parties—though that is what our post-Cold War foreign policy has been largely about, even in parts of the world that the Cold War barely touched. The Eastern European countries liberated in 1989 already had, in varying degrees, the historical and social preconditions for both democracy and advanced industrial life: bourgeois traditions, exposure to the Western Enlightenment, high literacy rates, low birth rates, and so on. The post-Cold War effort to bring democracy to those countries has been reasonable. What is less reasonable is to put a gun to the head of the peoples of the developing world and say, in effect, "Behave as if you had experienced the Western Enlightenment to the degree that Poland and the Czech Republic did. Behave as if 95 percent of your population were literate. Behave as if you had no bloody ethnic or regional disputes."

States have never been formed by elections. Geography, settlement patterns, the rise of literate bourgeoisie, and, tragically, ethnic cleansing have formed states. Greece, for instance, is a stable democracy partly because earlier in the century it carried out a relatively benign form of ethnic cleansing—in the form of refugee transfers—which created a monoethnic society. Nonetheless, it took several decades of economic development for Greece finally to put its coups behind it. Democracy often weakens states by necessitating ineffectual compromises and fragile coalition governments in societies where bureaucratic institutions never functioned well to begin with. Because democracy neither forms states nor strengthens them initially, multi-party systems are best suited to nations that already have efficient bureaucracies and a middle class that pays income tax, and where primary issues such as borders and power-sharing have already been resolved, leaving politicians free to bicker about the budget and other secondary matters.

Social stability results from the establishment of a middle class. Not democracies but authoritarian systems, including monarchies, create middle classes—which, having achieved a certain size and self-confidence, revolt against the very dictators who generated their prosperity.


AUTHORITARIAN or hybrid regimes, no matter how illiberal, will still be treated as legitimate if they can provide security for their subjects and spark economic growth. And they will easily find acceptance in a world driven increasingly by financial markets that know no borders.

For years idealists have dreamed of a "world government." Well, a world government has been emerging—quietly and organically, the way vast developments in history take place.
I do not refer to the United Nations, the power of which, almost by definition, affects only the poorest countries. After its peacekeeping failures in Bosnia and Somalia—and its $2 billion failure to make Cambodia democratic—the UN is on its way to becoming a supranational relief agency. Rather, I refer to the increasingly dense ganglia of international corporations and markets that are becoming the unseen arbiters of power in many countries. It is much more important nowadays for the leader of a developing country to get a hearing before corporate investors at the World Economic Forum than to speak before the UN General Assembly. Amnesty International now briefs corporations, just as it has always briefed national governments. Interpol officials have spoken about sharing certain kinds of intelligence with corporations.


Of the world's hundred largest economies, fifty-one are not countries but corporations. While the 200 largest corporations employ less than three fourths of one percent of the world's work force, they account for 28 percent of world economic activity. The 500 largest corporations account for 70 percent of world trade. Corporations are like the feudal domains that evolved into nation-states; they are nothing less than the vanguard of a new Darwinian organization of politics. Because they are in the forefront of real globalization while the overwhelming majority of the world's inhabitants are still rooted in local terrain, corporations will be free for a few decades to leave behind the social and environmental wreckage they create—abruptly closing a factory here in order to open an unsafe facility with a cheaper work force there. Ultimately, as technological innovations continue to accelerate and the world's middle classes come closer together, corporations may well become more responsible to the cohering global community and less amoral in the course of their evolution toward new political and cultural forms.

The level of social development required by democracy as it is known in the West has existed in only a minority of places—and even there only during certain periods of history. We are entering a troubling transition, and the irony is that while we preach our version of democracy abroad, it slips away from us at home.


Corporations, which are anchored neither to nations nor to communities, have created strip malls, edge cities, and Disneyesque tourist bubbles. Developments are not necessarily bad: they provide low prices, convenience, efficient work forces, and, in the case of tourist bubbles, safety. We need big corporations. Our society has reached a level of social and technological complexity at which goods and services must be produced for a price and to a standard that smaller businesses cannot manage. We should also recognize, though, that the architectural reconfiguration of our cities and towns has been an undemocratic event—with decisions in effect handed down from above by an assembly of corporate experts.

"The government of man will be replaced by the administration of things," the Enlightenment French philosopher Henri de Saint-Simon prophesied. We should worry that experts will channel our very instincts and thereby control them to some extent. For example, while the government fights drug abuse, often with pathetic results, pharmaceutical corporations have worked through the government and political parties to receive sanction for drugs such as stimulants and anti-depressants, whose consciousness-altering effects, it could be argued, are as great as those of outlawed drugs.


True, there are strong similarities between now and a century ago. In the 1880s and 1890s America experienced great social and economic upheaval. The combination of industrialization and urbanization shook the roots of religious and family life: sects sprouted, racist Populists ranted, and single women, like Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, went to work in filthy factories. Racial tensions hardened as the Jim Crow system took hold across the South. "Gadgets" like the light bulb and the automobile brought an array of new choices and stresses. "The city was so big, now, that people disappeared into it unnoticed," Booth Tarkington lamented in The Magnificent Ambersons.

THIS rise of corporate power occurs more readily as the masses become more indifferent and the elite less accountable. Material possessions not only focus people toward private and away from communal life but also encourage docility. The more possessions one has, the more compromises one will make to protect them. The ancient Greeks said that the slave is someone who is intent on filling his belly, which can also mean someone who is intent on safeguarding his possessions. Aristophanes and Euripides, the late-eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher Adam Ferguson, and Tocqueville in the nineteenth century all warned that material prosperity would breed servility and withdrawal, turning people into, in Tocqueville's words, "industrious sheep."


According to Aristotle, "Whether the few or the many rule is accidental to oligarchy and democracy—the rich are few everywhere, the poor many." The real difference, he wrote, is that "oligarchy is to the advantage of the rich, democracy to the advantage of the poor." By "poor" Aristotle meant laborers, landowning peasants, artisans, and so on—essentially, the middle class and below.

Is it not conceivable that corporations will, like the rulers of both Sparta and Athens, project power to the advantage of the well-off while satisfying the twenty-first-century servile populace with the equivalent of bread and circuses? In other words, the category of politics we live with may depend more on power relationships and the demeanor of our society than on whether we continue to hold elections. Just as Cambodia was never really democratic, despite what the State Department and the UN told us, in the future we may not be democratic, despite what the government and media increasingly dominated by corporations tell us.

There is great food for thought in this essay, the more so since we have the benefit of the past 20 years to assess it.  Democracy has been a central theme of this blog which is "dedicated to the restoration of progressive democracy." As you read Kaplan's thoughts consider them in the context of our own Canada, our new generations of the young and those to follow, and the incredible challenges those who succeed us will have to confront.  Perhaps as several have written, the 21st will truly be a "century of revolution."

Again, many thanks to Dana for the link.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Is Facebook a Threat To What Remains of Our Democracy?

Social media was credited with the toppling of Hosni Mubarak during Egypt's Arab Spring uprising.

New evidence suggests it could be a double-edged sword, one capable of ending liberal democracy.

The essence of liberal democracy is governance at the consent of the governed. For that to have any meaning that has to be "informed consent" freely given. If that consent can be manufactured then liberal democracy doesn't stand a chance.

I've written three posts about this: The Big Chill, Is This How Trump Rigged the Election, Really?, and We Need to Have This Figured Out by 2019. On It Rests Our Democracy.

These posts explore how Facebook and other social media can be mined. Here's one chilling passage:

“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.”

Even Scientific American asked, "Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?"  Consider this:

One thing is clear: the way in which we organize the economy and society will change fundamentally. We are experiencing the largest transformation since the end of the Second World War; after the automation of production and the creation of self-driving cars the automation of society is next. With this, society is at a crossroads, which promises great opportunities, but also considerable risks. If we take the wrong decisions it could threaten our greatest historical achievements.

Surely the case is made for intervention, whipping Facebook and other social media into line, protecting the public from those who would use their own data to manipulate them.  Remember the Great Recession of 2007-2008 and the notion of banks "too big to fail"?  Compared to Facebook, those "too big to fail" banks are nothing.

A couple of years ago, Vladan Joler and his brainy friends in Belgrade began investigating the inner workings of one of the world's most powerful corporations.

The team, which includes experts in cyber-forensic analysis and data visualisation, had already looked into what he calls "different forms of invisible infrastructures" behind Serbia's internet service providers.

But Mr Joler and his friends, now working under a project called Share Lab, had their sights set on a bigger target.

"If Facebook were a country, it would be bigger than China," says Mr Joler, whose day job is as a professor at Serbia's Novi Sad University.

He reels off the familiar, but still staggering, numbers: the barely teenage Silicon Valley firm stores some 300 petabytes of data, boasts almost two billion users, and raked in almost $28bn (£22bn) in revenues in 2016 alone.

And yet, Mr Joler argues, we know next to nothing about what goes on under the bonnet - despite the fact that we, as users, are providing most of the fuel - for free.

"All of us, when we are uploading something, when we are tagging people, when we are commenting, we are basically working for Facebook," he says.