Sunday, December 10, 2017

Nuclear War - Just "A Tantrum Away."

You couldn't ask for two more mentally stable people than Kim Jong Un and his orange alter-ego, "Dementia Donald" Trump.

The world faces a "nuclear crisis" from a "bruised ego", the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican) has warned in an apparent reference to US-North Korea tensions.

Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on Sunday, Ican's executive director Beatrice Fihn said "the deaths of millions may be one tiny tantrum away".

"We have a choice, the end of nuclear weapons or the end of us," she added.

Tensions over North Korea's weapons programme have risen in recent months.

The open hostility between US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leadership under Kim Jong-un has at times descended into personal attacks this year.

Speaking at the ceremony in Oslo, Ms Fihn said "a moment of panic" could lead to the "destruction of cities and the deaths of millions of civilians" from nuclear weapons.

Prior to presenting the prize on Sunday, Nobel committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen offered a similar warning, saying that "irresponsible leaders can come to power in any nuclear state".

It's Not for Want of Money

If America's military is short of anything, it's not money. The United States provides its military with more money than the combined defence budgets of the next eight most powerful states.

The problem is that America doesn't get much bang for its defence buck. A lot of that money is pissed away, squandered. A lot of it is soaked up to maintain a powerful, permanent US military presence in every corner of the world. The last region to be brought into America's fold was Africa after the 2007 launch of AfriCom or, formally, the United States Africa Command. At first no African country wanted anything to do with AfriCom and it had to operate from Germany. Since then it's gotten a toe hold, shootin' and everything.

This is serious stuff for a nation that has chosen military force or the threat of military force in lieu of diplomacy as its principal instrument of foreign policy. Historian and retired US Army commander, Andrew Bacevich, argues convincingly that America's modern military juggernaut has become so deeply integral to the nation state that breaking its hold on the apparatus of government would require a fundamental restructuring of the state itself.

Sam Clemens, Mark Twain, is often credited with the line that, "to a man who has only a hammer, everything looks like a nail." The same could be said of America's hyper-militarism. In the 21st century era of Perma-War, the military/industrial/neoconservative/evangelical/commercial (for profit) warfighting complex is constantly scouting for new enemies, new places to attack. Fortunately the advent of "New War" or low-intensity conflicts embroiling state actors (host nations and supporting allies), quasi-state actors (militias/warlords) and a confusing bundle of non-state actors ranging from rebels, insurgents, terrorists, organized crime and garden-variety criminal elements, each pursuing often shifting and conflicting interests, virtually ensures that conflicts that will seemingly never end.

But the prospect of other wars, "Old War," may be staging a comeback. "Peer on peer" warfare of the sort not really seen since 1945. The principals would be America, perhaps Europe, Russia and China. This is where having the most and best of everything should finally pay off, right? Perhaps but maybe not.

A new report released by the US strategic think tank, the RAND Corporation, contends that the United States can no longer take winning for granted if it locks horns with either Russia or China.

The document’s authors claim that at present, US armed forces are "insufficiently trained and ready," especially in terms of the active service components.

"In short, providing the military power called for by the United States' ambitious national security strategy, which has never been easy, has recently become considerably more challenging," the report reads. "The coincidence of this new reality with a period of constrained defense budgets has led to a situation in which it is now far from clear that our military forces are adequate for the tasks being placed before them."

"Put more starkly, assessments in this report will show that US forces could, under plausible assumptions, lose the next war they are called upon to fight, despite the United States outspending China military forces by a ratio of 2.7:1 and Russia by 6:1," the document continues. "The nation needs to do better than this."

According to analysts, NATO may face certain difficulties if Russia decides to move into Baltic states.

"In short, we concluded that, as currently postured, NATO cannot defend the Baltic states against a determined, short-warning Russian attack," the document says.

In case of China, the US will have tough times defending Taiwan if Beijing opts to retake the breakaway island republic. Besides, China studied previous US military campaigns to develop own strategies on this basis.

The RAND report, all 190-pages of it, is available free in PDF from the link above.

That post Cold War business is over, a glorious opportunity stupidly squandered. America now faces the return of strategic adversaries, rivals.  The US still has a technological lead but even that is being challenged, especially by China. There's something of a David and Goliath dynamic to this. America's rivals don't want to challenge the US in every corner of the world, only in their own neighbourhoods. That gives them terrific home field advantages including the ability to exploit gaps and weaknesses in America's deployments and technology.  We're simply not "all that" any more.

We've Done a Good Job at Pretending. Now We Have to Figure Out If the Liberals Deserve to Be Called "Liberal"?

It's a safe bet that Trump's announcement on Jerusalem as Israeli capital will likely bring a motion to the floor of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Harper/Trudeau machine has been in Israel's pocket for a decade.  Whenever there's a motion dealing with Israel and Palestine the vote comes down to this : The World versus the United States, Canada and a trio of bought and paid for South Pacific atoll states.  The World speaks with one voice. Us, we five (minus three), are the only support Israel still has.  A great relief when one of the two principals has a veto on the Security Council.

We'll know just what lurks inside Justin Trudeau when that motion is brought before the General Assembly. If we've become a nation of lickspittles we will see it then.  I hope Canada would find its once legendary decency and join "The World" to denounce Trump and support the Palestinians yet I doubt that's in the cards.

It's time we, the average guy, knew how this country came to be aligned under Harper and how little Trudeau has even slightly altered that alignment, our new normal.

We're no longer a country resembling the Canada as we knew it at its apex during Pearson and his immediate successor.  We don't get leaders of that calibre any more. We get technocrats who view national leadership as a management function to transactional accommodation. Now we have leaders who ignore that is right and just in favour of what is advantageous and expedient. And so we very quietly go about this nasty little business of ours hoping that people like you will be none the wiser.

While We're On the Subject of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians are once again on people's minds (sort of, briefly) due to Donald Trump's announcement that the US will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  It sort of confirms the idea that if a nightmare drags on for decades, half a century is plenty, we forget what really happened and we're prepared to swallow just about anything.

Most people I know have never read David Hirst's "The Gun and the Olive Branch." (You can get it here, free it seems, in PDF.) It's a long read but in it the veteran Middle East journalist shatters many of the myths we have come to embrace as the accepted narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There's probably no prime minister in Canada, sitting or past, who would want you to read it for it would not cast them in a flattering light.

But if you're not up for that sort of effort, you might to whet your interest with Dr. Shir Havir's account of the origins of this intractable conflict that has seen an entire people held in captivity for a half century, their lands occupied and annexed by a state that persistently flouts international law, a rogue state we proudly proclaim our ally.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Need a Giggle? From Russia, With Love.

I'm Guessing He Won't Be Invited Back

Who knows what the Greeks were thinking when they invited terrible-tempered Turkish despot, Recep Erdogan, to visit Athens.

The Ottoman boor wasted no time making the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, regret the gesture.  Erdogan began by demanding a renegotiation of the 1923 Treaty of LausanneThat was a treaty between the Ottoman empire and the WWI allies - France, Britain, Japan, Italy, Greece and Romania. The Ottomans, who had thrown their hat in with the Kaiser, were the losers. The allies, who had emerged victorious were, well, the opposite of the Ottomans. The original treaty, the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, would have really carved up the Ottoman turf, allowing for the creation of a true homeland for the Kurds. The war-weary Brits and French, however, caved with the arrival of the Turkish nationalist, Ataturk, who rejected Sevres. Hence the Treaty of Lausanne which, apparently, no longer suits Erdogan.

Disputes that had lain dormant – not least the 1923 Treaty of Lausannedelineating the borders between the two nations – were prised open with brutal force on Thursday by Erdoğan on the first day of a historic visit dominated by the leader’s unpredictability.

Within an hour of stepping off his plane, the pugilistic politician was sparring with the Greek head of state, Prokopis Pavlopoulos. Athens, he said imperiously, would never have entered Nato had it not been for Ankara’s support. As an ally, it should seek to improve the religious rights of the Muslim minority in Thracewhich were enshrined in the Lausanne treaty, he insisted, sitting stony-faced in the inner sanctum of the presidential palace. “It needs to be modernised,” he said of the treaty, which has long governed Greek-Turkish relations and is seen as a cornerstone of regional peace.

A visibly stunned Pavlopoulos hit back, calling the treaty non-negotiable.

“The Treaty of Lausanne defines the territory and the sovereignty of Greece, and of the European Union, and this treaty is non-negotiable. It has no flaws, it does not need to be reviewed, or updated.”

After Pavlopoulos got the treatment, it was Tsipras' turn for an Erdogan lashing.

In subsequent talks with the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, he chastised the Greeks for failing to look after Ottoman sites and provide a proper place of worship for Muslims. Cyprus, he argued, had not been reunified because Greek Cypriots kept turning down a “just and sustainable” settlement. He also attacked the “economic chasm” between Greeks, who earned on average €15,000 a year, and the Turkish-speaking Muslim minority in northern Thrace who earned around €2,200 a year.

Athens, he continued, should also return the eight Turkish officers who had escaped to Greece as the coup unfolded even if the country’s judicial system had blocked their repatriation on the grounds that they would not be given a fair trial. “It is possible to return them to Turkey, which is a country that has abolished the death penalty and is not a country of torture,” he told a press conference in the prime minister’s office.

Looking on in dismay – Greek ministers exchanging knowing smiles around him – Tsipras repeated that as the birthplace of democracy, where executive power was separate from the law, Greece respected decisions made by the country’s justice system.

Earlier, the 43-year-old had attempted to ameliorate the frosty atmosphere, telling his guest that respect for international law was the basis of solid ties between the two neighbours.

“Differences have always existed and [they exist] today,” the leftist leader said. “It is important … that we express our disagreements in a constructive way, without being provocative.”

The two countries came close to war 1996 over a pair of uninhabited isles in the Aegean Sea. Most recently, tensions have resurfaced over Greece’s frontier role in the refugee crisis, failed talks to reunify Cyprus and, according to officials in Athens, Turkey’s repeated violations of Greek air and naval space in the Aegean.

The defence ministry claims more than 3,000 airspace violations have occurred this year, more than at any other time since 2003. Erdoğan’s open questioning of the peace treaty that forged the boundaries of the two states has exacerbated friction even further.

The Greeks are also acutely aware that geography means they must coexist with Turkey and stand to benefit most if Ankara remains anchored to Europe.

They're both NATO partners and, as such, entitled to invoke Article 5 of the Alliance charter but, if it comes to a clash, I sure hope Canada and our allies side with one side and that's not Erdogan's.

Did Obama Just Compare Trump to Hitler?

Barack Obama appeared at a question & answer session last night at the Economic Club of Chicago. A reporter from Crain's Chicago Business attended.

Obama's comments came after a series of playful questions from moderator and Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson—in the great Batman vs. Superman debate, for instance, we learned Obama sides with Batman—before she eventually asked him what he's learned as a world citizen of sorts.

One thing he's learned is that "things don't happen internationally if we don't put our shoulder to the wheel," Obama said, speaking of the U.S. "No other country has the experience and bandwidth and ideals. . . .If the U.S. doesn't do it, it's not going to happen."

Obama moved from that to talking about a nativist mistrust and unease that has swept around the world. He argued that such things as the speed of technical change and the uneven impact of globalization have come too quickly to be absorbed in many cultures, bringing strange new things and people to areas in which "people didn't (used to) challenge your assumptions." As a result, "nothing feels solid," he said. "Sadly, there's something in us that looks for simple answers when we're agitated."

Still, the U.S. has survived tough times before and will again, he noted, particularly mentioning the days of communist fighter Joseph McCarthy and former President Richard Nixon. But one reason the country survived is because it had a free press to ask questions, Obama added. Though he has problems with the media just like Trump has had, "what I understood was the principle that the free press was vital."

The danger is "grow(ing) complacent," Obama said. "We have to tend to this garden of democracy or else things could fall apart quickly."

That's what happened in Germany in the 1930s, which despite the democracy of the Weimar Republic and centuries of high-level cultural and scientific achievements, Adolph Hitler rose to dominate, Obama noted. "Sixty million people died. . . .So, you've got to pay attention. And vote."

WTF? Winter Storm Warnings in Texas, Mexico. California on Fire. High Arctic Melting.

Think of it this way. You may not feel it but you are firmly in the grip of climate change. There's nothing you can do to make it go away. It has a firm grip and it is going to tighten. It may not have gotten around to you yet as it has to others but it certainly will and your government is not doing a damned thing about it.

A week ago I posted an item about Springtime in Greenland.  The high north, Greenland and the Canadian archipelago, were basking in temperatures 20 to 30 C above normal, well above the freezing mark.

Today there are winter storm and snowfall warnings across southwest Texas and into northern Mexico.

Jump a couple of states over and you're in fire swept southern California where, in some places, the only thing stopping the spread of wildfires is the Pacific Ocean.

Hmmm, above freezing conditions in December in the Arctic Circle, winter storm warnings in the Texas/Mexico border region, wildfires sweeping southern California.

There have been many victims of the ongoing wildfires in Southern California, the largest of which is the Thomas Fire, a 101-square-mile monster blaze north of Los Angeles. The L.A. Times reports that the fire jumped the 101 freeway and was stopped only by the Pacific Ocean, along the way burning 50,500 acres, destroying 150 structures, and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. Californians are used to wildfires, but Miller says these ones are unseasonable. “We usually get crazy wildfires in October, and then the first rains come in November, and ground stays wet and more rains come, and there’s no wildfire threat,” said [climate change activist, R.L. Miller]. “It’s early December .... This is happening because there is no more winter rain. There’s not enough winter rain, ever.”

Climate science backs up Miller’s observation. The state’s wildfire seasons are lasting longer and burning stronger due to human-caused climate change, as rising temperatures make vegetation drier and causes states like California to whip between very dry and very wet seasons. These current fires are so bad because of a mixture of dry foliage and low humidity, but also because of hot, dry winds blowing up to 70 miles per hour. This seasonal high wind, known as the Santa Ana winds, is not unusual for this time of year, climate scientist Daniel Swain told the Verge. But some scientists believe climate change “may be making these strong winds drier,” according to the New York Times. 

Eventually everywhere in the United States, not just the coastal regions, will suffer from severe climate impacts. Climate scientists have documented how global warming stands will hit the rest of America, whether it be through more extreme precipitation in the northeast or crop failure in the heartland. But reality has shown it to us, too. Hurricane Harvey brought Houston, Texas, its worst rainfall and flooding in recorded history. The risks of sea-level rise in Florida was made more apparent by Hurricane Irma, which flooded city streets and destroyed sea-walls. This summer, in Oklahoma, the temperature reached 100 degrees in the dead of winter.

This year’s mind-boggling extreme weather has shown us that climate change will leave few Americans untouched. And yet, so many states refuse to do much about it. That angers climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. “The other states—Florida, Texas, Oklahoma—are under the control of climate change-denying politicians who continue to bury their head in the sand about climate change as they do the bidding of the fossil fuel interests who fund them, with the people they are supposed to be representing paying the cost in the form of devastating climate change-aggravated damage,” he said.

Here's one way to tell if your provincial and federal governments are serious about climate change. What are they telling you about what you and everyone else in your particular region can expect in the way of climate change impacts? What specific recommendations are they passing along to help you prepare for what's coming in the short range, 10 years, 20 years? Are you hearing anything out of them? Chances are pretty good that you're not.

I find it a little odd that my provincial government is so good at warning my community and my neighbours about the earthquake peril that hangs over our head, the mega-thrust subduction zone earthquake that could arrive any time between this afternoon and a century from now. I get detailed lists of what to have on hand, the best emergency foodstuffs, first aid gear, communications and such. I know the best places to take shelter in my home and the worst.  Yet the "Big One" may never hit in my lifetime or even my kids' lifetimes. 

Climate change impacts, however, are a lot more certain and far more predictable. Yet we hear nothing from the federal or British Columbia governments beyond banal injunctions and platitudes. Instead they mutter on about carbon taxes while Trudeau continues to pimp for the bitumen barons. Did the Dauphin even read about the wildfires we had this year, fires so extensive that they formed a high pressure zone that sent the smoke from fires hundreds of miles inland out into the Pacific to blanket Vancouver Island. Wildfires from Mexico to Alaska and what's the Dauphin's response to that? Sweet f#@k all. Carbon taxes - yeah, right. That'll git 'er done, sure.

I'm sensing a window of opportunity that is at risk. If the Liberals don't really come to grips with climate change - both adaptation and mitigation (carbon taxes, etc.) it's a safe bet that, when their time has come and gone, we'll wind up with another Conservative government that will do even less. It's time Justin began giving the country as much attention as he devotes to the economy.

"There Was No Rain"

Climate change refugees are on the march and they're coming not just from Africa or the Middle East or some low-lying atoll in the South Pacific, they're migrating poleward in the Americas too.

Todd Miller went to southern Mexico to interview climate migrants. Where are they from? Where are they headed? Given the dangers, why?

When I first talked to the three Honduran men in the train yard in the southern Mexican town of Tenosique, I had no idea that they were climate-change refugees. We were 20 miles from the border with Guatemala at a rail yard where Central American refugees often congregated to try to board La Bestia (“the Beast”), the nickname given to the infamous train that has proven so deadly for those traveling north toward the United States.

 When I asked why they were heading for the United States, one responded simply, “No hubo lluvia.” (“There was no rain.”) In their community, without rain, there had been neither crops, nor a harvest, nor food for their families, an increasingly common phenomenon in Central America. In 2015, for instance, 400,000 people living in what has become Honduras’s “dry corridor” planted their seeds and waited for rain that never came. As in a number of other places on this planet in this century, what came instead was an extreme drought that stole their livelihoods.

For Central America, this was not an anomaly. Not only had the region been experiencing increasing mid-summer droughts, but also, as the best climate forecasting models predict, a “much greater occurrence of very dry seasons” lies in its future. Central America is, in fact, “ground zero” for climate change in the Americas, as University of Arizona hydrology and atmospheric sciences professor Chris Castro told me. And on that isthmus, the scrambling of the seasons, an increasingly deadly combination of drenching hurricanes and parching droughts, will hit people already living in the most precarious economic and political situations. Across Honduras, for example, more than76% of the population lives in conditions of acute poverty. The coming climate breakdowns will only worsen that or will, as Castro put it, be part of a global situation in which “the wet gets wetter, the dry gets drier, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Everything gets more extreme.”

“Although the exact number of people that will be on the move by mid-century is uncertain,” wrote the authors of the report In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement, “the scope and scale could vastly exceed anything that has occurred before.” And here’s the sad reality of our moment: for such developments, the world is remarkably unprepared. There isn’t even a legal framework for dealing with climate refugees, either in international law or the laws of specific countries. The only possible exception: New Zealand’s “special refugee visas” for small numbers of Pacific Islanders displaced by rising seas.

The only real preparations for such a world are grim ones: walls and the surveillance technology that goes with them. Most climate-displaced people travelling internationally without authorization will sooner or later run up against those walls and the armed border guards meant to turn them back. And if the United States or the European Union is their destination, any possible doors such migrants might enter will be slammed shut by countries that, historically, are the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluters and so most implicated in climate change. (Between 1850 and 2011, the United States was responsible for 27% of the world’s emissions and the countries of the European Union, 25%.)


I was just east of Agua Prieta in the Mexican state of Sonora, a mere 25 feet from the U.S.-Mexican border. I could clearly see the barrier there and a U.S. Border Patrol agent in a green-striped truck looking back at me from the other side of the divide. Perhaps a quarter mile from where I stood, I could also spot an Integrated Fixed Tower, one of 52 new high-tech surveillance platforms built in the last two years in southern Arizona by the Israeli company Elbit Systems. Since that tower’s cameras are capable of spotting objects and people seven miles away, I had little doubt that agents in a nearby command and control center were watching me as well. There, they would also have had access to the video feeds from Predator B drones, once used on the battlefields of the Greater Middle East, but now flying surveillance missions in the skies above the border. There, too, the beeping alarms of thousands of motion sensors implanted throughout the U.S. border zone would ring if you dared cross the international divide.

Only 15 years ago, very little of this existed. Now, the whole region -- and most of this preceded Donald Trump’s election victory -- has become a de facto war zone. Climate refugees, having made their way through the checkpoints and perils of Mexico, will now enter a land where people without papers are tracked in complex, high-tech electronic ways, hunted, arrested, incarcerated, and expelled, sometimes with unfathomable cruelty. To a border agent, the circumstances behind the flight of those three Honduran farmers would not matter. Only one thing would -- not how or why you had come, but if you were in the United States without the proper documentation.

Climate change, increased global migration, and expanding border enforcement are three linked phenomena guaranteed to come to an explosive head in this century. In the United States, the annual budgets for border and immigration policing regimes have already skyrocketed from about $1.5 billion in the early 1990s to $20 billion in 2017, a number that represents the combined budgets of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. During that period, the number of Border Patrol agents quintupled, 700 miles of walls and barriers were constructed (long before Donald Trump began talking about his “big, fat, beautiful wall”), and billions of dollars of technology were deployed in the border region.

Such massive border fortification isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. In 1988, when the Berlin Wall fell, there were 15 border walls in the world. Now, according to border scholar Elisabeth Vallet, there are 70. These walls generally have risen between the richer countries and the poorer ones, between those that have the heavier carbon footprints and those plunged into Parenti’s “catastrophic convergence” of political, economic, and ecological crises. This is true whether you’re talking about the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia.

As Paul Currion points out, even some countries that are only comparatively wealthy are building such “walls,” often under pressure and with considerable financial help. Take Turkey. Its new “smart border” with drought-stricken and conflict-embroiled Syria is one of many examples globally. It now has a new tower every 1,000 feet, a three-language alarm system, and “automated firing zones” supported by hovering zeppelin drones. “It appears that we’ve entered a new arms race,” writes Currion, “one appropriate for an age of asymmetric warfare, with border walls replacing ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles].”

India is typical in constructing a steel wall along its lengthy border with Bangladesh, a country expected to have millions of displaced people in the decades to come, thanks to sea level rise and storm surges. In these years, with so many people on the move from the embattled Greater Middle East and Africa, the countries of the European Union have also been doubling down on border protection, with enforcement budgets soaring to 50 times what they were in 2005.

The trends are already clear: the world will be increasingly carved up into highly monitored border surveillance zones. Market projections show that global border and homeland security industries are already booming across the planet. The broader global security market is poised to nearly double between 2011 and 2022 (from $305 billion to $546 billion). And, not so surprisingly, a market geared to climate-related catastrophes is already on the verge of surpassing $150 billion.

This is the world that Gwynne Dyer described a decade ago in his book, "Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival As the World Overheats." In it, the author describes how the Pentagon plans to militarize America's coasts and land borders (to the south anyway). He also notes that American military planners are looking at ideas such as robotic, free fire killing zones where, out of sight and out of mind, would be migrants will be slaughtered.

It's fair to say that many Americans, perhaps most, are already conditioned, pre-disposed to see the brown peoples to their south as a peril. Trump tells them these illegals are rapists and worse. The time-honoured steps to dehumanize a targeted group are well underway and they're finding a receptive audience.

Also bear in mind what is happening in American society. The nation is being fractured, left (or what passes for left down there) and right. Some claim the American people haven't been so deeply divided since the Civil War. Social cohesion is being undermined and, to some extent, deliberately. The US has the highest rates of inequality - of wealth, income and opportunity - among the developed nations. There is a gaping divide between the plutocracy on one side and the precariat on the other. Some see in this the emergence of a true aristocracy and the evolution of a state of neo-feudalism. White supremacists and fascists now march freely through America's streets. These shifts do not a welcoming society engender.

Another powerful factor that will come into play will be the climate change plight that will be experienced by the American people across the southern states. Climatically everything is worsening. Severe storm events, hurricanes and tornadoes of worsening intensity. Severe weather events, floods and droughts, of increasing frequency, duration and intensity. The depletion of once abundant groundwater resources. Worsening heat events and fires. Sea level rise, storm surges and saltwater inundation. America is facing the real prospect of dealing with an internally displaced population, IDPs. In a country with America's standard of living that can be a hugely costly burden on the state, especially one that is now in the process of being defunded through tax "reform" and other bleed off mechanisms. If the society has to struggle to resettle its own IDPs, how likely is it to be welcoming to climate migrants from other lands?

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Canada = Soft on Israel, Soft on Trump

We don't have any reason to hold our heads high when it comes to Canada and Israel or Canada and Trump.

It was expected when Harper made Canada Netanyahu's willing rent boy. Those of us who remember Trudeau, the real one, were a little surprised when his namesake eagerly followed Harper's lead. For the past two years Canada's voting record on Palestinian measures in the UN General Assembly has been in sordid lockstep with the former Conservative government's.  Rent boys do as they're told. They don't cause trouble.

And so, while nations with a modicum of integrity, such as our allies France, Britain and Germany, didn't hesitate to criticize Donald Trump's announcement that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Trudeau the Lesser dummied up and went mute. There'd be no trouble from Trudeau.

"Canada is a steadfast ally and friend of Israel and friend to the Palestinian people. Canada's longstanding position is that the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. This has been the policy of consecutive governments, both Liberal and Conservative."

The department stressed the statement was issued in the name of spokesman Adam Austen, rather than Freeland herself. But after Trump's announcement Wednesday, Freeland re-issued essentially the same quote in her own name.

Austen explained Freeland's earlier silence this way: "The minister does not make statements about world events before they happen."

Of course, governments and foreign ministers often do make statements either calling for or warning against actions that have not yet been taken. After all, the window of opportunity to influence a decision closes once it is announced.

Other foreign officials not only commented but contacted their U.S. counterparts before the decision was announced, in an attempt to get the Trump administration to reconsider. French President Emmanuel Macron called Trump, as did British Prime Minister Theresa May.

"We believe it's unhelpful," May said after the announcement, adding that Trump has an obligation to "now bring forward detailed proposals for an Israel-Palestinian settlement."

"We all know the far-reaching impact this move would have," said German Foreign MinisterSigmar Gabriel. "Everything which worsens the crisis is counterproductive."

"We think it's an unwise step and a counterproductive step," said his Dutch counterpart, Halbe Zijlstra. "I don't think we can use another conflict in this very explosive region."

When it comes to pro-Israel/pro-Washington grovelling there isn't much the Liberals won't do.

At the United Nations, Canada under Trudeau continues to block resolutions condemning Israeli actions in the occupied territories — alongside the U.S., Israel and a small coterie of Pacific island nations that depend heavily on the U.S. and traditionally vote in lockstep with it.

Last December, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan, China and 162 other nations all supported UN resolution 17/96, guaranteeing the protections of the Geneva Convention to Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories.

The Trudeau government joined forces with the United States, Israel, Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands to oppose it.

I get angry at those who make me ashamed of my country. That goes for Trudeau as it did for Harper before him. To some that makes me a "Trudeau hater." If it does, so be it, he deserves it. He's earned it.

Time Magazine's "Person of the Year." It's Not Trump But It's His Victims.

Donald Trump doesn't have to feel left out by Time magazine's choice of "person of the year." After all he's been very close to several of them - touching, fondling, groping-close.

This year's award went to "the silence breakers," women who have risked so much to come forward and speak out against the men who sexually abused them. By last count that would include 16 women who have leveled some pretty nasty accusations against the Mango Mussolini who boasted of his prowess at sexually abusing women and playing a Peeping Tom with you beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms.

There's a yuuge, Donald-sized difference between Trump and most of the other guys who have been brought down as sexual offenders in recent months. One difference is that Trump denies that he ever did the dastardly things he's been accused of. The other difference is that he's been recorded, on an Access Hollywood tape and on the Howard Stern show, boasting of doing the very sorts of things he so indignantly denies doing.

That's the difference between Republicans and Democrats. The Dems move quickly to clean house. They got Conyers to resign and now they're after Al Franken. The Republicans, by contrast, have an open door policy when it comes to their sexual predators whether it's the prowler, Roy Moore, or the groper, Donald Trump. And those born again evangelicals all dutifully line up to kiss their asses. Ain't life grand?

The Age of Gangster Capitalism

And then I grab 'em by the...

American public intellectual and McMaster prof, Henry Giroux, writes of how Trump is dismembering American democracy to clear the way for a fascist, gangster state.

Just one year into the Donald Trump presidency, not only have the failures of American democracy become clear, but many of the darkest elements of its history have been catapulted to the center of power. A dystopian ideology, a kind of nostalgic yearning for older authoritarian relations of power, now shapes and legitimates a mode of governance that generates obscene levels of inequality, expands the ranks of corrupt legislators, places white supremacists and zealous ideologues in positions of power, threatens to jail its opponents, and sanctions an expanding network of state violence both at home and abroad.

Trump has accelerated a culture of cruelty, a machinery of terminal exclusion and social abandonment that wages a war on undocumented immigrants, poor minorities of color and young people. He uses the power of the presidency to peddle misinformation, erode any sense of shared citizenship, ridicule critical media and celebrate right-wing “disimagination machines” such as Fox News and Breitbart News. Under his “brand of reality TV politics,” lying has become normalized, truthfulness is viewed as a liability, ignorance is propagated at the highest levels of government and the corporate controlled media, and fear-soaked cyclones of distraction and destruction immunize the American public to the cost of human suffering and misery.


As Hannah Arendt argues in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” the erasure of truth, facts and standards of reference furthers the collapse of democratic institutions because it is “easier to accept patently absurd propositions than the old truths which have become pious banalities. Vulgarity with its cynical dismissal of respected standards and accepted theories carried with it the worst … and [is] easily mistaken for courage and a new style of life.”

Trump’s authoritarianism cuts deeply into the fabric of both government and everyday politics in the United States. For example, despicable and morally reprehensible acts of collaboration with an emergent authoritarianism have created a Republican Party that echoes an eerie resemblance to similar flights of moral and political corruption that characterized the cowardly politicians in power in Vichy France during World War II.

Former conservative talk-show host Charles Sykes is right to argue that members of the current Republican Party are “collaborators and enablers” and as such are Vichy Republicans who are willingly engaged in a Faustian bargain with an incipient authoritarianism. Corrupted by power and willing to turn a blind eye to corruption, stupidity, barbarism and the growing savagery of the Trump administration, Republicans have surrendered to Trump’s authoritarian ideology, economic fundamentalism, support for religious orthodoxy and increasingly cruel and mean-spirited policies, which “meant accepting the unacceptable [all the while reasoning] it would be worth it if they got conservative judges, tax cuts, and the repeal of Obamacare.”


Trump is both a symptom and enabler of this culture, one that enables him to delight in taunting black athletes, defending neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and mocking anyone who disagrees with him. This is the face of a kind of Reichian psycho-politics, with its mix of violence, repression, theatrics, incoherency and spectacularized ignorance. Trump makes clear that the dream of the Confederacy is still with us, that moral panics thrive against a culture of rancid racism, “a background of obscene inequalities, progressive deregulation of labor markets and a massive expansion in the ranks of the precariat.”

In an age of almost unparalleled extremism, violence and cruelty, authoritarianism is gaining ground, rapidly creating a society in which shared fears and unchecked hatred have become the organizing forces for community. Under the Trump regime, dissent is disparaged as a pathology or dismissed as fake news, while even the slightest compassion for others becomes an object of disdain and subject to policies that increase the immiseration, suffering and misery of the most vulnerable.


In the past, racist Democrats and Republicans did everything they could to cover over any naked expressions of their racism. This is no longer the case. Under Trump, both racist discourse and the underlying principles of white supremacy are both encouraged and emboldened. In the midst of the collapse of civil society and the public spheres that make a democracy possible, every line of decency is crossed, every principle of civility is violated, and more and more elements of justice are transformed into an injustice. Trump has become the blunt instrument and Twitter preacher for displaying a contempt for the truth, a critical citizenry, and democracy itself. He has anointed himself as the apostle of unchecked greed, unbridled narcissism and limitless militarism.

Wedded to both creating a culture of civic illiteracy and the plundering of the planet for both his own personal gain and that of his corporate cronies, Trump has done more than assault standards of truth, verification and evidence. He has opened the door to the dark cave of moral depravity, political corruption and a dangerous right-wing nationalist populism that, as Frank Rich observes, threatens to have “remarkable staying power” long after Trump is gone.

Gangster capitalism under Trump has reached a new stage, in that it is unabashedly aggressive in mounting a war against every institution capable of providing a vision, a semblance of critical agency or a formative culture capable of creating agents who might be willing to hold power accountable. The American public is witnessing a crisis not merely of politics but of history, vision and agency, or what Andrew O’Hehir more pointedly called the acts of a domestic terrorist. This is a politics of domesticated fear, manufactured illusions and atomizing effects. Trump is the product of a culture long in the making, one fueled by the triumph of finance capital, the legitimation of a rancid individualism and a crippling notion of freedom. In this age of precarity, infantilizing publicity machines and uncertainty, a sense of collective impotency and fear provides the breeding ground for isolation, the corporate state and the discourses of inscription, demonization and false communities.

God bless save America.

The Morbid Curiosity Aroused by America's WTF President

The New York Times' Frank Bruni performs an autopsy on the bloated body of America's WTF president only to discover that Trump is empty inside.

Show me a person who has no true friendships and I'll show you someone with little if any talent for generosity, which is a muscle built through interactions with those who have no biological or legal claim to you but lean on you nonetheless.

Show me a person who has no true friendships and I'll show you someone who can't see the world through another's eyes. A novel or movie gets you only so far down the road to empathy; to go the distance, you need more intimate, immediate experience of hurts and aspirations not your own. You need friends.

Show me a person who has no true friendships and I'll show you someone with no adequately moderating influences on his whims, no sufficient cushion for his moods. I'll show you a full-blown narcissist or full-throttle paranoiac or some combination of both.

I'll show you the President of the United States.

In October, The Washington Post published a fascinating profile of Thomas Barrack, a billionaire real estate investor described as "one of President Trump's oldest friends." The profile's author, Michael Kranish, wrote that Barrack often wonders how he has lasted 30 years with such a tempestuous, egomaniacal man.

His conclusion? "I've never needed anything from him," Barrack told Kranish. "I was always subservient to him." That's obviously how Trump prefers the people around him. On bended knee. In full genuflection.

The Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio told me, "He has hangers-on and he has employees and he has other dependents, but I don't think he has friends." He's too twitchily suspicious. Too vain. And so that twitchiness and vanity go unchecked. They metastasise.

"He had no friends in his military academy who stuck," D'Antonio said. "He had no friends in college who stuck. He was a USFL owner, and all the other owners wound up hating him."

Is he all that much different with his kids? When Ivanka and the crew sat with CNN's Anderson Cooper last year to give testimonials about Trump's presence and parenting back in the day, they repeatedly (and perhaps inadvertently) noted that for quality time with him, they went to his office, his construction sites. They met him on his terms and terrain.

Everyone does, and that's anathema to decency and good governance. He gathers and discards allies at will. He acts to sate his own needs, unworried about the impact on others. For him they don't fully exist. There's no space for them, because he has never forced himself to carve it out.

"I think of it as an absolute void," D'Antonio said. It's no way to live, and it's no way to lead.

About Jerusalem

Trump has broken with previous administrations to announce that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The question on everyone's lips is "why?" He wasn't compelled to do it. If anything the decision seems ill-thought out, even capricious. It threatens to set the region on fire. The Guardian is calling it "diplomatic arson."

The history of Jerusalem is vast and full of turmoil. The name, Urusalima, was bestowed by Mesopotamians around 2400 BC abut 1500 years before the Israelis first turned up.

"During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.[8] The part of Jerusalem called the City of David was settled in the 4th millennium BCE.[9] In 1538, walls were built around Jerusalem under Suleiman the Magnificent. Today those walls define the Old City, which has been traditionally divided into four quarters—known since the early 19th century as the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters.[10] The Old City became a World Heritage Site in 1981, and is on the List of World Heritage in Danger."

According to the Israeli version of the Great Book of Murderous Myths and Fatal Fantasies (as opposed to the slightly different Christian and Islamic versions), it was God herself who bestowed Jerusalem on the Israelis for all time or at least what remains of time. God means for them to have it. God doesn't want anyone else to have it. God has spoken. God is great. God is good. As an outsider it strikes me as curious how anyone who picks up any of the versions of that book gets so f#@ked up.

Now we know Donald Trump doesn't read books and I'm pretty sure he hasn't squandered a lot of time studying his Bible. I'm sure he still thinks Amos was a black guy on the radio who had a partner named Andy.

So if Trump isn't acting on some deeply held religious conviction, why is he going to such lengths to ruffle feathers? If there's one discernible trait in this presidency it's been Trump's predilection for doing things that will piss someone off, often a lot of someones. He has repeatedly offended and alienated America's allies, even the closest. He has embraced the Thuggees, anti-democratic authoritarians such as Putin, Orban, Erdogan, Netanyahu, Poland's Duda, even the murderous Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. He's like a bull in the china shop of decency. Why?

I may have stumbled across the answer in my most recent negotiation with my beagle, Buddy.  A long time ago someone tipped me off. When you ask a beagle to do something, the hound's first reaction is, "What's in it for me?" If the beagle doesn't like the deal as he sees it, he just looks the other way. If he sees what you're asking is a sweet deal - for him, he's with you. I don't mean to disparage beagles with comparisons to Trump, but...

What if Trump sees the presidency primarily as a business opportunity? He gets to dole favours out of the public purse with an expectation of future accommodations of the the Trump business empire for his kids. The Mango Mussolini has always talked in the context of "deals." He's proud of his ghost-written book, "The Art of the Deal." That was pretty much the entire curriculum of his faux college, Trump University. He promised his supporters, the Gullibillies, that he would make "the best deals" for America, renegotiating everything.

Trump has always put his personal interests ahead of all others. He's legendary for screwing those who risk dealing with him, put trust in him. He monetizes their confidence and trust and often leaves them empty-handed and bitter. That's all he knows how to do. Mentally the man is not well. Intellectually he's every bit as infirm. His greatest, perhaps only real skill, is to shamelessly exploit opportunities especially in perceived weaknesses.

Why then would he not exploit the presidency? By zigging where his predecessors all zagged, he can make some people beholden to him. He can accumulate markers to be called in at another time.

Look at what he has done in his first year in office. Everything from rampant deregulation, gutting the EPA, defunding government and the social safety net, tax relief for the richest of the rich (including familia Trump), it's all been to benefit a class of people, the sort who know to repay favours.

It's not a reach, not at all, to see Jerusalem as another example of Trump's modus operandi in action. Sure it will set back if not destroy any chance of Middle East peace and it's almost certain to result in a lot of deaths for years, perhaps generations to come, but it's an opportunity that can be monetized by the empire in years to come. The old bastard is in it for the deal.

Trudeau's Trade Fetish

One line from Vice news sums it up perfectly, "Justin Trudeau is one of the few world leaders still trumpeting the pre-2016 dream that everything will be hunky dory in the mad world of global politics if we can strike up a few more free trade deals."

Vice columnist Drew Brown skips the debate over whether Trudeau is wise or an utter fool to think he can or should entangle Canada in a trade pact with China. Instead he focuses on Trudeau's claim that a Canada-China free trade deal with help defuze the reactionary populist politics spreading around the world.

It is a talking point that Trudeau and his neoliberal fellow travellers have invoked before. While there may have been some structural discomfort involved in the opening of domestic markets to foreign capital (and vice versa), overall the outcome of liberal trade is an inevitable win for everyone involved. Goods and services cross borders more easily (and cheaply) and freer migration fosters a deeper appreciation for human diversity. Corporate greed might make things look a little lopsided, but it’s nothing that modest state redistribution of the quintessentially Canadian variety can’t sort out.

It is a very nice story but, as we now know, it leaves out a few loose ends. Whenever newly unfettered capital starts freely crossing borders, it is usually accompanied by a cast of somewhat less savory characters: community dislocation, deindustrialization, declining environmental and labour regulations, degraded national sovereignty, and the occasional financial meltdown. (For what it’s worth, Trudeau deserves credit for making more progressive environmental, labour, and gender regulations a sticking point in negotiations.)

Free trade might be a win-win on paper for the countries involved, but within those countries themselves it’s very often a win-lose arrangement for the rich and the non-rich, respectively. In other words, it tends to create its own problems, one of which appears to be right-wing, nationalist reaction. (It’s a convention to just call this ‘populism’, which is sort of true, but also sort of not true, and something we should probably talk about later.)

In the case of Chinese-Canadian trade in particular, there are reasons to suspect that even a successful bilateral free trade agreement might do more to inflame reactionary populism at home than put it out. Wells observes that Canadian access to the Chinese market also entails China’s further access to the Canadian market. This risks further inflating urban real estate values (particularly on the west coast), as well as hollowing out communities based around agriculture and manufacturing. And as a general rule, people who lose a good job and/or get priced out of their home tend to become rather politically agitated.

It’s not clear whether or not the prime minister and his team genuinely believe more free trade will fix the problems it simultaneously causes, or if this is just a reflexive talking point he threw to the media after a long day of trade talks that amounted to fruitlessly banging his head against a wall in Beijing.

My take is that the school marm is still the school marm, short on both the experience and intellectual depth to tackle a hydra such as free trade with China. He can't even make any serious inroads on climate change, the gravest threat facing the Canadian people. That's something that will take a truly Herculean effort over many years, perhaps decades, and Trudeau won't even get near the starting blocks. In difficult and dangerous times it takes more than posing for selfies and making apologies, no matter how deserved, to lead a country. Going by his track record from his first two years in power, this son of Margaret does not seem to pass muster on leadership.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Chris Hedges - A Recipe for Emerging Dystopia

Chris Hedges addresses the transformation of the United States from a once hopeful democracy into an emerging dystopia.

It's Just a Sense, a Feeling.

If there's one thing we need to get much better at it's learning to deal with the unexpected.

It's a huge understatement to note that, on so many fronts, we're already passing through uncharted waters. Human lifespans being as brief as they are, life experiences can be very limited in depth and breadth. And so when change sets in, seismic change, and the ground begins shifting beneath your feet it's natural to become confused, disoriented.

A lot of what's happening today, the early onset stuff, was not foreseen by us just a decade or two ago. It can be incredibly depressing to think back to the 80s and 90s and the relative stability and security we enjoyed in those days and then look at what is upon us now.

Many science types tell us we're on the verge of a mass extinction event, the sixth in Earth's history. Extinction. Try to wrap your head around that. Delving into that idea reminds us that we, and most of the species trying to share this planet with us, are merely the latest iteration of life on Earth. We are the dominant species today but we weren't in earlier times. The human species didn't exist in these previous eras. Other life forms did going back about 3.8 billion years. Some other life form was the dominant species in each of those eras.  And those former species, plant and animal, died and were buried and became the coal, oil and gas that we've used to trigger the extinction of life in our era. Ah, the irony.

Our base of knowledge today is greater than at any time in the history of mankind. We amass data faster than we can hope to process it. There is no much information at your fingertips and yet you can only access it in slivers and even that in a most haphazard fashion.

We once imagined a future extending into something akin to infinity, at least in a practical context. Hitler proclaimed a thousand year Reich. Now, as our knowledge base expands at explosive rates, we struggle to foresee where we might be twenty, thirty or forty years down the road. We just don't know.  It wasn't that long ago that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that, if we didn't slash greenhouse gas emissions and pronto, dire change such as the loss of Arctic sea ice might be upon us by the end of the century, 2100. They were attempting to peer 90 years into the future and yet they were out by 70 years. It can feel like you're driving down a highway at full speed in a dense fog.

Our demonstrated inability to gauge the pace of the onset of climate change, arguably the greatest threat to mankind and life on Earth generally, is unsettling. What else have we overlooked? What else have we gotten wrong?

Even those who resist doing anything to mitigate against climate change, i.e. abandoning fossil fuels, are more open to adaptation strategies. In Florida, for example, they might refuse to accept the link between global warming and sea level rise and yet they're quite open to planning to adapt to sea level rise. However how do you adapt unless you have a pretty good idea of what is coming and by when? The later you leave it the fewer good options you may have remaining when you do decide to act. On the other hand should you act too soon, perhaps on flawed assumptions, you may squander irreplaceable assets pointlessly. Decisions, decisions.

You might not be able to save the first little piggy's house or the second little piggy's house but there may be things you can do to ensure that all three piggies are getting along when it comes time to take refuge in the third little piggy's sturdy brick house. When you think about it, the first little piggy and the second little piggy become dependent for their very survival on the generosity of the third little piggy. It's the third little piggy who has to share his abode and presumably his pantry to keep all three alive. That's what you call "social cohesion."

Imagine how well that wolf would have dined had the piggy community been as profoundly divided as our societies are today. Imagine if those piggies were as divided economically, politically, racially and socially as we are today, hostile and distrusting of each other.

What if there had been a political pig caste who groomed the little piggies with lies and fear and anger and suspicion, manipulating them for the political caste's own benefit? Isn't that what's happening to us today? Our trust in government and in each other is being eroded, diluted.

I have a cousin in the States. While he's not uneducated it's plain that his worldview and his social senses are shaped by FOX News, Limbaugh, Alex Jones (or this sphincter) and that crowd. The world he sees and the world we see are radically and irreconcilably different. He believes. He takes what he selectively hears on faith. And the only way to maintain that belief is to dismiss fact and evidence-based information as the stuff of conspiracies. The real world is one giant plot, a hoax, intended to lure him into some diabolical trap. Once you're in his place, Pizzagate and chem-trails become all too believable.

And so we sail into the uncharted waters of the unknown and perhaps unknowable with a crew ready to mutiny against itself and no one at the helm. I've got a sense, a feeling, that this is not shaping up well.

Monday, December 04, 2017

A Fitting End to a Country Grown Too Old

Remember when North America was called the New World? Well, in some ways, it's rather old, very old. The United States boasts of being the world's oldest constitutional democracy and, even if that means brushing a few other nations such as Switzerland under the carpet, it clings to that claim.

These are, however, technicalities. The United States has not been a functioning democracy for a good many years. The gang that launched this enterprise, the Founding Fathers, weren't fond of democracy. (see Louise Isenberg's, "White Trash, the 400 Year Untold History of Class in America.") And it's not surprising that today's Ruling Fathers are following so closely in their footsteps.

In 2014 two American professors, Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Ben Page (Northwestern) published a paper entitled, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens." Their study, published by Princeton, revealed how America's Congress had fallen under the control of narrow, monied interests to the exclusion of the public interest. Congress no longer served the American people. It served the emerging oligarchy, the Donor Class. Democracy, at least liberal democracy, was over, extinguished.

Even senator Lindsey Graham recently exhorted his Republican colleagues to back the hopelessly corrupted tax bill by openly warning that if it failed, "the financial contributions will stop."  In other words, Congressional Republicans had taken the King's shilling, had grown dependent on these wealthy donors, and now must do their bidding. That is nothing less than a blatant confession of utter corruption.

In yesterday's New York Times, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein wrote of how America was now broken, perhaps irreparably, by the Republican Party.

If in 2006 one could cast aspersions on both parties, over the past decade it has become clear that it is the Republican Party — as an institution, as a movement, as a collection of politicians — that has done unique, extensive and possibly irreparable damage to the American political system.

Trump is the culmination of a rancid corruption that goes back several years.  I can remember when then Republican House leader John Boehner strolled the floor of the house depositing white envelopes on the desks of his party's members. Inside were cheques from the tobacco industry and they arrived just as the House prepared to take up that year's tobacco subsidies.

Since Boehner's walk on the House floor we've had the US Supreme Court decision in Citizen's United, as fine a piece of corporatist corruption as perhaps any in America's history, and now the culmination of the America's transition to transactional government, the Republican tax bill.

In an act of sublime stupidity, Trump's Gullibillies believed they were voting to "drain the swamp." The stupid fools could not see they were instead electing a government of swamp creatures who would strip them of everything from their democracy to their health care and burden them with even more debt that they and their kids and grandkids will be left to shoulder. Fools, damned fools.

In today's Guardian, Dana Nuccitelli sees the same moral and intellectual perversion in the Republican tax gambit as in the GOP's policy on climate change.

The parallels between the Republican Party positions on taxes and climate change are striking. Both are morally appalling and reject the available evidence and expert opinion.

The Initiative on Global Markets’ panel of economic experts was recently asked about the Republican tax plan. Among the experts who took a position either way, there was a 96% consensus that the plan would not substantially grow the economy more than the status quo, and a 100% consensus that it would substantially increase the national debt.

Economists also agree that we should be paying down the debt when the economy is going strong. When the next recession inevitably strikes, governments need monetary flexibility to respond. That’s when it makes sense to run a deficit (for example, see the 2009 stimulus package, which helped pull the US out of the Great Recession and cost less than the Republican tax plan).

These Republican economic contradictions make no sense, but they’re familiar to those of us who follow climate change news. The only consistency in climate denial is in its contradictions – deniers claim global warming isn’t happening, but it’s a natural ocean cycle, and caused by the sun, and galactic cosmic rays, and Jupiter’s orbital cycles, and it’s really just a Chinese hoax, and in any case it’s not bad.

And the Gullibillies, fed a rich diet of lies, keep faith with the faithless. They're taking it up the arse and they don't even realize it.

A 2012 survey found that Americans who only watch Fox News are less informed than Americans who watch no news at all. At the time, 55% of Americans including 75% of Republicans reported watching Fox News. The network is powerful – a recent study found that Fox News might have enough influence to tip American elections – and on the whole it prioritizes ideological messaging over factual accuracy.

Trump’s attacks on the so-called “fake news” media have further eroded Republicans’ trust of news sources that lack a conservative bias. As David Roberts wrote for Vox:

The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know — what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening … the right has created its own parallel set of institutions, most notably its own media ecosystem … “conservative media is more partisan and more insular than the left.”

Because so many conservatives rely on right-wing media sources for their news, it’s easy to misinform them through a constant stream of lies.

For example, Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin promised that his department would produce an analysis showing that the tax cuts will pay for themselves. One economist in the department leaked to the New York Times that such an analysis doesn’t exist and Treasury staffers weren’t even asked to study the issue. It was a lie. Mnuchin also claimed the plan would only raise taxes on Americans who earn more than $1 million a year – the exact opposite of reality and another blatant lie. In fact, the entire Republican case for their tax plan was based on lies.

Similarly, climate denial is based on endless myths and misinformation – Skeptical Science has catalogued and debunked about 200 of them. And recent research showed that these myths are quite effective at misinforming their audience.

This brings to mind Kevin Phillips' 2005 book, "American Theocracy." In one chapter of the book, Phillips explores how previous global hegemons rose to dominance and then fell again.

...conductors of the orchestra of American hubris wave star-spangled batons and the chorus resounds: Washington rules, the world manufactures for the United States, and our current-account deficit reflects nothing more than global anxiety to invest in U.S. prosperity. Who knows, the Treasury may even be planning a statue of an American consumer supporting the world on his back.

However, if pride goeth before a fall, cocksureness about the manageability of U.S. public and private indebtedness may as well, given threats that range from debt crises to currency humiliation. Crippling indebtedness is like the ghost of leading world economic powers past, a familiar Shakespearean villain come to stalk the current hegemon.

...None of these hegemons [Holland, Spain and Britain] started with well-developed finance. They began with simpler vocations. Castile, the heart of Spain, was a culture of high-plateau wool growers and skilled soldiers who had spent centuries reconquering the Iberian peninsula from Muslim emirs before conquistadores found gold and silver in Central and South America. The Dutch, as we have seen, had a unique talent for vocations having to do with ships, seas and winds. The English pioneered coal development and superseded the Dutch as masters of the seas. But after several generations of success in soldiering, seafaring, or manufacturing, these peoples, in their respective heydays, were drawn farther in the direction of globalism, financial services and capital management.

...Excluding the unusual case of Spain, the leading economic powers have followed an evolutionary progression: first, agriculture, fishing and the like, next commerce and industry, and finally finance. Several historians have elaborated this point. Brooks Adams contended that 'as societies consolidate, they pass through a profound intellectual change. Energy ceases to vent through the imagination and takes the form of capital.'

In 1908, ...Winston Churchill, then president of the British Board of Trade, vented a similar historical interpretation in finding 'the seed of imperial ruin and national decay' in 'the unnatural gap between the rich and the poor' and 'the swift increase of vulgar jobless luxury.'

...The word "rentier" - meaning a person living off unearned income - comes from the French, as do so many other words connected with money and plunder: financier, profiteer, buccaneer. Over the last four centuries, however, it was first Spain, then Holland and Great Britain, and now the United States that created the most notable rentier cultures. Each ultimately became vulnerable as a result.

...Because intermittent high debt ratios were so central to the evolution of each of the leading world economic powers, each became comfortable - too comfortable - with debt as a long-standing experience, practice, and tactic. Particular overconfidence was instilled by memories of how often previous debt problems had been surmounted, even at extreme levels (100 to 200 percent) of GDP or GNP.

...Understandable as this cockiness might be, history teaches a crucial distinction: nations could martial the necessary debt-defying high-wire walks and comebacks during their youth and early middle age, when their industries, exports, capitalizations, and animal spirits were vital and expansive, but they became less resilient in later years. During these periods, as their societies polarized and their arteries clogged with rentier and debt buildups, wars and financial crises stopped being manageable. Of course, clarity about this develops only in retrospect. However, even though war-related debt seems to have been part of each fatal endgame, the past leading world economic powers seem to have made another error en route. They did not pay enough attention to establishing or maintaining a vital manufacturing sector, thereby keeping a better international balance and a broader internal income distribution than financialization allowed."

This history was written, repeatedly, over several centuries. Phillips, a Republican stalwart, penned these passages in 2005. Here we are on the eve of 2018 with America staring down this very same gun barrel. The insanely stupid Gullibillies don't realize their predicament or that it's the Republicans' finger on the trigger.

Billy Knows Best

President Flubber has been floating the idea that the Access Hollywood tape in which he was heard boasting about how his celebrity allowed him to molest beautiful women wasn't actually his voice. Perhaps it was someone else trying to sound like Trump simply to embarrass him, an election dirty trick.

"Bullshit" says Billy. That would be Billy Bush, the former Access Hollywood host who was with Trump on the bus when the Mango Mussolini uttered the now infamous words, "Grab 'em by the pussy." Billy should know. Not only was he there but it cost him his job when the tape leaked out.

"President Trump is currently indulging in some revisionist history, reportedly telling allies... that the voice on the tape is not his. This has hit a raw nerve in me," Bush added.

He said the president was "wantonly poking the bear" as the US was trying to come to terms with years of sexual abuse and misconduct against leading figures in the media and entertainment industry.

In the Short Haul

Most Canadians have flown on prop aircraft such as the DeHaviland turbos, the four-engine Dash-7 or twin Dash-8. Many have logged a few hours of seat time aboard earlier DH prop jobs - the Beaver, the Otter and the Twin Otter. By and large they're short haul aircraft mainly used to get air passengers from smaller towns to major hubs where they continue on by standard jetliner.

One thing they all have in common from the mighty Airbus A380 to the prop jobs is petroleum based fuels, either jet fuel or aviation gas.

Well that may be about to change, at least for the propeller side. Airbus is about to launch an experimental technology demonstrator, a four-engine hybrid-electric powered transport. They're calling it the E-Fan X and it will look like this:

The potential for regional aircraft with lower operating costs, emissions and noise that can bring air transport closer to customers is the driving vision behind Airbus’ plan to fly a hybrid-electric propulsion demonstrator in 2020.

The European manufacturer has partnered with Rolls-Royce and Siemens to fly the E-Fan X, a BAe 146 regional airliner modified to flight-test a 2-megawatt, serial-hybrid propulsion system—eight times more powerful than the highest-power electric aircraft now flying.


Airbus and its partners believe electric propulsion could allow regional aircraft to compete with rail transport. Cousin says several airlines have already expressed interest in the technology, particularly if the future cost of electricity becomes cheaper as new forms of generation emerge.

“Quieter aircraft using shorter runways than today’s regional turboprops and jets would allow us to move air transport closer to communities and connect city pairs more efficiently so we can start stealing traffic from rail,” says Paul Stein, Rolls-Royce chief technology officer. “This is particularly true in emerging economies.”

Sunday, December 03, 2017

America is Broken, Probably Beyond Repair

The sad fact that America's Congress is "bought and paid for" is well known. America has long lost any notion of "government of the people, by the people, for the people." It is instead government of the people by a few people acting for the benefit of a select, privileged and small segment of the people.

The corruption that is so rank within the House and Senate is something that the Republicans don't even bother to hide any more. The Republican tax reform law was a consummate act of political corruption. Even stalwart senator Lindsey Graham tweeted last month admitted that the "donor class" now gets what it has so richly paid for.

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.”

In today's New York Times, Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein lament how the Republicans "broke Congress."

What is astounding, and still largely unappreciated, is the unexpected and rapid nature of the decline in American national politics, and how one-sided its cause. If in 2006 one could cast aspersions on both parties, over the past decade it has become clear that it is the Republican Party — as an institution, as a movement, as a collection of politicians — that has done unique, extensive and possibly irreparable damage to the American political system.

Even today, many people like to imagine that the damage has all been President Trump’s doing — that he took the Republican Party hostage. But the problem goes much deeper.

First, beginning in the 1990s, the Republicans strategically demonized Congress and government more broadly and flouted the norms of lawmaking, fueling a significant decline of trust in government that began well before the financial collapse in 2008, though it has sped up since. House Republicans showed their colors when they first blocked passage of the Troubled Asset Relief Plan, despite the urgent pleas of their own president, George W. Bush, and the speaker of the House, John Boehner. The seeds of a (largely phony) populist reaction were planted.

Second, there was the “Obama effect.” When Mr. Bush became president, Democrats worked with him to enact sweeping education reform early on and provided the key votes to pass his top priority, tax cuts. With President Barack Obama, it was different. While many argued that the problem was that Mr. Obama failed to schmooze enough with Republicans in Congress, we saw a deliberate Republican strategy to oppose all of his initiatives and frame his attempts to compromise as weak or inauthentic. The Senate under the majority leader Mitch McConnell weaponized the filibuster to obstruct legislation, block judges and upend the policy process. The Obama effect had an ominous twist, an undercurrent of racism that was itself embodied in the “birther” movement led by Donald Trump.

Third, we have seen the impact of significant changes in the news media, which had a far greater importance on the right than on the left. The development of the modern conservative media echo chamber began with the rise of Rush Limbaugh and talk radio in the late 1980s and ramped up with the birth of Fox News. Matt Drudge, his protégé Andrew Breitbart and Breitbart’s successor Steve Bannon leveraged the power of the internet to espouse their far-right views. And with the advent of social media, we saw the emergence of a radical “alt-right” media ecosystem able to create its own “facts” and build an audience around hostility to the establishment, anti-immigration sentiment and racial resentment. Nothing even close to comparable exists on the left.

Mr. Trump’s election and behavior during his first 10 months in office represent not a break with the past but an extreme acceleration of a process that was long underway in conservative politics. The Republican Party is now rationalizing and enabling Mr. Trump’s autocratic, kleptocratic, dangerous and downright embarrassing behavior in hopes of salvaging key elements of its ideological agenda: cutting taxes for the wealthy (as part of possibly the worst tax bill in American history), hobbling the regulatory regime, gutting core government functions and repealing Obamacare without any reasonable plan to replace it.

This is a far cry from the aspirations of Republican presidential giants like Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, as well as legions of former Republican senators and representatives who identified critical roles for government and worked tirelessly to make them succeed. It’s an agenda bereft of any serious efforts to remedy the problems that trouble vast segments of the American public, including the disaffected voters who flocked to Mr. Trump.

The failure of Republican members of Congress to resist the anti-democratic behavior of President Trump — including holding not a single hearing on his and his team’s kleptocracy — is cringe-worthy. A few Republican senators have spoken up, but occasional words have not been matched by any meaningful deeds. Only conservative intellectuals have acknowledged the bankruptcy of the Republican Party.