Saturday, August 06, 2022

Taking A Break

In the past, I've had problems with my back. They've returned, so I'll be taking a break from blogging. But I hope to be back soon.

Friday, August 05, 2022

Make Lying Expensive

Alex Jones has built a career on lying. This week, in a courtroom in Texas, he has met with a reckoning. Eugene Robinson writes:

The far-right radio host’s trial in an Austin courtroom has been almost enough to restore my faith in truth, justice and the American way. Jurors have been determining how much of his likely nine-figure fortune he must pay to the parents of a victim of the Sandy Hook school massacre for defaming them and their late son. Jones’s wildly successful business model has been based on concocting outrageous lies and shouting them at the top of his lungs to millions of listeners. But that does not work so well, it turns out, in a court of law.

“You are already under oath to tell the truth,” Judge Maya Guerra Gamble admonished him. “You’ve already violated that oath twice today. ... Just because you claim to think something is true does not make it true. It does not protect you. It is not allowed. You’re under oath. That means things must actually be true when you say them.”

Like Donald Trump, Jones has made a fortune from a Big Lie:

What Jones did was unspeakably vile: He claimed repeatedly — and falsely, with absolutely no factual basis, since none exists — that the 2012 Sandy Hook killings never happened at all, that they were some kind of “false flag” operation that was “a giant hoax,” and that the 20 dead children ripped to pieces by rounds from an assault rifle were nothing but “crisis actors.”

Yesterday, the jury fined Jones $4.1 million. But that's just the beginning. They will now determine how much Jones owes in punitive damages.

The way to shut up people like Jones is to make lying very expensive. By the time the legal system is finished with him, Jones literally won't have a pot to piss in.

Image: PBS

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Wisdom And Common Sense

Jean Charest tried to make the case last night that he is the best person to lead the Conservative Party. Althia Raj writes:

The former Quebec premier and current Conservative leadership candidate hoped Wednesday’s third official debate would introduce him to more members and boost his chances of winning the party’s Sept. 10 contest, but his relatively calm performance may have failed to make the case that the perceived front-runner Pierre Poilievre, would be a disaster for the party and the country. It wasn’t until the final closing arguments — 25 minutes after a French exchange — that Charest got to the point.

He lambasted Poilievre — without naming him — for failing to show up and be accountable to members. He contrasted his values and numerous policy proposals — supporting law and order, introducing more private health care delivery and replacing the consumer carbon tax with a tax on large emitters — to his opponent’s offering.

“Anger is not a political program,” Charest noted. “A slogan isn’t going to do the job for us.”

Charest pointed to recent polls:

In a scrum following the roundtable exchange, Charest pointed to recent public opinion surveys by Ipsos and Angus Reid which suggest he has a better chance than Poilievre of winning across the country.

“There is a boulevard out there of Canadians who want a fiscally conservative government that’s going to have a real economic plan for the country,” Charest stated.

But what Charest failed to mention is that those polls also suggest the majority of Conservatives want Poilievre to lead them.

Charest finds himself in the same position that Donald Trump's challengers faced back in 2015. When a political party is taken over by the crazies, wisdom and common sense are locked away in the closet.

Image: The Toronto Star

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

The Last Debate

The format for tonight's Conservative leadership debate is somewhat novel. Stephanie Taylor reports that:

No audience, no podiums and appearances from only three out of the five candidates running to lead the federal Conservatives. 

These are the circumstances under which the party's last official debate of the race will take place tonight in Ottawa, before a winner is announced Sept. 10.

Those participating will be ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest, rural Ontario MP Scott Aitchison and Roman Baber, a former provincial legislator who Doug Ford booted from caucus over his opposition to COVID-19 lockdowns. 

Rather than standing at individual podiums, the three will be placed around a table for the event, which is being billed as part debate, part roundtable.

Moderated by the party's president, the event will be split into two 45-minute rounds. Candidates will answer questions in English during the first section and then switch to French for the second half. 

While Charest applauded the party's decision to make the event bilingual, doing so no doubt poses a challenge to Aitchison and Baber, who are not fluent French speakers. 

But even more significant than the format is the fact that neither Leslyn Lewis nor Pierre Poilievre will be there:

The party's decision to organize a third debate after two official ones were held in May drew sharp criticism from some in the party, including the two candidates who have decided not to show: Pierre Poilievre and Leslyn Lewis. 

Poilievre's campaign issued a sharply worded statement after the party made the call.

It said the longtime MP and perceived front-runner of the race was going to stay focused on getting members to fill out their ballots, and slammed the earlier official English debate as an "embarrassment" for asking candidates personal questions about their favourite streaming shows and music. 

Lewis's campaign informed the party last week she wouldn't attend, saying despite trying to find out more details it lacked details around format or questions.

All this indicates that the Conservatives still haven't got their act together -- and they still haven't figured out why they lost the last two elections. 


Tuesday, August 02, 2022

The Endgame

It's time, climate scientists warn, to consider the endgame -- human extinction. Damien Carrington writes:

The risk of global societal collapse or human extinction has been “dangerously underexplored”, climate scientists have warned in an analysis.

They call such a catastrophe the “climate endgame”. Though it had a small chance of occurring, given the uncertainties in future emissions and the climate system, cataclysmic scenarios could not be ruled out, they said.

“Facing a future of accelerating climate change while blind to worst-case scenarios is naive risk management at best and fatally foolish at worst,” the scientists said, adding that there were “ample reasons” to suspect global heating could result in an apocalyptic disaster.

The warning isn't new:

Explorations in the 1980s of the nuclear winter that would follow a nuclear war spurred public concern and disarmament efforts, the researchers said. The analysis proposes a research agenda, including what they call the “four horsemen” of the climate endgame: famine, extreme weather, war and disease.

 The speed of climate change  and other factors are causing scientists to recalculate:

“There are plenty of reasons to believe climate change could become catastrophic, even at modest levels of warming,” said Dr Luke Kemp at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, who led the analysis. “Climate change has played a role in every mass extinction event. It has helped fell empires and shaped history.

“Paths to disaster are not limited to the direct impacts of high temperatures, such as extreme weather events. Knock-on effects such as financial crises, conflict and new disease outbreaks could trigger other calamities.”

The analysis is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was reviewed by a dozen scientists. It argues that the consequences of global heating beyond 3C have been underexamined, with few quantitative estimates of the total impacts. “We know least about the scenarios that matter most,” Kemp said.

A thorough risk assessment would consider how risks spread, interacted and amplified, but had not been attempted, the scientists said. “Yet this is how risk unfolds in the real world,” they said. “For example, a cyclone destroys electrical infrastructure, leaving a population vulnerable to an ensuing deadly heatwave.” The Covid pandemic underlined the need to examine rare but high-impact global risks, they added.

Particularly concerning are tipping points, where a small rise in global temperature results in a big change in the climate, such as huge carbon emissions from an Amazon rainforest suffering major droughts and fires. Tipping points could trigger others in a cascade and some remained little studied, they said, such as the abrupt loss of stratocumulus cloud decks that could cause an additional 8C of global warming.

The researchers warn that climate breakdown could exacerbate or trigger other catastrophic risks, such as international wars or infectious disease pandemics, and worsen existing vulnerabilities such as poverty, crop failures and lack of water. The analysis suggests superpowers may one day fight over geoengineering plans to reflect sunlight or the right to emit carbon.

“There is a striking overlap between currently vulnerable states and future areas of extreme warming,” the scientists said. “If current political fragility does not improve significantly in the coming decades, then a belt of instability with potentially serious ramifications could occur.”

There were further good reasons to be concerned about the potential of a global climate catastrophe, the scientists said: “There are warnings from history. Climate change has played a role in the collapse or transformation of numerous previous societies and in each of the five mass extinction events in Earth’s history.”

It's worth repeating that old saw: The prospect of hanging concentrates the mind. Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, we have a hard time concentrating.

Image: Goodreads

Monday, August 01, 2022

Is This It?

Donald Trump has almost always escaped the consequences of what he has said and done. Michael Harris writes:

Donald Trump has always been too rich, too powerful, and too lawyered up to ever get the comeuppance he richly deserves for a lifetime of lying and cheating.

The most recent example was the decision by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office not to prosecute him for alleged tax fraud, even though Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, laid out exactly how it had been done.

As a result of putting the investigation on ice, two top prosecutors involved in the investigation of the Trump organization resigned. It’s hard to work in a place where you can smell a rat, especially when you are supposed to be in the truth business.

This time around, the evidence of Trump's crimes would seem to be insurmountable:

Americans now know that Trump knew about the deadly threat to hang Mike Pence. Did he step in? Did he call his own vice-president, who came within 40 feet of the rioters out for his blood? Did he call in the National Guard, the Defense Departent, or his attorney general? Did he make a public appeal for the rioters to go home?

Another thing Americans now know is that Donald Trump was well aware that he had lost the election, but refused to listen to anyone, including his own White House counsel, who told him that. He also refused to make any public statement until it became clear that his coup was not going to work.  Even his own daughter begged him to stop the violence. He kept watching television, taking time out to send out a tweet calling Mike Pence a coward.  That put a target on the VP’s back in the middle of a riot.

Most importantly, people died as a result of the riot that Trump fomented. So, is this it? Will Trump finally be held accountable?

Don’t bet the farm on it. For one thing, Americans tend to mythologize the presidency, and hence the person holding the office. Call it the divine right of commanders-in-chief, or presidential infallibility. Richard Nixon put it best when he said that if your president does it, it isn’t a crime. Trump is still, to some extent, clothed in the same aura of office that persuaded Nixon he was above the law.

Trump also has the advantage of the clock. With criminal investigations underway both by the Department of Justice and at the state level in Georgia, it is doubtful if any of these investigations would be concluded before the mid-term elections, let alone any legal proceedings.

If the Republicans win back the House of Representatives on Nov. 8, as most pundits are predicting, not only will the Jan. 6 Committee be disbanded, some of its members may find themselves under investigation by vengeful members of the GOP.

The last thing in Trump’s favour is pure politics. Remember, this is a one-term president who survived two impeachment trials because of partisan support in the Senate. Should Trump officially announce his bid for a presidential run in 2024, it could have a chilling affect on those who might otherwise be willing to indict a former president.

Tennessee Williams' Blanche Dubois claimed that she relied on the kindness of strangers. Trump relies on the cowardice of many. This is an existential moment for the United States. If Trump is not convicted for what he has said and done, the Americans will lose their republic.

Image: Chicago Sun Times

Sunday, July 31, 2022

National Insanity

If you want to understand how insane things have become in the United States, consider this report from this morning's New York Times

RITTMAN, Ohio — Mandi, a kindergarten teacher in Ohio, had already done what she could to secure her classroom against a gunman.

She positioned a bookcase by the doorway, in case she needed a barricade. In an orange bucket, she kept district-issued emergency supplies: wasp spray, to aim at an attacker, and a tube sock, to hold a heavy object and hurl at an assailant.

But after 19 children and two teachers were killed in Uvalde, Texas, she felt a growing desperation. Her school is in an older building, with no automatic locks on classroom doors and no police officer on campus.

“We just feel helpless,” she said. “It’s not enough.”

She decided she needed something far more powerful: a 9 millimeter pistol.

So she signed up for training that would allow her to carry a gun in school. Like others in this article, she asked to be identified by her first name, because of school district rules that restrict information about employees carrying firearms.

A decade ago, it was extremely rare for everyday school employees to carry guns. Today, after a seemingly endless series of mass shootings, the strategy has become a leading solution promoted by Republicans and gun rights advocates, who say that allowing teachers, principals and superintendents to be armed gives schools a fighting chance in case of attack.

At least 29 states allow individuals other than police or security officials to carry guns on school grounds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. As of 2018, the last year for which statistics were available, federal survey data estimated that 2.6 percent of public schools had armed faculty

The count has likely grown.

As a retired teacher, I am both horrified and appalled. The country is on the verge of anarchy. And, if anarchy results from this national insanity, there will be a national bloodbath.

Image: The New York Times