Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Dark Clouds

Naturally, Canadians want their politicians to deal with Canadian problems. But, Glen Pearson warns, whoever becomes prime minister will face a dysfunctional world. He offers several examples to make his point:

The riots in Hong Kong have dominated the news cycle for days. Things have gotten out of hand for the Chinese government and they are expected to brutally dispel the protesters .  This is one hot spot that is already placing pressure on the Canadian government prior to the election, since some 300,000 Canadians live in the region.
China is active on other fronts as well. Their trade war with America is already having significant effect, leaving many economists warning that it will lead to a global recession just a decade after the global financial crisis that led to so many changes in work and corporatism.  And with China holding over one trillion dollars in U.S. treasury bills, what would happen if they called President Trump’s bluff and dumped those bonds?   Fortunately, for now at least, the Chinese government is showing more caution than the Americans.
This past July was the hottest month on record. The effects have been destabilizing and it’s becoming clear that only the most urgent of action among nations can mitigate the oncoming climate crisis.  How will Canada respond?
With Prime Minister Boris Johnson being elected by only .2% of the British population (Conservative members), it looks inevitable that his government (held buy only a majority of one) is careening toward a no deal Brexit. Britain is in trouble and knows it and a fall election is inevitable.  The implications are dire, not just for Europe but for all of Britain’s main allies and trading partners, including Canada.
The on-again off-again “bromance” between Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un might be mildly entertaining, but the four missiles launched by North Korea this month as a “direct warning to America” reveal once more that Jong-un has no intention of doing away with the nuclear potential and could easily be provoked to lash out if pressured too hard.
Last month, Vladimir Putin celebrated his 20th year in power. How did he celebrate?  By cracking down on dissidents and any political opposition.  He vowed once more to keep Syria’s President Assad in power and opened up new avenues for building strong ties with China.  As America abandons its global leadership role, Russia is proving more than willing to fill the gap.
The problems between America and Iran aren’t going away anytime soon. The Strait of Hormuz remains a vortex for all that could go wrong with regional tensions and global oil supplies.  With America pulling out of its peace arrangements with Iran, there aren’t any guarantees that just one incident couldn’t spiral out of control.
If there is a sleeping “time bomb” in the world today it is the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan – both possessors of nuclear warheads. Indian Prime Minister Modi’s cancelling of Kashmir’s special status has led to heightened tensions.  Kashmir represents the largest Muslim territory India has and the decision isn’t going down easy.  Neither India or Pakistan’s government is a model of stability and diplomacy.  Foreign experts around the world are watching this more closely at the moment than any other region. 

The clouds are growing darker. It's clear that the next prime minister will face all kinds of problems at home. But it's also clear that -- like it or not -- he or she will become deeply enmeshed in the world's problems.

Image: Hoosier Ag Today

Monday, August 19, 2019

Deregulation. Really?

There was a time when deregulation was all the rage. In fact, it's still all the rage. Alan Freeman writes:

The move to deregulate has been gathering steam worldwide since the 1980s as companies seek to maximize profit, backed by the resurgence of an ideological right that sees the undermining of taxes and regulation as a pathway to eroding and ultimately destroying the welfare state.

But the grounding of all of Boeing's 737 Max fleet has caused some to question the wisdom of the current policy:

As the New York Times has reported, FAA engineers never independently assessed the risks involved with the MCAS software that ended up forcing both planes into a deadly nosedive because Boeing was basically in charge of approving its own aircraft. As the Times reports, “the cozy relationship” between Boeing and the FAA meant that during the certification process for the Max, FAA management sometimes overruled their own staff after getting pressure from Boeing.

And there have been other recent examples of the havoc caused by deregulation:

The 2013 rail crash at Lac-Megantic, with the loss of 47 lives, has been linked to a lax regulatory environment that allowed a poorly maintained railway to put a single-man crew in charge of a train of highly flammable crude oil loaded in flimsy tanker cars that ran through the centre of a town.
In addition to the human tragedy, that disaster has cost the Quebec and federal governments hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup and compensation costs.
And in the U.K., a public inquiry is investigating the disastrous 2017 Grenfell fire where 72 people were killed in a highrise public-housing project. Much of the inquiry will focus on how lax regulations allowed flammable cladding material to be installed on the building’s exterior during a renovation, which ended up turning the building into a raging inferno.

Nonetheless, the push to deregulate continues:

Studies from something called the Mercatus Center, a Virginia-based think tank that assiduously tracks the cost of regulations and comes to the startling conclusion that if it weren’t for regulations brought in since 1980, the U.S. economy would be 25 per cent larger than it is today — a tidy $4-trillion (U.S.).

 A good rule in all of life, however, is to always follow the money:

And what is the Mercatus Center? It turns out it’s a libertarian think tank dedicated to dismantling regulations and bankrolled by the notorious Koch Brothers, the secretive, union-busting, climate-denying American billionaires who have had a huge influence on turning the Republican Party and the U.S. far to the right. The Mercatus Center specializes in big scary numbers. It recently did a study that estimated the cost of “Medicare for All,” the promise of progressive Democratic presidential candidates, at a gob-smacking $32.6 trillion.

And now "Canada’s leading business group is looking to the libertarian Koch brothers and their acolytes for leadership. Pretty scary."

Simply put, deregulation has nothing to do with the common good.

Image: businessinsider.com

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Howard Roark

If you're looking for a precursor to Donald Trump, Tom Hartmann writes, take a good look at Howard Roark. Roark is the protagonist in Ayn Rand's novel, The Fountainhead:

When Donald Trump was running for the GOP nomination, he told USA Today’s Kirsten Powers that Ayn Rand’s raped-girl-decides-she-likes-it novel, “The Fountainhead,” was his favorite book.

Rand admitted her model for Roark was an infamous child murderer named William Edward Hickman. The details behind the murder are horrific. Suffice it to say that Hickman was a psychopath:

But to a young Russian idealist just arriving in America, Hickman was a hero.
And while Hickman the man has, today, been largely forgotten, Hickman the archetype has lived on and influenced our nation in a profound fashion, paving the way for Donald Trump, a man with no empathy or consideration of social norms, to one day occupy the White House.
Two years before William Edward Hickman was sentenced to death, a 21-year-old Russian political science student named Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum arrived in New York Harbor on a French ocean liner. The year was 1926, and she was on the last leg of her dream trip to the Land of Opportunity, scurrying across the Soviet Union, Germany, and France before procuring a first-class cabin aboard the S.S. De Grasse, bound for the United States.
Alissa was a squat five-foot-two with a flapper hairdo and wide sunken dark eyes that gave her a haunting stare. And etched into those brooding eyes was burned the memory of a childhood backlit by the Russian Revolution.
What young Ayn Rand saw in Hickman that would encourage her to base a novel, then her philosophy, then her life’s work, on him was quite straightforward: unfeeling, unpitying selfishness.
He was the kind of man who would revel in the pain parents would feel when their children were ripped from their arms and held in freezing cages for over a year.
In Hickman, Ayn Rand wrote that she had finally found the new model of the Superman (her phrase, likely borrowed from Friedrich Nietzsche). Only a worldview held by a man like Hickman, she believed, could ever prevent an all-powerful state from traumatizing another generation of small businesspeople and their children as the Bolsheviks had her family.
Hickman’s words as recounted by Rand in her Journals, “I am like the state: what is good for me is right,” resonated deeply with her. It was the perfect articulation of her belief that if people pursued their own interests above all else—even above friends, family, or nation—the result would be utopian.
She wrote in her diary that those words of Hickman’s were, “the best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I ever heard.”

Trump has said that he admires The Fountainhead:

It relates to business, beauty, life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything.

One wonders if Trump ever read the book. Rand's novels are baggy monsters, truly hard slogs. But the novel was made into a movie in 1949, starring Gary Cooper. Perhaps he saw the film.

Image: IMDb

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Down To Oblivion

The nuclear arms race, Simon Tisdall writes, is back. The latest reminder of that grim reality occurred a week ago:

It was five days before officials confirmed a blast at the Nyonoksa range had killed several people, including nuclear scientists. No apologies were offered to Severodvinsk residents. There is still little reliable information. “Accidents, unfortunately, happen,” a Kremlin spokesman said.
According to western experts, the explosion was caused by the launch failure of a new nuclear-powered cruise missile, one of many advanced weapons being developed by Russia, the US and China in an accelerating global nuclear arms race.
Vladimir Putin unveiled the missile, known in Russia as the Storm Petrel and by Nato as Skyfall, in March last year, claiming its unlimited range and manoeuvrability would render it “invincible”. The Russian president’s boasts look less credible now.

Whatever the wrinkles, Russia is re-arming. And so is the United States:

The renewed nuclear arms race is a product of Trump’s America First outlook and that of comparable ultra-nationalist and insecure regimes elsewhere. Trump’s emphasis on defending the “homeland” is leading inexorably to the militarisation of US society, whether at the Mexican border, on inner-city streets or in its approach to international security.
“We have far more money than anybody else by far,” Trump said last October. “We’ll build up until [Russia and China] come to their senses.” Outspending the opposition was a tactic employed by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. And Trump is putting taxpayers’ money where his mouth is. Overall, annual US military spending is soaring, from $716bn this year to a proposed $750bn next year.

Add to that the threat from China, and the clouds get very dark:

With a much smaller arsenal than the US and Russia, China, too, is “aggressively developing its next generation of nuclear weapons”, according to a major Chinese weapons research institute. Nor, given Moscow’s and Washington’s behaviour, has it an incentive to stop, despite Trump’s vague proposal for a trilateral disarmament “grand bargain”.
Like the US, China – while historically pledged to “no first use” – wants potential enemies to believe it may actually use tactical nukes. As Dr Strangelove would doubtless appreciate, this, perversely, increases the chances that it will.

Meanwhile, Trump lectures Iran on producing nuclear weapons. We may yet see the day when another Slim Pickens rides the bomb down to oblivion.

Image: Pinterest

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Final Verdict

The Ethics Commissioner's report is out. And, Tom Walkom writes, in the end, it won't make much difference:

On the one hand are those who agree with Wilson-Raybould that the prime minister had no business questioning how she chose to prosecute SNC, which faces charges of bribery and fraud related to its dealings in Libya almost 20 years ago.
On the other are those who agree with Trudeau that, since jobs were potentially at stake, he had every right to make his views known.

Certainly, things are playing differently in Quebec than they are in English Canada. Moreover, there is some precedent for Trudeau's claim that he was protecting Canadian jobs:

Ottawa’s massive bailout of Chrysler and General Motors in 2009 benefitted the two privately owned companies. But it also benefitted — briefly at least — the workers and communities that depended on them.
Essentially, this was the argument that SNC made: If the company were convicted at trial and thus barred from seeking federal contracts for 10 years, some fat cats would be hurt. But so would many ordinary workers.

And remediation agreements exist in other jurisdictions:

Remediation agreements are allowed in Britain, France and Australia. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government hadn’t been keen on the idea, the ethics commissioner’s report says. But the new Trudeau regime thought it swell.
Over Wilson-Raybould’s objections (she argued that the government was moving too quickly), a new measure allowing remediation agreements was passed into law in the summer of 2018.

The final verdict will be rendered -- as it should be -- in a little over two months.

Image: CBC

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Bad Day

Yesterday was a bad day for Justin Trudeau. The ethics commissioner's report was a no holds barred condemnation of his behaviour in the SNC-Lavalin Affair. Chantal Hebert writes:

To read the ethics commissioner’s accounting of the events is to get the impression that the senior levels of the government essentially functioned as an arm of the engineering firm. The line between the two was not so much blurred as virtually invisible.
The commissioner’s conclusion that the prime minister violated the federal ethics law is unadulterated.
He finds no extenuating circumstances to absolve Trudeau of having applied improper pressures on the then-attorney-general to overrule her prosecutors in their dealings with SNC-Lavalin.
Dion rejects the rationale that the prime minister was only acquitting himself of his duty by trying to mitigate the economic fallout of a negative legal outcome for SNC-Lavalin.
He refutes the notion that because Wilson-Raybould ultimately stuck to her course, no line was crossed, noting that it is not the outcome of the arm-twisting that determines whether it took place.

There is a pattern here: Chretien, Martin and now Trudeau. If Trudeau loses the election in October, his tenure as prime minister will have, indeed, been short. This is the same old politics practised by a new face.

Will Canadians look beyond the face? Stay tuned.

Image: CBC

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Dangerous Delusion

Denying climate change, Joe Ingrham and Bernard Schutz write, is a dangerous delusion. But it is understandable -- because it's hard to accurately predict the effects of climate change:

What is confusing to some, however, and allows others to claim that global warming is just nature’s way or is divinely predetermined, is that it is hard to predict how local climates will be affected. Like a pot of water, we know that with continually increasing heat the water will boil, but what we don’t know is how the bubbles in that boiling water will behave.
Like the bubbles in boiling water, changes in circulation are fiendishly hard to predict with precision. Cold melt-water from the decreasing ice-mass creates colder oceans nearby. Elsewhere, warmer air boosts ocean surface temperatures. These effects distort the circulation in ways complicated by the rotation of the earth and the shape of the continents, combining with the warming air currents to create a complex pattern of regional climate effects.
The North Pole’s ice cover produces a striking example since it consists of relatively thin sea ice, which during recent summers nearly disappears. This makes for big seasonal changes in the polar weather. It should be little surprise therefore that in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere we are beginning to experience unusual weather patterns. Some can be traced to Greenland’s ice cover and increasing melt-water, which contribute to a difference between how air flows over the north Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
In the case of the Pacific, warm air is now flowing almost unimpeded into the Arctic, accelerating the ice melt, while in the case of the narrower Atlantic, continental Greenland inhibits warm air from circulating northward in winter. Unbalanced, the warm Pacific air pushes cold Arctic air out, spilling it over the continents, bringing frigid winter spells to the areas of North America closest to the Atlantic and to northern Europe especially.
In summer, the warm air spreads northwards everywhere, leading to the unprecedented forest fires now consuming large areas of Arctic boreal forests and releasing methane from the permafrost. This pattern of extremes and fluctuations of weather may be the norm for the northern hemisphere for some time, depending on how fast the Arctic ice disappears and Greenland melts.
South of the equator, with the ice-melt from Antarctica spreading out all around the South Pole and running up against warm mid-latitude water, people may experience steadier warming but also seasonal extremes of destructive storms and calamitous flooding. Those least able to cope with these events will be the world’s poorer – farmers or slum dwellers in the southern hemisphere, rural or coastal inhabitants in North America and Europe.

These extremes are interpreted by some as flukes -- anomalies that we can't control. But when one looks at the evidence over the last five decades, it's clear. The planet is warming -- and carbon emissions are the cause. But lots of people don't want to give up carbon. So they proclaim that there must be a technological fix to the problem:

Indeed, the newly released green plan of Andrew Scheer and Canada’s Conservative Party falls right into that trap, calling not for the reduced use of fossil fuels but rather their increased use and instead mitigating their impact through the application of enhanced carbon capture technology. Essentially, without establishing any targets consistent with the Paris Climate Accord, the plan calls for leaving it largely to the private sector (ie. the oil and gas companies) to develop the technology, thereby avoiding the need to tax carbon emissions. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!

There are differences in emphasis. But, essentially, the Liberal plan is the same. The private sector will solve the problem. But the private sector isn't -- and won't -- solve the problem. This is government's problem:

Governments today need to recognize that we face a crisis every bit as urgent as global war, and that we do not yet have enough of the technological weapons to address the crisis comprehensively. Public funds need to be poured into the development of carbon-free energy sources and storage methods that are scaleable and affordable. Elected officials and national leaders, including those in Canada, need to stop taking their policy cues from established industries like oil, gas and coal, and they must abandon the ideological fiction that public sector support undermines the free market. Indeed, if they don’t, there is every chance that neither the free market nor liberal democracy will survive for much longer.

Something to think about in the upcoming election.

Image: The Telegraph