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Updated: 49 min 54 sec ago

Jimbo Prentice Pokes Albertans in the Eye With a Sharp Stick.

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 13:05

Well, this is certain something.  Alberta's unelected premier, Jim Prentice, better learn to bite his tongue.

Prentice has sparked a bit of a furor by blaming his constituents for the mess the province now finds itself in.

Premier Jim Prentice is facing a social media backlash after telling Albertans to "look in the mirror" to find who is responsible for the province's current financial woes.

Speaking on CBC's Alberta@Noon Wednesday, Premier Jim Prentice told host Donna McElligott that "in terms of who is responsible, we need only look in the mirror. Basically, all of us have had the best of everything and have not had to pay for what it costs."

Well, sure Jim, that's right - in part at least but only in part.  It was your own government that allowed the Big Energy gorilla to ass rape the province.  And it was your own government that decided it was a fine idea to depend on petro-royalties to fund its budget outlays.  
Your government didn't do those things because they were good for the province or for the people of Alberta, current and future.  Your government squandered your energy revenues like a piss-drunk sailor in order to buy your way through election after election with faux prosperity for - well, forever.
You knew better.  The last sentient premier that despoiled province had warned you.  Peter Lougheed drew you a map through the energy minefield, showing you how to use it as a bounty, not a curse.  Peter Lougheed was not only the last intelligent premier, he was also the last honest premier Alberta has known.  And, by trying to shirk the blame for your government's own policies, you're showing that its business as usual under your management.

Coming Soon, the Great Warming Spurt.

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 12:00

You may have never heard of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) or, as its sometimes called, the Pacific multi-decadal oscillation.  Before long that will change.

There have been references to it here and there but it wasn't until this article was posted at Climate Central on the 27th of last month that I finally spent a bit of time exploring it.

You've probably heard of ENSO, the El Nino Southern Oscillation that brings us El Nino or La Nina conditions every seven years or so.  PDO is something like ENSO on steroids and for the past 15-years it's been sucking heat out of the atmosphere and burying it in the waters of the Pacific Ocean.  That, apparently, is soon to change.

Humanity is about to experience a historically unprecedented spike in temperatures.

That’s the ominous conclusion of a vast and growing body of research that links sweeping Pacific Ocean cycles with rates of warming at the planet’s surface — warming rates that could affect how communities and nations respond to threats posed by climate change.

Papers in two leading journals this week reaffirmed that the warming effects of a substantial chunk of our greenhouse gas pollution have been avoided on land for the last 15 to 20 years because of a phase in a decades-long cycle of ocean winds and currents. With Pacific trade winds expected to slacken in the years ahead, the studies warn that seas will begin absorbing less of global warming’s energy, and that some of the heat they’ve been holding onto will rise to the surface.

You see, for the past two decades we've sort of been running a tab on the extra heat generated by our growing greenhouse gas emissions.  That heat didn't go away, PDO merely stored it in the ocean.  Because that heat got sucked underwater we didn't notice how much we were actually warming the planet. But just as an ocean can absorb heat from the atmosphere so too can a warmed ocean release heat back into the atmosphere.  
Amid the questions left unanswered by the research, however, are whether communities are prepared for looming assaults of increasingly intense heat waves after the warming slowdown reverses, and how the expected spikes in surface temperatures could affect policy debates dealing with climate action and clean energy.

"A future speedup in warming is likely to affect public opinion about climate change if it results in changes at the local level that people recognize," Utah State University assistant professor Peter Howe, who has researched public perceptions of climate change, said. "I would also caution, though, that perceptions and experiences of local climate conditions appear to be related to some extent by pre-existing beliefs about global warming."

Along with rising tides caused by rising temperatures, intense heat and heat waves are the clearest signs so far that human activity is altering the climate. A suite of modeling studies have independently concluded that heat waves that ravaged Australia in 2013 would have been almost impossible without the warming effects of our greenhouse gas pollution. Scientists have also directly linked record-breaking heat in Europe with global warming.

Meanwhile, California’s record-breaking heat last year, which some research links more closely with ocean cycles than with global warming, substantially worsened the drought-inducing effects of low rainfall and snowfall rates. That’s a problem that will continue to worsen fire risks throughout the American West, and much of the rest of the world, as temperatures start to really spike. That could threaten the survival of entire ecosystems,including the spectacular high-altitude forests of the American Southwest.

This concern dovetails with recent research finding that our oceans' capacity to absorb atmospheric heat has peaked and is waning.  The oceanic heat sink that we've so relied upon may be less reliable than we had hoped.
So, brace yourselves.  The heating spike may be up to 5-years off which provides some opportunity to do things such as heat-proofing the house or going for that heat pump option.

Duffy's Sting

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 09:24

It's a tale with two scripts.  One is the story presented by Stephen Harper, his PMO, the RCMP and others.  The other is the account presented by disgraced senator Mike Duffy.  At least one side isn't telling the truth.

Who to believe?  We'll have to wait until all the evidence is in but I figure the truth has come, quite inadvertently, from senator Duffy.

There is one piece of evidence, the unintended disclosure of which, set this whole business in motion.  It's an e-mail - candid, descriptive and, most importantly, contemporaneous with the events.  When Duffy circulated the e-mail to his confidantes he believed, quite mistakenly, that they would hold it in confidence.  That's what confidantes do, isn't it?  Only somehow it wound up in the hands of CTV reporter, Bob Fife, and the rest is history.

The e-mail describes the events that we now know occured.  Duffy, perhaps boastfully, wrote that a deal was in place to make his Senate expenses problem go away.  He described four elements.  He would be given the money to cover his Senate tab.  He was to use that money to cut his own cheque for repayment. In exchange he was to say nothing further publicly and he was to stop co-operating with the audit team appointed by the Senate. He added that, as part of the deal he was also promised that the Senate audit report would "go easy on me."

It was a deal intended to continue Duffy's role as fundraiser for the Harper Conservatives.  Get Duffy off the hook and get him back out on the road where he was worth his considerable weight in campaign cheques.  The guy was an engine for the Tories.  They would point him in the right direction and hand him a ticket.  He'd show up, press the flesh, and collect the money.

It was because Duffy spent so much time on the road, fundraising for the Prince of Darkness, that he narrowly failed to meet the residency requirement that landed him in hot water in the first place.  He couldn't be in Prince Edward Island when he was in Calgary or Moncton or Nunavit.  Without being in PEI for the requisite number of days he wasn't entitled to claim a living expense allowance.

Back to the scandal.  The timing of that ill-fated e-mail is everything.  It happened contemporaneously with the events described.  Duffy said the Senate audit report would go easy on him and it subsequently did when it was laundered by Tory senators Carolyn Stewart-Olsen and David Tkachuk.

It's this promise, allegedly with Harper's knowledge, that constitutes the bribery that the RCMP, so conservatively chooses to ignore.  That was Harper or his very closest aides promising to intervene with, corrupt if you like, the Senate audit process to procure a favourable result for the Senator from Prince Edward Island.  When it comes to that the only conclusion is that the RCMP is choosing to look the other way.  Why?  That's easy.  Where does it lead?

The RCMP has to ignore the audit fixing element for it to justify not charging the principals to the deal - Nigel Wright, Benjamin Perrin, perhaps Harper himself. They've already said that Duffy is to be condemned for accepting a bribe but the people plainly involved in offering and facilitating that bribe - two of them lawyers - are not culpable of any criminal wrongdoing.

A bribe is many things but it's not unilateral.  It requires an offer or demand and acceptance, and the transmission of the bribe from one person, the giver, to another person, the recipient.

It's quite believable that Duffy did resist repaying the housing allowance.  He felt the party was responsible for keeping him on the non-stop. cross-Canada fundraising campaign that prevented him from logging enough days in PEI to meet the requirements.  Long before the expense issue even arose a mutual friend would tell me he worried about the strain that Duffy's party exertions might be taking on the senator's wonky heart.

Wright, Perrin, Harper and others have already made statements that stand to be weighed against that all-important e-mail, the one that wound up in Fife's hands. They tell a considerably different story, that doesn't match Duffy's account.  As I recall it, Perrin, Harper's personal in-house lawyer, at one point said he wasn't involved at all and yet it seems it was Perrin who effected the delivery of Wright's cheque to Duffy's then solicitor.

The Conservatives clearly hope the Duffy trial will put an end to this matter.  It might be just the beginning.

A Taste of Things to Come? Port Metro Vancouver Fire.

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 08:27

It's a scary feeling.  You glance out your office window overlooking the Port Metro Vancouver docks to see thick clouds of white smoke billowing your way.

That's what happened to my prospective son-in-law yesterday at his computer animation shop in a gentrified, former industrial building hard alongside the docks, right by the cranes.  He made a number of trips in his car ferrying his colleagues a safe distance from the fires.

They didn't know what it was, only that it was acrid and they wanted to get away as quickly as they could.  Vancouver Police phone lines were jammed so off they went.

They were lucky.  The container load of trichloroisocyanuric acid, while volatile and flammable, wasn't lethal.  Those exposed mainly sustained burning eyes and throats.  And they could see and smell the smoke.

This is nothing compared to what could lie in store if when a supertanker full of dilbit goes down in the treacherous Second Narrows, spilling its cargo into Burrard Inlet or Coal Harbour.  Experts warn that the diluent, mixed into the bitumen, would separate and rise to the surface where it would form into very toxic clouds of invisible and generally undetectable gas.  Undetectable, that is, until someone breathes it.  Then the people of Vancouver and the North Shore would have a real disaster on their hands.

Aviation Week Pays Homage to the Avro Arrow

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 07:57

Few people today know much about Canada's legendary foray into aviation high tech - the Avro Arrow that rolled out of the Avro Canada Malton plant in October, 1957.  Aviation Week's Bill Sweetman revisits that bittersweet moment in Canadian aviation that ended when the Arrow was put to the cutting torch by the conservative government of John Diefenbaker just two years later.

When Aviation Week reported on the fighter's rollout, in October 1957, the magazine called it "a serious contender for the top military aircraft of the next several years". High praise indeed, for a non-U.S. aircraft, given that the XB-58 supersonic bomber was in flight test and that new aircraft in the works included the A-5 Vigilante and the F-4 Phantom.

But the Arrow was extraordinary, and more so, given that the industry that produced it was less than a decade old when the prototype contract was issued in March 1955. Avro Canada had been formed by Britain's Hawker Siddeley Group after World War 2 and had quickly produced the CF-100 interceptor, the C-102 jet airliner (the world's second to fly), and the CF-100's Orenda engine, which was also fitted to Canadian-built Sabre fighters.

The CF-105 was a different kettle of fish entirely, designed to shoot down Soviet jet bombers over the Arctic, long before shorter-legged U.S. interceptors could touch them. Key requirements were a big radar, large missile load, long range and high speed, and agility at high speed and altitude. Translated: get out a long way quickly and accomplish multiple engagements before returning to refuel.

Chief designer Jim Floyd and his team produced a unique configuration, detailed in a 1958 lecture to the Royal Aeronautical Society. The delta wing was chosen for supersonic efficiency, and had a cambered and notched leading edge for better maneuverability. It was mounted on top of the fuselage (at the price of a complex landing gear) to gain the benefits of a continuous tip-to-tip structure and a simple fuselage design, with straight inlet ducts, easy engine access, and a large weapon bay. The missile bay was a drop-down pallet, offering the potential of interchangeable units for other missions.

The performance requirements meant that almost everything on the airplane had to be invented. No existing engine would do the job, so Avro spun off a new Orenda Engines subsidiary to produce the Iroquois, the most powerful supersonic engine of the 1950s. The airframe took Canada into the world of integrally machined skins, and both airframe and engine used titanium. The CF-105 was the first aircraft to use 4,000 psi hydraulics. Canada enlisted Hughes for help with the radar and missiles, but the radar was new and the missile was the active-homing Sparrow II. Management was a huge challenge, both because the aircraft was complex (the second-biggest Mach 2 airplane anywhere) and because of the program's sheer size: at its peak, Avro Canada was the nation's third-largest company and in the world Top 100.

Technically, it went quite well. The first four Arrows proved fast, even with interim J75 engines that delivered only three-quarters of the Iroquois' thrust: on the seventh test flight, the first CF-105 accelerated through 1,000 mph in a climb at 50,000 feet. By early 1959, the first Iroquois-powered Mk2 was in taxi tests.

Politically, the story was different. A new Progressive Conservative government had been elected in March 1957, sworn to rein in government spending. ...On February 20, 1959, prime minister John Diefenbaker announced the cancellation of the CF-105, and within two months almost all the hardware in the program had been destroyed and nearly 30,000 jobs eliminated.

The Arrow lived on in legend. Diefenbaker had scrapped the project under direct orders from Washington, which saw it as a threat to the U.S. industry. One of the prototypes had been spirited away before the wrecking crews arrived, and was hidden in Canada or in secret tests in the United States. The Arrow has been the subject of more books and movies than many successful projects. As recently as 2012, the Canadian government -- bumbling its way through another fighter procurement -- was forced to deny that a neo-Arrow was a candidate to replace the F/A-18.

Would it have worked? The late Bill Gunston, technical editor of Flight in the 1950s and a shrewd reader of programs, believed that it would have done, particularly with British support (and the existence of Typhoon today shows how wrong the British government was in 1957). Even with the Soviet Union's backing away from strategic bombers in favor of missiles, the Arrow would have been very useful in Western Europe for defense against Tu-22M regional bombers. But none of that, unfortunately, was foreseen in 1959.

► Read the article from the October 21, 1957 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology:CF-105 Displays Advanced Engineering (part 1)CF-105 Displays Advanced Engineering (part 2)It bears remembering that, today, it's the grandchildren of the Conservative peckerheads who killed off the Arrow and replaced it, bait and switch style, with Bomarc missiles, who are about to saddle the RCAF with the overpriced, overdue and underperforming F-35. I guess there are some things that are just in the blood.

Gwynne Dyer - Iran's Nuclear Bomb Programme Was Never About Israel.

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 13:34

It would be the height of suicidal folly for Iran to ever threaten Israel with a nuclear attack.  Israel has at least 80-nuclear warheads, possibly hundreds, far more than enough to turn Iran into glass.

Gwynne Dyer brings a breath of reality to the situation with Iran today pointing out that, not only does Iran have no current nuclear weapons programme, back when it did it was never about Israel.

There were two periods during which Iran seriously considered making nuclear weapons and did some preliminary work on weapons design and uranium enrichment, but in neither case was it about Israel.

The first time was in the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacked Iran (with American backing) in a war that ultimately cost a quarter-million Iranian lives. At that time Saddam actually was working on Iraqi nuclear weapons, and Iran felt obliged to follow suit.

But after Saddam was defeated by Western and Arab armies in the Gulf War of 1990-91 and the United Nations inspectors went in to dismantle Iraq’s nuclear programme, the Iranians lost interest in developing their own nuclear weapons. Then they got alarmed again and restarted the programme in 1998 when another neighbour, Pakistan, tested its own first nuclear weapons.

They didn’t make much progress, but they kept on working at the problem in a desultory way until 2002, when an anti-regime terrorist group called Mujahedin-e-Khalq (partly financed by Israel) revealed the existence of the weapons programme and Tehran shut it down. And for the past 13 years, nothing.

The Ad CBC Won't Air - Quelle Surprise!

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 13:20
It's HarperLand 2015 which goes a long way to explaining why CBC has refused to run this ad.

What America's Military Leviathan Desperately Needs - Mo Money.

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 12:10

It already consumes more money than the next dozen or so largest militaries on Earth but it's not enough, not nearly enough.

According to the rightwing Heritage Foundation, the Pentagon needs mo money, a lot more.

The consistent decline in funding and the consequent shrinking of the force are putting it under significant pressure. Essential maintenance is being deferred; fewer units (mostly the Navy’s platforms and the Special Operations Forces community) are being cycled through operational deployments more often and for longer periods; and old equipment is being extended while programmed replacements are problematic. The cumulative effect of such factors has resulted in a U.S. military that is marginally able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests.
It's an interesting enough, albeit predictable, report.  It's based on America's ability to fight two regional wars simultaneously and has a questionable "All the King's Horses and All the King's Men" approach.
When it comes to American military preparedness, however, I prefer the Maserati analogy offered by Janine Davidson, senior fellow at Defense in Depth.
Imagine a gorgeous, gleaming Maserati, the sort of car that belongs on a showroom floor. The car is elegant, but it’s also extraordinarily capable—the Maserati GranTurismo goes 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds and tops out at 186 miles per hour. What do you do with a machine like this? You certainly don’t use it for your commute on the pot-holed roads or your grocery runs or all the other mundanities of daily life. Instead, the Maserati is to be reserved for only the most special occasions. Otherwise, you keep it in an air conditioned garage, to be admired from a polite distance.

Too often, planners and policymakers apply this same sort of thinking to the U.S. military. They think that the primary—indeed, the only—mission of the United States’ armed forces is to “fight and win the nation’s wars.” These wars, so often assumed to be quick, high-tech and decisive conflicts waged against a peer competitor, demand the most expensive force possible, armed with the most “exquisite” platforms that the nation can produce. When not called on to fight these decisive conflicts, the military, like the Maserati, should be preserved and protected in its enclosed garage.

There are two problems here. The first is that the vast majority of contingencies the U.S. military is called on to perform are not quick, decisive, one-versus-one “football games” where one side wins, the other loses, and they both pack up and go home. Instead, the United States most typically deploys its forces for peacekeeping, stability operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, mass atrocity prevention, drug interdiction, and more. U.S. foreign policy demands a wide range of options and mission sets; it’s the military that makes these happen.

The second problem is that these expensive, “exquisite,” platforms are not the best-suited for what we do most. Even if an F-35 can outfly and outshoot everything in the sky, or a Zumwalt-class destroyer can dominate a huge ocean stretch, we will never be able to build very many of them. Trading this much capacity for capability may not make sense when, for most missions, a lot of the older stuff works pretty darn well. The American military need not be a shiny Maserati. Most of the time it can be a Ford F-150: worn, reliable, and more than able to get the job done.
Indeed the F-35 is a military Maserati.  It's designed to do a very narrow range of things better than others (although even that is in doubt today) but it sacrifices an incredible degree of capability for the sake of stealth cloaking.  The Maserati is great but not when you need to move a cord of firewood.
There's a price to be paid for this sort of extravagance.  In the graphic above you can see the size of China's military expenditure contrasted with America's.  What that graph won't show you is how much more bang China gets for its military buck - and it's a lot.  
Canada may desperately want to be admitted to America's entourage, its posse, but with that comes pressure to field Maseratis when we really need those Ford F-150 pickups.  America can, and will, squander hundreds of billions of dollars on its supercar military.  Canada, with our defence budget choked almost into unconsciousness by Stephen Harper, can't afford to go that route.  

China Tells U.S. to Back Off over Ukraine

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 09:51
The message was delivered by China's ambassador to Belgium, Qu Xing, but it pretty obviously came straight from Beijing - back off Obama.  Ambassador Qu went on to blame the conflict between Russia and Ukraine on 'games' played by the West, especially the United States.

He said the "nature and root cause" of the crisis was the "game" between Russia and Western powers, including the United States and the European Union.

He said external intervention by different powers accelerated the crisis and warned that Moscow would feel it was being treated unfairly if the West did not change its approach.

"The West should abandon the zero-sum mentality, and take the real security concerns of Russia into consideration," Qu was quoted as saying.

His comments were an unusually public show of understanding from China for the Russian position. China and Russia see eye-to-eye on many international diplomatic issues but Beijing has generally not been so willing to back Russia over Ukraine.

The Rise and Fall of America's Indispensable Ally - Israel

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 09:32
Israel has always been America's indispensable ally in the Middle East.  That may be changing.  Benjamin Netanyahu's speech yesterday to the US Congress might have been less of a bold stroke and more an act of desperation.

The Sydney Morning Herald's international affairs columnist, Paul McGeough, writes that Israel's influence with Washington is in decline even as Netanyahu's object of terror, Iran, sees its fortunes rising.  In other words, there's more than the supposed threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb driving Netanyahu's crusade for an American war on Iran.

Washington's place in the world – and in the region – is very different. The Cold War is gone and the grind of nuclear tension with Moscow is so yesterday. Obama wants to pivot to Asia.

US and world dependence on Arab fossil fuel is not what it was and most of the Arab regimes have become trusted allies of the West – especially in the context of the crisis brought on by the so-called Islamic State. All are allowed to get on with their human rights abuse excesses, they are sold weapons worth billions and that thing called the Middle East peace process goes precisely nowhere – and nobody seems to mind.

...The neo-con argument as the US prepared for the invasion of Iraq was that democracy would finally be planted in the region. And when Netanyahu spoke to Congress at that time, he declared: "If you take out Saddam, Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region."

Instead, Iran was planted in Iraq; and the impotence of the Sunni regimes was revealed, creating a vacuum in which Sunni jihadists challenged the entire nation-state model of governance, on which the West so relies in the region.

Now we've come full circle. The extent of Washington's crisis with the Sunnis repositions Iran more as part of the solution and less as part of the problem. And where Washington needs circuit-breakers right now, Iran has heft; Israel doesn't.

The threat to regional stability now is the conflict within Sunni Islam more than it is Sunni v Shiite or Islam v West.

Writing in Foreign Policy last year, analyst Trita Parsi observed: "Iraq is disintegrating. Syria is in flames. Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state. The Taliban is making a comeback in Afghanistan. Libya is falling apart. The House of Saud is nervous about a potentially existential succession crisis. In this region Iran looks like an island of stability."

He makes his point – "meanwhile, the geopolitical enmity that has characterised relations between the US and Iran for more than three decades, now has been overtaken by events in Iraq and elsewhere".

This is the context in which Washington and Tehran need each other – but they will not achieve that until they get to the other side of a nuclear deal.

The language of Barack Obama and a growing army of officials and analysts now acknowledges Iran as a potential partner.

...Amidst all this regional change, the reality of Israel too is changing – in itself and in its relations with the world.

Netanyahu harks back to Washington's role as the first to recognise the new state of Israel in 1948. Recalling a small country with a huge and convincing argument, The Washington Post's Richard Cohen observes: "[Netanyahu] harkens back not only to a different America, but also to a different Israel – [in 1948] it was not yet an occupation power; it did not mistreat the Palestinians."

And in the context of what Washington needs in the region, as opposed to what the US might like or admire, Cohen adds: "The fact is that the US doesn't need Israel."

The Real Threat Facing Israel

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 08:59

No one expected Benjamin Netanyahu to win the gushing approval of the editorial board of Israel's liberal newspaper Haaretz but they were decidedly unimpressed by their prime minister's speech to part of the US Congress yesterday.  Their view is that Netanyahu deliberately avoided any mention of the real existential threat to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state - the ever expanding occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Israel’s insistence on ruling over millions of Palestinians in the West Bank who lack civil rights, expanding the settlements and keeping residents of the Gaza Strip under siege is the danger that threatens its future.

Israel is mortgaging its national resources to maintain a dual regime of democracy for Jews and apartheid for Palestinians. But the illusion that the occupation is comfortable and quiet, and that most Israelis are isolated from it, is fated to explode.

In recent years, during which relative security quiet prevailed in the West Bank, Israel embarked on three wars in Gaza that killed thousands of Palestinian civilians – solely in order to maintain the status quo. These periodic “operations,” along with the cessation of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, have left a moral stain on the Israel Defense Forces, and on the statesmen who sent them into Gaza and on policing missions in Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron.

Calls for boycotting Israel and recognizing Palestine even without an agreement have moved from the political fringes to center stage in the West. Instead of the Palestinians giving up their national aspirations, Israel is being forced to contend with claims that Zionism and democracy are mutually exclusive.

...Internal tensions between Jews and Arabs have risen, and right-wing parties have vied among themselves in pushing anti-democratic laws designed to institutionalize discrimination against the minority and deprive it of the right of political expression. While Netanyahu was planning his speech in Washington, right-wing thugs attacked MK Haneen Zoabi at a political conference in Ramat Gan. This was the natural continuation of the nation-state bill and the attempts to oust Zoabi and her colleagues from the Knesset, and more proof that democracy has trouble flourishing or even functioning alongside apartheid and military occupation.

Here's Something You Probably Don't Think About Very Much. How Much Antibiotic Is In Your Fast Food Chicken?

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 08:41
This is one of those stories that's just a bit cringe-worthy.  McDonald's is changing its policy about the sort of chicken it will drop in your lap at the drive-thru.

Over the next two years, McDonald's will require its suppliers to phase out antibiotics that are "important to human medicine."

Veterinary use of antibiotics is legal. However, as the rate of human infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria increases, consumer advocates and public health experts have become more critical of the practice of routinely feeding antibiotics to chickens, cattle and pigs.

Scientists and public health experts say whenever an antibiotic is administered, it kills weaker bacteria and can enable the strongest to survive and multiply. 

Frequent use of low-dose antibiotics, a practice used by some meat producers, can intensify that effect. The risk, they say, is that so-called superbugs might develop cross-resistance to critical, medically important antibiotics.
Superbugs are linked to an estimated 23,000 human deaths and 2 million illnesses every year in the United States, and up to $20 billion in direct healthcare costs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Obviously anything that reduces the prospect of antibiotic-resistant superbugs in fast-food chicken is a good thing, as far as it goes.  But they'll be replacing one antibiotic with another which means we'll still be on the receiving end of a food industry whose practices are such that their critters will croak if they're not laced with antibiotics.  It's the same story with industrial cattle production in feed lots. The only way to keep those animals from infecting and killing off each other is to keep them medicated all the way to the abattoir.  

The Path of Self-Destruction. Consumerism.

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 14:39
We, mankind, have to change our ways or else perish.  It's that cut and dried. We're confronted with a number of existential threats.  Our continued existence is imperiled by three main factors - climate change, overpopulation and over-consumption.

We are living well outside the limits of our survivability.  We have passed the threshhold of sustainability and crossed over into the perilous realm of survivability.

Our consumptive habits endanger us every bit as much as the future ravages of climate change.  While we are just one of millions of life forms that share this planet, we, mankind, already consume more than 1.5 times the supply of our planet's renewable resources.

When we're taking 150% of our planet's resource carrying capacity what does that leave for all those other life forms?  Precious little which is a main reason why we have lost half the life on our planet over just the last 30-years.  That revelation came and went and was flushed straight down the news hole by week's end.  For most of us it's all but forgotten already.

Not only are we devouring 150% of our planet's resource carrying capacity but we're dependent on it.  Mankind has grown mortally dependent on something that simply doesn't exist and never will.  We have been deluding ourselves by conjuring tricks, by having at our planet's dwindling reserves.  We've been clearing our forests, draining our aquifers, exhausting our farmland and wiping out our fisheries - all to keep production and consumption at what have become unsurvivable levels.  This does not end well.

This came to mind as I read report today about a German government study on our electronics buying habits.  The study found that the usable life span of electronics products is getting shorter.

The environment agency asked Öko-Institut researchers to examine consumers’ reasons for replacing electrical and electronic appliances with a view to establishing whether manufacturers are purposefully shortening product life spans to prop up sales, a phenomenon known as built-in obsolescence.

The researchers did not draw a firm conclusion on built-in obsolescence but noted that the proportion of all units sold to replace a defective appliance grew from 3.5% in 2004 to 8.3% in 2012, in what they deemed a “remarkable” increase.

And the share of large household appliances that had to be replaced within the first five years of use grew from 7% of total replacements in 2004 to 13% in 2013. This too was largely due to an increase in the proportion of recently purchased appliances replaced following a defect, which may point to an obsolescence problem.

However consumer preference is also playing a role. A third of all replacement purchases for products such as refrigerators and washing machines were motivated by a desire for a better unit while the old one was still functioning.

Consumers are also increasingly keen to swap their flat screen televisions for better versions with larger screens and better picture quality, even though more than 60% of replaced televisions were still functioning in 2012.

Policymakers are increasingly concerned about inefficient use of resources in resource-poor Europe, and about the environmental impact of this. The EU is looking to regulate product resource efficiency by including new standards such as durability and repairability in requirements under the Ecodesign Directive, a law that is currently focused on energy efficiency for the most part.

An integral element in the school of Steady State economics is the regulation, rationing if you like, of access to resources.  Instead of resources going to the highest bidder, resources would be allocated according to the utility and enjoyment of the product to be manufactured.  The longevity of service life and the ability to upgrade the product would be critical. The idea, for example, envisions home computers that would last at least five, six or more times longer than the junk that amasses at our recycling yards today.

Growth, the misunderstood curse of our modern life, would likewise be transformed.  Instead of growth in production and consumption, growth would focus on knowledge and development needed to make life more comfortable and enjoyable.

A third element of Steady State economics is population stability by which birth rates are kept in line with death rates and overall population levels well within the planet's carrying capacity with regard to all the other life forms essential to maintaining all and any life on Earth.

Yet as this German study reveals we're still heading in the wrong direction along the unsurvivable path.  This begs the question whether we'll come to our senses in time.

Finally - My MP Makes the CBC

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 10:03
After 15 very idle years, and mere months before his retirement, my MP, the Conservative member for Nanaimo-Alberni, Doctor (no less) James Lunney has caught the interest of the CBC.

So what great achievement has brought the former chiropractor to the notice of CBC?  You could put it down to his Christian fundmentalism.  Lunney doesn't believe in climate change.  Only God can change the climate.  He doesn't believe in evolution either, although he says he's prepared to acknowledge it as a "theory."  Oh yeah, he also doesn't believe in vaccination.

Lunney dwells in the darkest recesses of the faith based, fundmentalist Right. This probably explains why with his own party in power for the bottom half of Lunney's political career and even with the incredible paucity of talent in Harper's caucus, Lunney has been left to languish as perhaps the most irrelevant of backbenchers.

Sometimes, while knocking back a brew with fellow constituents, I play a little bar game.  I first ask if they can name our sitting member of Parliament.  Most can get it right, eventually.  Then I ask them to recall the greatest contribution MP Lunney has made to our riding in his 15-year career in Parliament.  Name one thing, just one, for which he'll be remembered. The answer is always the same - a blank stare.

I can't imagine how this joker has held the riding since 2000 but for the loyal support of his fellow Christian fundies and all those rightwing peckerheads from the Prairies who continue to retire here.  Oh that and a low voter turnout.

James Lunney makes it embarrassing to admit you're from his riding.  At least most of the other ridings on the island go NDP.  Unfortunately, when it comes to Nanaimo-Alberni, the Conservatives have demonstrated conclusively that they can get a candidate straight out of the Dark Ages elected again and again.

I Feel Your Pain. More Than I Can Say for the CBC.

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 08:48
Oh Mother Corp can be cold, especially when it comes to the cold.  The tag line on the CBC web page read, "Warm Weather for Everyone! (Offer only available in BC.)"

The report links to a Weather Network outlook that sees an early spring for British Columbia (it's already here) but "freeze your butt off" conditions for the rest of Canada through the month of March and perhaps beyond.

Normal temperatures will start returning around mid-April.  Here's what Spring 2015 looks like to the Weather Network:

Sounds Like a Plan to Me. Meet the Burial Pod.

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 13:50

An Italian group has come up with a dandy idea to make good use of you when you're gone - grow a tree.  The deceased is bundled, fetal position, into a biodegradable pod/coffin that is then paired to a tree of choice.  The tree/pod combo is planted/buried and you become nutrients to help the tree grow.

Another idea in the offing in Seattle is a compostitorium.  It consists of a multi-floor conveyor belt.  The body is buried in a quantity of compost and decomposes as the belt slowly moves along.  At the end the enriched compost and bones are crushed up and off they go to a lovely garden somewhere.

Hmm - Fighting Kiddie Porn or Helping Get Harper Re-elected? Decisions, Decisions.

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 12:43
Yes they are indeed the Royal Conservative Mounted Police.  That issue is put to rest by the CBC News report that the RCMP has been withholding millions of dollars earmarked to fight online child pornography in order to help Harper balance the budget in time for the federal election.

Seriously, you can't make this up.

CBC News has learned that over a five-year period, Canada's national police force Mounties withheld some $10 million in funds earmarked for its National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre and related projects, linchpins of the government's anti-child-pornography agenda.

The cuts, made partly as an RCMP contribution to the government's so-called deficit reduction action plan, have occurred even as the number of child-exploitation tips from the public increase exponentially.

The systematic underfunding is highlighted in a draft report prepared for Public Safety Canada, and obtained through the Access to Information Act.

It makes you wonder how much the Hank Paulson clown car trimmed from its budget for providing intelligence and security service to Canada's mainly American energy companies.

Syrzia - A Much Needed Primer for Progressives Everywhere.

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 12:23
No, we're not Greece.  We don't have their crushing economic crisis.  We don't have the punitive austerity regime they had.  Yet there are many problems, existing and looming for Canada, that will require progressive solutions and Syrzia affords us a mirror in which to take the measure of our own political parties.  We have much to learn.  From The Tyee:

You can't watch what is unfolding in Greece and not marvel at the clarity, fortitude and nerve of the new government there. In fact, we're pretty sure that many progressives across North America are saying to themselves, even if just quietly, "We'd sure like to do that."

Syriza is a heterogeneous party, made up of diverse strands of the Greek left, but united by the view that the country's ruling parties were too compromised to deliver a departure from the crushing economic conditions imposed on it. Although it didn't initiate them, Syriza opened itself to the social movements that emerged to challenge austerity and has become their authentic political voice. Now it has taken power peacefully and formed the first European government of the radical left since the Second World War. It did what parties are supposed to do.

The article lists eight rules that progressives need to learn from the example of Syrzia:

1.  Clearly identify the enemy.  

It is sometimes necessary to identify your own government as your enemy, especially when it is operating in collaboration with other entities in ways that are detrimental to your country and your childrens' future.  Don't forget who started this.  It was the Harper government, especially Joe Oliver, who smeared a goodly segment of our population as dangerous radicals, inimical to the interests of the country.  Returning that greeting is not only justifiable, it's essential.

2.  The forces of democracy have an obligation to fight back against the oligarchs and the "totalitarianism of the market."

Only a few benefit from the oligarchs' policies, but they have the power and they have a grip on the political system. The oligarchs prevent the creation of a genuinely fair electoral playing field via a rigged campaign finance system and the rollback of voting rights. The oligarchs bring in cheap immigrant labour but prevent immigrants from getting citizenship. The oligarchs buy politicians. Democracy -- real democracy -- is a threat to them.

3.  Inequality can only be fought when it is articulated what it means for people, how it denies them things that they need.
4.  Draw a link between what people need and what society itself needs.
Concentration of economic and political power in an elite ultimately weakens the country.  There is a need to stimulate demand which cannot be achieved as an increasingly large portion of the economy goes to just a few.  We must rebalance the rights of labour versus capital, rehabilitate the role of labour and collective bargaining, and restore public investment.
5.  Have a programme.  Say what you will do.  Don't get dragged into debates about how you will do it.
Syriza convinced voters that it was going to take action to end austerity. Incessantly, the right, the media and the European elite tried to goad them into saying that executing their program would require leaving the Eurozone, but they never took the bait.

What enabled Alexis Tsipras to give such a defiant speech earlier this month was that his party had campaigned and won on a clear platform. Not for ideological reasons, but because the Greek people instructed him to. He has no right to bow to the demands of Greece's creditors.  

6.  Electoral reform.  
As we've progressed steadily into the depths of neo-liberalism, political parties have shunned expressions of vision and platforms that resonate with the public. We've learned that politicians that don't make clear promises, arguing that it would put them at a disadvantage during a campaign, almost never introduce them afterwards when they're successful.  This is the formula for elected dictatorship.  
7.  If the political system is broken, be willing to start again, from scratch.
The adage that the way to reform is by getting inside and changing the party is a load of hooey.  That doesn't effect real change but merely sublimates dissent.  If the system is broken, try a new party, a new movement.
Too often political parties have become insular, out of touch with the public. They exist, seemingly, for the sake of existing, of preserving "the club."  
8.  Don't Seek a Return to the Good Old Days.
The support progressives need to mobilize is the young adult vote. Progressivism is about the future and the future is theirs.  Older voters may yearn for the good old days or whatever facsimile exists in their memories but they think it best not to stray far from today's "business as usual" political parties.
The 60s are gone and they're not coming back.  We have changed the world in ways we cannot fully comprehend.  We have to let the past go.

The article concludes with a plea for progressives to do whatever we can to help out Spain's new left-wing movement, Podemos.   For all the successes Syrzia has achieved, a victory in the upcoming polls for Podemos will be a massive breakthrough for the future of us all. 

What's Going On with the Senate?

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 09:21

It seems there are a good many senators anxious about the already overdue audit reports into their expenses.  Complicating matters is the letter they were cajoled into signing that waives all privilege, both Parliamentary and solicitor-client.

Suddenly we seem to have a Senate packed full of Mike Duffys in waiting. From what I'm hearing they're bringing in sawdust by the truckload to cover the floor of the Red Chamber.

The trick now is to figure how this is going to play out in Stephen Harper's election planning.  He's got that place heavily larded with his own appointees. 52 Conservatives versus 30 Liberals and 6 independents.

It's hard to see where this is going but we know that this prime minister never turns his back on something that he can transform into an opportunity.

Heads up.

You Play Ball With Me and I'll Stick the Bat Straight Up Your....

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 09:05
There's a scenario unfolding that's pretty amazing.

The White House has been negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran.  Obama has apparently kept his Israeli counterpart, Netanyahu, briefed on the negotiations and terms of the proposed deal including some concessions offered Iran.

Netanyahu doesn't like the deal.  He's been pushing for war against Iran - American war against Iran - for a long time.

The Israeli prime minister, facing a difficult election in just two weeks, has come to Washington claiming he needs to let Congress in on details the White House isn't revealing to them.  Netanyahu wants to stoke Congress up to resist a presidential veto.

There's no stepping back from this.  Either Netanyahu is flagrantly breaking White House confidences - he's spilling details Obama provided him - or else Israel has been spying on the negotiations - or Netanyahu is simply making stuff up and playing the Americans for suckers as he has so routinely in the past.

There are some observers speculating that the White House has a surprise or two of its own awaiting Netanyahu.  The sparks may fly tomorrow afternoon.