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Dedicated to the Restoration of Progressive DemocracyThe Mound of Sound
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Harper's War on Charities is a War on All of Us

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 12:07

Never underestimate the scope and impact of the Harper regime's war to gag our charities. Oxford student and 2013 Rhodes Scholar, Joanne Cave writes in today's Times Colonist that the use of the CRA cudgel to silence charities by Harper & just the tip of the iceberg.

The recent Canada Revenue Agency crackdown on everyone from Pen Canada to Oxfam — noting, quite appallingly, that “preventing poverty” isn’t an appropriate charitable aim after all — has Canada’s charitable sector wondering: When is enough, enough?

And if you think the issues facing charities aren’t relevant to your life, think again — your local museum, soccer club, Alzheimer’s day program and national park preservation committee are likely registered charities.

The fear-mongering culture created by such frequent political audits is, unfortunately, only the tip of the iceberg in how Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has approached its relationship with the charitable sector. Prior to the 2010 G8 Summit, at which maternal health was a critical part of the agenda, federal funding for 11 Canadian women’s organizations was cut due to their pro-choice advocacy. Similar restraints have been placed on organizations in immigrant settlement services, environment and climate change advocacy and anti-poverty.

While compliance with the CRA’s 10 per cent threshold for advocacy activities is important to prevent abuses to the system, such an audit culture drains the resources of small organizations and paralyzes their participation in the political process. I donate to charities, as do many other Canadians, because I want them to take a stand on issues I believe in.

Federal funding, when it is available, is often short-lived for Canadian charities. Under Harper’s government, charities can increasingly get only project-based funding rather than ongoing, and decidedly less sexy, core organizational funding that enables long-term sustainability. By refusing to fund charitable organizations long-term, we assume that services such as food banks, counselling services, support groups and assisted recreation programs are not integral to the fabric of our society. 

This creates what is often described as a “shadow state” in social policy — when government downloads the provision of services to charitable organizations as arm’s-length partners and uses policies, such as CRA’s political audit crackdown, to limit their independence and constrain their ideological stances. It paralyzes innovation, muzzles healthy political discourse and disrespects the fundamental role of charities in supporting our country’s most disadvantaged communities.

The women’s sector — with which I am most familiar — is still reeling from policy and funding changes imposed several years ago. These changes included the elimination of a $1-million independent research fund on women’s issues, the restriction of all advocacy and legal reform activities for grant recipients (e.g. a women’s shelter advocating on issues pertaining to violence against women) and the removal of the word “equality” from the funding program’s goals.

The CRA’s expanding audit culture is leading charities in a similar direction, but creates a confusing paradox: If charities can’t advocate on the issues that mandate their existence in the first place (a preventive approach) and can’t expect long-term government funding (a reactive approach), where will change come from?

This kind of audit culture actively prevents the civic participation our democracy relies upon, silences the organizations we care about most and forces our thriving charitable sector to become unfairly apolitical. If this frustrates you, donate to charities whose advocacy activities you believe in as a sign of solidarity and support.

Charities, you’re not alone. 

Must Read - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ferguson Is About Race But It's Also About Poverty in America

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 11:44

Check out Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's op-ed in Time Magazine, "The Coming Race War Won't Be About Race."

KAJ argues that, if the Ferguson atrocity isn't to fade into another historical footnote, it's essential that it must be seen as not just another racial incident but also as class warfare.

Those Shellfish Are Talking to You. Can You Hear Them?

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 09:36

The eastern Pacific, from the Bering Sea to northern California, has been one of the world's last remaining great fisheries.  It's a band of coastal ocean famous for its abundant salmon, cod, halibut and tuna but it's also known for its bounty of crab of several varieties plus shellfish including scallops, clams, mussels and oysters.

Now a lot of that resource is at severe risk from our greenhouse gas emissions that are acidifying the ocean habitat.  The acid levels in our waters have increased by 30% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  That's the kiss of death for shellfish.

Among the sea species most vulnerable to acidification are shellfish, because a build-up of acid in waters prevents species developing their calcium shells. Alaska’s salmon stocks are also at risk as one of the main ingredients of a salmon diet are pteropods, small shell creatures

Jeremy Mathis, an NOAA oceanographer and a lead author of the study, told the 
Alaska Dispatch News that whereas past reports had focused on the consequences of increased acidification on ocean species, the aim of this one was designed to examine the wider economic impact.

“This is an economic-social study,” Mathis said. “It focuses on food security, employment opportunity, and the size of the economy.”

Mathis said acidification is more likely in Alaskan waters than in many other parts of the world. He explained: “It’s all about geography. The world’s ocean currents end their cycles here, depositing carbon dioxide from elsewhere. The coastal waters of Alaska sit right at the end of the ocean conveyor belt.”

The New York Times reports that billions of baby oysters – known as spat – are dying off the coast of Washington state in the Northwestern U.S.

In May this year, the U.S. government’s major report on climate change, the 
National Climate Assessment, said that waters off the north-west of the country are among the world’s most acidic.

Jay Inslee, governor of Washington, says an industry worth $270 million is at risk. “You can’t overstate what this means to Washington,” he says.

Inslee and many others in Washington State are fighting plans by the coal industry to build large coal ports in the region in order to export to China and elsewhere in Asia.

Here's what we all need to bear in mind.  The Pacific shellfish are the miners' canary of ocean acidification.  When they die off it's the same, no it's actually worse, than the canary dying deep down in the mine.  Ocean acidification threatens all terrestrial life.  As paleontologist Peter Ward documents in his book, Under a Green Sky, ocean acidification can trigger a major extinction event.  It has in the past and it can again.

Those dying shellfish are sending us a message.  When will we start listening?

Sylvia Earle's Blue Mission

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 09:12
There's a terrific documentary, Mission Blue, that's now available on Netflix.  It's the life story of pioneering oceanographer and marine biologist, Sylvia Earle.

From the time she took her science quest underwater in the sixties until today, Dr. Earle has witnessed the wholesale destruction of the most important natural resource we have - our marine ecology. 

Mission Blue is a stark warning that we've put our oceans on the ropes and they won't take much more of our abuse.  We're remarkably complacent about this given that half the oxygen we breathe is generated by our oceans and fish remains the main protein source for the poorest on our planet. 

Earle argues that we still have time to turn this around, to re-seed the world's oceans with marine life, if we can only find the political will to make it happen.  That would mean, at the very least, corralling the industrial fishing fleets responsible for collapsing global fisheries, one after another, as they "fish down the food chain."  They're already in a self-induced death spiral that ends with empty oceans.  Why would any sane government enable that?  Yet we do.

It's a great documentary.  Check out Mission Blue.

Surf's Up - On the Arctic Ocean

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 08:57
Well, it turns out every cloud does have a silver lining.  A major impact of climate change has been the rapid loss of Arctic sea ice.  The absence of sea ice, in turn, has led to the development of big waves which are, in their turn, contributing to the break up of the remaining sea ice.  But there is a silver lining to all of this.  The Arctic Ocean is now open for surfing.

If Ebola Hits Lagos, All Bets are Off

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 07:01

Laurie Garrett claims "you are not nearly scared enough about ebola."  Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, warns that if the ebola epidemic reaches Lagos, the entire world is in jeopardy.

You think there are magic bullets in some rich country's freezers that will instantly stop the relentless spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa? You think airport security guards in Los Angeles can look a traveler in the eyes and see infection, blocking that jet passenger's entry into La-la-land?

Last week, my brilliant Council on Foreign Relations colleague John Campbell, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, warned that spread of the virus inside Lagos -- which has a population of 22 million -- would instantly transform this situation into a worldwide crisis, thanks to the chaos, size, density, and mobility of not only that city but dozens of others in the enormous, oil-rich nation. Add to the Nigerian scenario civil war, national elections, Boko Haram terrorists, and a countrywide doctors' strike -- all of which are real and current -- and you have a scenario so overwrought and frightening that I could not have concocted it even when I advised screenwriter Scott Burns on his Contagion script. 

Let's be clear: Absolutely no drug or vaccine has been proven effective against the Ebola virus in human beings.

Since the Ebola outbreak began in March there have been many reports of isolated cases of the disease in travelers to other countries. None has resulted, so far, in secondary spread, i.e., establishing new epidemic focuses of the disease. As I write this, one such isolated case is thought to have occurred in Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city, and another suspected case reportedly died in isolation in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, prompting the kingdom to issue special Ebola warnings for the upcoming hajj. It's only a matter of time before one of these isolated cases spreads, possibly in a chaotic urban center far larger than the ones in which it is now claiming lives: Conakry, Guinea; Monrovia, Liberia; and Freetown, Sierra Leone.

On Aug. 8, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola epidemic a "public health emergency of international concern." In its pronouncement, the agency noted the urgent need for local government actions, such as the recently erected cordons sanitaires, and for global mobilization of medical resources. The WHO has repeatedly warned that this epidemic could persist for a minimum of six months, perhaps a year. The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Tom Frieden, has concurred with that grim forecast.

The Green Devil - Australia's One Man Environmental Wrecking Crew

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 06:59

Tony Abbott is a man going to war.  His chosen target is Australia's environment and, according to Foreign Policy, he means to do it in.

Located at the bottom of the world, Tasmania is a bioregion so unique that it is listed as a World Heritage site by the United Nations for "outstanding universal value." It satisfies more criteria for that designation than any other World Heritage site on Earth.But for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, this remarkable natural legacy isn't worth protecting. Instead, it should be stripped.Soon after being elected in September 2013, Abbott started making plans to fulfill his campaign promise of removing some environmental protections on Tasmania's forest and opening it to industry, specifically logging. In March, he invited loggers to Australia's Parliament House and told them that members of the country's Green party were "the devil" and that "the environment is meant for man." The loggers were thrilled.A few months later, however, Abbott had to convince a different audience of his proposal -- and this time, the response was not enthusiastic. When the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) met in Doha in June 2014, it unanimously rejected Abbott's plan to remove 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest from its list of cherished sites. One delegate said the move would have set an "unacceptable precedent." Thedecision took less than 10 minutes.While the old growth forest of Tasmania might have been spared, Tony Abbott is proceeding apace with other plans.  One of them is to dredge a new coal port and then to dump the millions of tons of dredged soil and sand into the Great Barrier Reef.  Honestly, this guy believes that's a sane thing to do.  To Abbott, trashing Australia is merely taking the fight to the socialists.Australia's opposition leader, Bill Shorten, has called Abbott an "environmental vandal," and university researchers have said his first year in office has been nothing but an "environmental train wreck." This dates back to his very first day in office, when Abbott introduced legislation to repeal a carbon tax on Australia's most polluting industries. Soon after, a document created by Abbott's cabinet surfaced, stating that his administration would no longer tolerate "any measures which are socialism masquerading as environmentalism."And Abbott is increasingly and eerily coming to resemble our very own environmental Beelzebub.
Feel like a sauna?  You betcha.For Abbott, all environmental regulations are merely "green tape" that hold back corporate profits. He has hacked away at that tape by gutting the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the legislative process for determining whether a development project is environmentally safe. Instead oil, gas, and mining permits are now funneled to other agencies where they can get a green stamp.To make sure no one can adequately challenge his dictums, Abbott has eviscerated federal funding for programs such as the Environmental Defenders Offices (EDO), independent legal centers that operate in the public interest. It sounds as though Harper must have slipped Abbott a copy of the Conservatives' own environmental dirty play book.Environmental author Bill McKibben has written that Americans who traveled abroad during George W. Bush's administration should have sympathy for Australians right now: "[I]t's not easy being citizens of countries run by international laughing stocks." The comparison is apt: Like the Bush administration, Abbott chooses to ignore or undercut federal and international law when it doesn't suit his interests.Yet he has no qualms about using the law as a political hammer to quash the opposition: In Tasmania right now, Abbott's Liberal Party government is backing a new bill explicitly drafted to stop environmental protesters. The Workplaces (Protection From Protesters) Bill is aimed at quelling those who "prevent, impede or obstruct the carrying out of business activities." Mining and logging industries are mentioned by name, but the bill is written so broadly that it could cover nearly any business. It includes a sweeping list of prohibitions against "protest activity," with fines up to $10,000 if demonstrations interrupt business -- and mandatory prison sentences for a second offense.
I don't mean to be cynical but I'd guess the only thing preventing Harper from passing his own, protection from protesters act in advance of the Northern Gateway pipeline is the cut lip and bloody nose he's earned in past encounters with the Supreme Court of Canada.  I have to assume that Abbott has the benefit of a weaker constitution and a more compliant court.

Why the English-Speaking World Resists the Reality of Climate Change

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 18:13
You would think if you were a country particularly prone to being mugged by severe storm events of increasing intensity, frequency and destructiveness you might be just as particularly receptive to overwhelming scientific evidence of the causes.  However if you happen to be one of the major English-speaking countries you are and you aren't.  When it comes to Australia, the United States, Canada and Britain, all four countries are being hammered by climate change impacts yet remain among the countries least likely to accept the scientific evidence.

All four countries are governed by right of centre legislatures in which denialism runs deep.  All four countries are also big into fossil fuel production.  All four countries have an overall right of centre media that is collaborative with right wing government and energy producers.

What this chart also reveals is that, even in the United States where denialism is at its strongest, a solid majority of the public accepts anthropogenic global warming/climate change.  In all four countries, the government is plainly at odds with its people when it comes to climate change.  
Well if our Anglosphere isn't working for our peoples, who do these governments serve?  Oh sorry, I don't know what I was thinking.  Forget I asked.

August 19, 2014 - Earth Overshoot Day

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 17:35
Relax, it's not a holiday.  It's not something to celebrate.  It is however a day of observance.

For 2014, August 19th represents the day on which mankind has consumed a full year's worth of renewable, natural resources.  That also means that, for the rest of the year, we'll be dipping into nature's resource reserves, "eating our seed corn" if you will.   That ensures that Earth Overshoot Day, 2015 will fall well prior to August 19.

Just a few years ago Earth Overshoot Day fell in October, the ninth month.  Now it's arriving in the seventh month.  You can do the math and see where this is headed.  Here's a chart tracing the advance of Earth Overshoot Day.

Overshoot impacts take several forms.  Deforestation is one, desertification (the exhaustion of farmland and its transformation into barren desert) is another.  The emptying of aquifers is a manifestation of overshoot.  So too is the collapse of global fisheries through overfishing.  Another form of overshoot is the accumulation of pollution and other contaminants in our air, soil and water which reflects that we're outpacing nature's capacity to clean our environment.

Here's another way to visualize overshoot in the context of the planet's maximum carrying capacity and our excess consumption.  Overshoot causes carrying capacity to decline so that the ecological deficit steadily grows.

Posse Comitatus and Crossing America's Rubicon

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 17:09

In 49 B.C., then general Julius Caesar staked his life on a huge gamble and led his legions across the Rubicon into Rome.  Caesar knew that any general bringing his army into Rome faced execution but he went on to seize control of the Roman republic. 

In 1879 the U.S. Congress enacted the Posse Comitatus Act, that prohibited the deployment of U.S. Army troops within America "for the purpose of executing laws."  The intent was to prohibit the use of American soldiers against American civilians.  Like the Romans, Americans felt the need to proscribe the use of military force within the homeland.

Lately there's been an end run around the Posse Comitatus Act.  If you can't deploy the armed forces against the public, you can achieve pretty much the same result by militarizing law enforcement and bringing them under the wing of Homeland Security.  Equip the cops with combat gear, outfit them with modern military weaponry and deploy them in armoured military vehicles, all supplied for next to nothing, and - voila - problem solved.

Dennis Kucinich sees recent events in Ferguson, Missouri arising out of the police execution of a young African-American and the police response to the subsequent protests as a threat to American democracy.

The Declaration of Independence condemned King George III for, "keeping among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature."  Out of the Revolution, Americans emerged with an abhorrence of any military presence in their daily lives.

Kucinich points out that, over time, the apparent prohibition against a direct military role in civilian affairs has been gradually and steadily watered down, sidestepped and ignored. 

In 2006, George w. Bush persuaded Congress to enact an express authority for the use of military force:   "The President may employ the armed forces... to... restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition... the President determines that... domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order... or [to] suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy..."

Now the former Democratic Congressman is calling for reforms:

1. Congress must firmly re-establish the firewall between civilian law enforcement and the military by reinstating the intent of the Posse Comitatus law. As member of Congress I warned in 2007 the dangers of a bill which permitted the government to put troops on the ground in the US.

2. The Department of Defense must stop providing war-fighting equipment to local law enforcement.

3. All equipment provided to local law enforcement by the Department of Defense, must be inventoried and stored, not used except under an executive order from the top civilian authority in a state, the Governor, or under orders of the President of the United States.

4. The General Accounting Office and the Inspector General of the Department of Defense must be asked by Congress to determine the extent to which the training and equipping of local police by the DOD has created a culture in local law enforcement which is adverse to democratic values.

5. The Justice Department needs to fund programs which will train or retrain local law enforcement in racial sensitivity, constitutional protections of suspects, including the right to freedom of speech and right to assemble.

6. The Justice Department must also fund, support and mandate that all local law enforcement receiving any federal funds whatsoever create community programs for dialogue between local police and people in the neighborhood. Local police become an occupying army through emotional distancing, fear and lack of contact with the community. That can change by having police and the community meet regularly to discuss mutual concerns.

Those who serve in local law enforcement are given special trust, special dispensation to serve and protect. Their work is essential. Local police would like to be supported. But we must demand strict adherence to the Constitution and protection of the freedoms given to us by the Bill of Rights.

The reforms Kucinich advocates are so logical, so sensible that, in today's America, they won't get the time of day from its dysfunctional Congress.  But, unless and until such reforms are enacted, America will remain beset by a thoroughly militarized Main Street.

Of Zombie Politics and Culture War

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 11:12

In a system that reduces life to a chain of disconnected reactions to shock, personal communication tends to lose all meaning... The individual under terrorist conditions is never alone and always alone.  He becomes numb and rigid not only in relation to his neighbor but also in relation to himself'; fear robs him of the power of spontaneous emotional or mental reaction.  Thinking becomes a stupid crime/ it endangers his life.  The inevitable consequence of that stupidity spreads as a contagious disease among the terrorized population.  Human beings live in a state of stupor, in a moral coma.
                                 - Leo Lowenthal on authoritarianism rooted in modern civilization.

If you're looking for a dark read to round out your summer, you won't be disappointed to pick up Henry Giroux', "Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism."  Giroux, an American intellectual who now camps out at McMaster University, focuses on how authoritarianism is creeping into our body politic, rendering democracy powerless and meaningless.  At just over 160-pages it's no tome yet I've been digesting it, chapter by chapter, for a few months and I'm still not halfway through.  It's the sort of book you might read and then ponder until you've had your fill and then put it down, meaning to pick it back up soon but not quite doing it.

A quick look at Giroux' opening comments about the rise of "Authoritarianism with a friendly face."

In the minds of the American public, the dominant media, and the accommodating pundits and intellectuals, there is no sense of how authoritarianism in its soft and hard forms can manifest itself as anything other than horrible images of concentration camps, goose-stepping storm troopers, rigid modes of censorship, and chilling spectacles of extremist government repression and violence.  That is, there is little understanding of how new modes of authoritarian ideology, policy, values, and social relations might manifest themselves in degrees and gradations so as to create the conditions for a distinctly undemocratic and increasingly cruel and oppressive social order.  As the late Susan Sontag suggested in another context, there is a willful ignorance of how emerging registers of power and governance "dissolve politics into pathology."  ...there is no room in the public imagination to entertain what has become the unthinkable - that such an [authoritarian] order in its contemporary form might be more nuanced, less theatrical, more cunning, less concerned with repressive modes of control than with  manipulative modes of consent - what one might call a mode of authoritarianism with a distinctly American character.

Giroux goes on to touch upon a theme raised occasionally on these pages - the 'depoliticizing' of society.  In Canada it's a product of the spread of neoliberalism throughout the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats.  We wind up staring at a row of grey suits stuffed with wet cardboard and turn on our heels away from politics entirely.  Never in my lifetime has the political spectrum of my country been so compressed, political discourse so stilted and political vision so abnegated.  One of the consequences of this, according to Giroux, is an everyman-for-himself culture.

Agency is now defined by a neoliberal concept of freedom, a notion that is largely organized according to the narrow notions of individual self-interest and limited to the freedom from constraints.  ...It is an unlimited notion of freedom that both refuses to recognize the importance of social costs and social consequences and has no language for an ethic that calls us beyond ourselves, that engages our responsibility to others. 

...This merging of the market-based understanding of freedom as the freedom to consume and the conservative-based view of freedom as a restriction from all constraints refuses to recognize that the conditions for substantive freedom do not lie in personal and political rights alone; on the contrary, real choices and freedom include the individual and collective ability to actively intervene in and shape both the nature of politics and the myriad forces bearing down on everyday life - a notion of freedom that can only be viable when social rights and economic resources are available to individuals.

...the formative culture necessary to create modes of education, thought, dialogue, critique, and critical agency - the necessary conditions of any aspiring democracy - is largely destroyed through the pacification of intellectuals and the elimination of public spheres capable of creating such a culture.

Zombie Politics and Culture is a truly worthwhile read for anyone with a sense that our democracy can no longer be trusted to those who march beneath Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat banners.  While we're still a good distance behind the violent authoritarianism practised openly today across the United States, democracy in Canada is badly in need of restoration. 

Michael Brown - Ferguson, Missouri - The War on Drugs

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 09:12
What does America's War on Drugs have to do with the execution/killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the riots it spawned?  The New Republic's John McWhorter believes they're inextricably linked and contends that the way to avoid future Ferguson riots is to end the War on Drugs.

We don't know the details yet, but it's apparent that, in spite of all we went through with [Trayvon] Martin so recently, in a clinch - the mean, messy place where these things always happen - the Ferguson cop Darren Wilson assumed that a big black guy was trouble, serious trouble, and shot him dead.  It's what happens in that clinch that matters and we can now see that no amount of articulate protest can cut through such visceral human tendencies as bias and fear.

...I'm the last one to say there should be no protest, but I am dismayed that we are at a point that it can serve only as a statement, not as a tool.  The rate is no longer such a novelty that white America will be scared into some concessions as it was in the late sixties.  Watching black Ferguson burn and wreck its own neighborhoods is not going to make America suddenly "get it."

If the looting and anger are the "it," it that's what we have up our sleeve as an indication that Brown's death was "the last straw," then we're nowhere.

...So, what will really make a difference?  Really, only a continued pullback on the War on Drugs.  Much of what creates the poisonous, vicious-cycle relationship between young black men and the police is that the War on Drugs brings cops into black neighborhoods to patrol for drug possession and sale.

...But that's the long game.  In the here and now, we are stuck.  Michael Brown was not "it."  The journalists assiduously documenting the events in Ferguson can serve as historians, but not as agents of change.

We can be quite sure that by next summer, another unarmed black boy will have been shot dead by a white cop scared in the moment.  Upon which in another hitherto obscure town there will be protests, something about the episode will be enshrined as a totemic gesture, the right-wing will hope the cop turns out to have been black (as they did this time for a blink) or will revel in predictable evidence that the victim was not always a choirboy in his behavior, and good-thinking people will hope that this time is finally "it."

There's Not Enough Water to Go Around

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 08:36

This curious graphic depicts areas that are expected to be severely water stressed through the balance of this century.  Note that hard-hit countries include China, India, Brazil, western Russia, the United States and the nations of Central America and western South America.

The assessment by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Atmospheric Science and Global Change Division, concludes that water shortages may even impair efforts at climate change mitigation.  The idea is that there won't be enough water to permit the development of bio-fuels.  What the report doesn't say is that this strengthens the case for development of non-carbon, renewable energy alternatives.

The report confirms other research finding that, by 2100, half of the global population will be enduring severe water shortage.  Unless, that is, something drastic comes along to cull the herd in the meantime.

Today in Flash Flooding News

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 08:08
We've always lived with spring flooding caused by rapid melting of winter snowpack.  People along the Red River know full well how that works.

Today, however, flooding isn't just a seasonal event and it doesn't always have to do with winter snows.  Now we get flash floods where storm clouds appear overhead and unload five or six inches of rain on one spot in a matter of hours, overwhelming storm sewers and playing hell with low-lying areas.

The Americans have been whipsawed by flash flooding over the past two months from San Bernardino, California to Long Island, New York.  Detroit, Baltimore and Washington, DC, have been hammered.

Yesterday, a Kentucky town with the quaint name of Skullbone, got a 5-inch drenching.  A chunk of north central Texas saw flash flooding as predicted by the NOAA.  Arkansas got it too.

Kentucky and Tennessee remain under flood warnings for today.  Meanwhile a new front is moving in from the mid-west which threatens to bring more "disruptive downpours" to the northeast, including much of southern Ontario.

The worst part of this is that there's almost nothing people can do about it.  People can sort through their basements, get valuables up off the floor or to safety upstairs.  They can make sure the sump pump is working and that their gumboots are handy.  They can urge their governments to upgrade infrastructure to handle heavy, concentrated deluges but that's going to take time - and money that's in scarce supply in these anti-tax days.

Your Global Warming Surcharge Coming Soon

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 07:17
Reservoir, What Reservoir?
So, you see, you've got this conjunction of forces.  There are more of us by the day, about 220,000 every 24-hours and that's a net increase.  And then our ever larger population is also movin' on up.  We're making progress on reducing poverty and those mega-populated, emerging economies are spawning their own middle, or consumer classes that want pretty much everything that you or I take for granted - nice houses, cars, holidays abroad, consumer goods of every description and better food.  There's the first part of your problem - demand.  It's way up.

The second part of your problem is supply.  Unlike demand, supply may be heading in the other direction.  You see, we've changed the climate.  We've changed the channel.  We're into a new climate now and when it comes to meeting our growing demand, it's less than ideal.  Climate change is making wet regions wetter and dry regions dryer.  In the case of dry regions that often means drought.
Unfortunately these warm, dry regions have also been where we get a lot of what we eat.  Think of California, North America's supplier of fruits, nuts and, of course, wine.  The Golden State is still getting plenty of sunshine but precious little rainfall and farmers are struggling with drought.  Even orchards are being lost.

Now word is out that the world's main olive producer, Spain, is also in the throes of terrible drought.  Spain produces half the world's olives and most of our olive oil.  Expect to pay more soon for olive oil.  European prices have already jumped 30% this year.  Unfortunately this is a problem we're going to be facing ever more in years to come.

Here's the thing.  We can grow olives elsewhere in our warming world.  The problem is it takes nearly 35-years from planting until an olive grove comes into production.  So there's bound to be a period of disruption and, while that lasts, expect to pay for it at the check out.

Don't fret, we still have enough wealth disparity that we can continue to buy our way out of these shortages, for now.  People at the bottom end of the wealth scale, let's just call them the poor, don't have as many options.  They do without or find substitutes like dirt and grass.

Michael Brown Gunned Down by Six Shots

Sun, 08/17/2014 - 21:23
This keeps getting worse.  An autopsy on the corpse of Michael Brown concludes the unarmed, young black man sustained six gunshots including two to his head.

Renowned ("celebrity") medical examiner, Michael Baden, conducted the autopsy on behalf of Brown's family.  He concluded that the fatal shot, the final shot, was a bullet to the top of Brown's skull suggesting the victim's head was bowed.

Baden effectively cut off any suggestion that Brown was shot in self-defence by noting that there was no gunpowder residue on the body.

The Shooting May Have Stopped But, For Civilians, Gaza's Suffering Deepens.

Sun, 08/17/2014 - 13:29
For good and obvious reasons, destruction of essential civilian infrastructure such as water supply and sewage systems is prohibited by the laws of war.  Attacking such targets is a war crime.

For Israel, it's not just a war crime.  It's a strategy and it's called Dahiyeh. It's the deliberate targeting of civilians; their homes, schools and hospitals; and the water plants and sewage systems essential for public health and safety.

When Israel began waging Dahiyeh against Gaza Palestinians in July, it sent warplanes in to take down the water station and sewage plants.  Now a group of 30-humanitarian agencies banded together under the name EWASH (Emergency Water Sanitation and Health) warns that two-thirds of the Gazan population is running out of water and the besieged territory is at risk of outbreaks of water-borne diseases.

Israeli destruction of Gaza's sewage infrastructure has led to broken mains and open sewage flooding.

Expect the Unexpected

Sun, 08/17/2014 - 09:13

I remember when a hard rain meant you might see standing water in farm fields. That was a different time even if it was just a couple of decades ago.  Today our notion of a hard rain is different.  Today it means flash flooding, highly destructive inundation that typically overwhelms infrastructure that was designed and built to handle a climate that is no longer with us, that has been displaced.

No place is immune.  In September of last year, even my little seaside town sustained flash flooding when nearly an inch and a half of rain fell in the span of just 18-minutes.

In early August, about five inches of rain fell in Burlington within a matter of hours.  For the municipality that represented about two months of normal rainfall.

The United States, from the southwest to the northeast, has been hammered by flash flooding events this year.  Even drought-stricken southern California reeled as heavy rains swept out of the mountains into San Bernardino county.  In Detroit, a "once in a century" storm (the second in two years), filled the I-75 expressway right up to an overpass.

The same storm that hammered Detroit moved on to bring flash flooding to Long Island, New York, and Baltimore.  Today the US National Weather Service (NOAA) has issued flash flood warnings for Memphis/Nashville and north central Texas.

The message is clear.  From now on we have to expect the unexpected.  The climate has changed and the impacts can be both severe and abrupt.  From severe storm events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration to sustained droughts to sea level rise of a magnitude far beyond what we expected just a few years ago, we are being overtaken by events.

We don't have a lot of options and we don't have a lot of time.  We can stick with our current approach, a state of catatonic stupor, or we can recognize that the climate has changed and we need to catch up in order to change with it.  Changing - adapting - is going to be a Herculean challenge.  It's going to be costly.  It will require governments at all levels to change focus and redirect assets.  One thing is clear, the current federal government is not up to this challenge.

I've Never Done This Before

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 20:08

I want to share an amazing recipe with you all.  It's from America's Test Kitchen and it's for "summer tomato pie."

The key to this recipe is the tomatoes.  You need really good beefsteak tomatoes of the sort we used to enjoy half a century ago.  Some of these vintage varieties are making comebacks and they remind us of how lifeless most of the grocery store offerings can be.

It's a simple recipe.  Pie crusts (2).  2 lbs. of ripe beefsteak tomatoes, cored and sliced into 1/4" slices. 1/2 tsp. salt.  1/4 c. mayo.  4 tsp. cornstarch.  1-1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar.  4 scallions thin sliced.  That's it.  Easy, peasy - and it's amazing.

Click on the link, print a copy of the recipe, and enjoy.

The trick is having the right tomatoes.  It's the tomato flavour that comes through and makes this recipe magic.  Weak tomatoes will be overwhelmed by the cheeses.
Follow the recipe to the letter the first time.  That's the best way to appreciate how great this pie is and, from there, you can figure out how to personalize it.  You might want to add fresh basil, for example, or try other cheeses or cheese combinations.

If you're interested, get the recipe printed off fairly soon as they don't stay up for very long.

Adios "El Presidente" Perry

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 17:45

Texas governor Rick Perry's presidential aspirations could be over.  The New York Times reports a Texas grand jury has indicted Perry on two felony counts of abuse of power.

At the heart of Perry's legal woes is a district attorney and corruption buster, a Democrat, who was arrested for drunk driving.  Following the DA's arrest, Perry threatened to use the governor's veto power to block $7.5-million in funding for the anti-corruption unit unless she resigned.  Perry followed through with the threat.

A non-profit group filed a complaint alleging Perry had misused his powers in order to coerce a public servant.  Perry doesn't seem to dispute what happened but maintains what he did was a legitimate exercise of the governor's powers.  The grand jury seems to have agreed with the complainants.