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Showing posts from May, 2021

Let's Talk Dirt

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  When I was a child I went to visit my grandfather's farm outside Leamington. The fields that would soon deliver an abundance of tomatoes for Heinz or sweet corn and peas for Green Giant were freshly tilled revealing the rich, black soil that was the key to their productivity. I didn't think of soil very much until recently when I took a few online courses in global food security. That's when I learned how, in our quest to feed eight billion people, we have resorted to excessive industrial agriculture. Yale360 reviews a report on the decline of that once rich farmland across the American midwest. You hear many different numbers regarding that black Iowa soil. It’s often repeated that the topsoil — the nutrient-rich A horizon — was some 14 to 16 inches deep when the prairie was first broken, a fantastic depth of fertility rivaled only by some regions in the Ukraine . By the mid-1970s — roughly a century after the prairie was broken — it was reported that, in places, half o

Get Used to It. We Have Problems, Serious Problems, That We Can't or Won't Fix.

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  A lot of us have this "they'll think of something" attitude whenever talk turns to the looming, even existential threats of the day.  I have a friend, a guy who made a considerable fortune in mergers & acquisitions/corporate finance stuff. He was in town and invited me to join him for lunch. He's a generous guy, often organizing trips to distant lands for our law school "gang" - on his dime to boot. Over lunch he invited me to join the group on a trip to the region of his ancestral homeland, Armenia. He pushed it a couple of times, getting just a little more insistent each time. I finally said I don't travel any more. He said why not? I said climate change, global warming, the environmental emergency.  Remember, this is a very clever guy, very well read, very well traveled. His reply - don't worry about it, they'll think of something . Who 'they'? What 'something'? He got a little tiffed when I told him that was religious th

The Triumph of Neo-Feudalism

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  When Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney ushered in the neoliberal era of globalized free trade we were fed a package of lies. Yes, we would say goodbye to most of our manufacturing jobs but they would be replaced with even better jobs at higher wages and more of 'em. It wasn't about lowering our standards of living. It was about raising the standards of living of impoverished workers in other lands. It was a lie then. It remains a lie today even as our political caste peddles the same nonsense. Chris Hedges takes a look at the subjugation of labour in China in " Dying for an iPhone ." Global capitalists have turned back the clock to the early days of the Industrial Revolution. The working class is increasingly bereft of rights, blocked from forming unions, paid starvation wages, subject to wage theft, under constant surveillance, fired for minor infractions, exposed to dangerous carcinogens, forced to work overtime, given punishing quotas and abandoned when they are sic

Payback for Agent Orange?

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  Vietnam has discovered a new Covid variant, a hybrid .  “We have discovered a new hybrid variant from the Indian and the UK strains,” the health minister, Nguyen Thanh Long, was quoted as telling a national meeting on the pandemic on Saturday. “The characteristic of this strain is that it spreads quickly in the air. The concentration of virus in the throat fluid increases rapidly and spreads very strongly to the surrounding environment.” The new round of infections has made the public and government fearful and authorities quickly moved to place strict limits on movement and business activity. Cafes, restaurants, hair salons and massage parlours as well as tourism and religious spots have been ordered to close in various areas of the country. Vietnam, a country of 97 million people, has vaccinated just over 1 million citizens. It is now ramping up its vaccine rollout and hopes to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year, according to the health minister.

So Much Worse Than I Had Imagined

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  I hope to not hear anyone boasting about our great Canadian values, not for a while, not after the discovery of 215 unmarked children's graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. More than a century worth of Canadian governments, Conservative and Liberal alike, looked the other way as First Nations children were removed from their families, often by force, and interned in the charnel houses known as residential schools. At least 3,200 children, some say closer to 6,000, died in these festering hell holes, most of diseases such as tuberculosis or meningitis. Canada's gulags. Those who survived rarely emerged unscathed, having been treated brutally, sometimes denied food, without proper medical care, some sexually abused or worse. Some survivors migrated to nearby cities and succumbed to alcohol and drug addictions. There was no treatment for their PTSD. The Kamloops residential school carried 51 deaths on its ledgers. There was no record of the other 215. As a child, C

About that Separation of Church and State Thing.

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  America has a new Bible. It's the " God Bless the USA Bible ." Think of it as the scriptural equivalent of Reese's pieces - a little chocolate, a little peanut butter sort of thing. The “ God Bless the USA Bible ” is expected to go on sale in September, in time to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a Nashville-based marketer who will distribute the book. It has already prompted cries of blasphemy and concerns that the book will promote Christian nationalism, the idea that America is and should remain a Christian nation. The Bible will also include lyrics from singer Lee Greenwood’s hit song “God Bless the USA,” which topped pop charts after Sept. 11, 2001. Using the historic King James Version, the “God Bless the USA Bible” has about 600 pre-orders for $49.99 and will ship in September, said Hugh Kirkpatrick, who said he wanted to inspire unity in the country. Where is Barry Goldwater now that we need him. Blasphemy in t

As the World Slowly Cooks

What sort of a summer are we in for? That depends on where you stand in a latitudinal sense. The more distance between you and the equator the better off you'll likely be for it could be a scorcher. A professor from Georgia Tech, Brian Stone, has emerged as a leading voice on urban heatwaves and he says there's not a single city in America that's prepared for the heatwaves that are coming. Stone points out that the death rates will be highest for the poorest and visible minorities. Dr. Stone says urban dwellers in his country are exposed to a double whammy of massive heatwaves coupled with power outages . He notes that the poorest have the worst access to air conditioning and, even those with a/c often can't afford the electricity bill. Power failures have increased by more than 60 percent since 2015, even as climate change has made heat waves worse , according to the new research published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology . Using computer models to

It's Time to Face Up to Reality

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  The Palestinian people are captive and, unless they leave their homeland, they will remain captive. Says who? Well, among others, Gwynne Dyer. He writes that the liberal progressive Israel embraced by so many Canadians and our politicians is no more, hasn't been for a long time. Israel is a nation and a people of the far right and, for them, there's no going back. Just before the Six-Day War, thanks to massive Jewish immigration from the diaspora, Jewish Israelis outnumbered the Arabs who had not been driven out in the 1948 war by around seven-to-one. That’s a comfortable majority, big enough that Israel could afford to let its Arabs have citizenship, the vote, all the usual democratic rights. And it did. But after 1967 Israel ruled a far larger territory on which almost exactly half the population was Arab. More than half a century later it still does, and it doesn’t want to give that land up. But it cannot afford to give all those Arabs citizenship and all the rights that

Farewell Ottawa, Hello Friendly Lane?

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He was called many things, few of them flattering. He may have been the greatest fundraising machine on two legs the Tories ever had but, before long, he became a pain in the ass to his party, the Conservative senate leadership, the prime minister who appointed him, Stephen Harper, and many, many others. Today Mike Duffy times out. He's 75. Time to bid farewell to the Red Chamber, perhaps to savor life as the Cavendish Cottager of Friendly Lane, Prince Edward Island. Rather than re-invent the wheel, here are a few paras from posts I penned in years past. March 1, 2013  - Everybody's got a Mike Duffy problem these days. Prince Edward Island has a Mike Duffy problem. Sideshow Steve Harper has a Mike Duffy problem. The Senate of Canada has a Mike Duffy problem. The government of Ontario has a few Mike Duffy problems. Mike Duffy has a Mike Duffy problem. Prince Edward Island has a Senator who might not be a senator at all. Steve Harper appointed an Ottawa resident to be a

A Ray of Hope on the Covid Front

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People who have either had Covid-19 or been inoculated against it may have much greater immunity than initially expected.  Immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year, possibly a lifetime, improving over time especially after vaccination, according to two new studies. The findings may help put to rest lingering fears that protection against the virus will be short-lived. Together, the studies suggest that most people who have recovered from Covid-19 and who were later immunized will not need boosters. Vaccinated people who were never infected most likely will need the shots, however, as will a minority who were infected but did not produce a robust immune response. Both reports looked at people who had been exposed to the coronavirus about a year earlier. Cells that retain a memory of the virus persist in the bone marrow and may churn out antibodies whenever needed, according to one of the studies, published on Monday in the journal Nature. The other study, which is also under r

When Governments Won't Act Because They Don't Want To Do the Right Thing

Does this sound familiar? All governments [over-promise], but XXXXX XXXXXXX’s has perfected the art. It operates on the principle of commitment inflation: as the action winds down, the pledges ramp up . Never mind that it won’t meet the targets set by the fourth and fifth carbon budgets : it now has a thrilling new target for the sixth one. Never mind that it can’t meet its old commitment of an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 . Instead, it has promised us “net zero” by the same date. Yes, we need more ambition, yes, the government is following official advice, but ever higher targets appear to be a substitute for action. That's George Monbiot's critique of his prime minister, Boris Johnson. BoJo, he writes, freely promises Nirvana when he's really just moving food around his plate. Monbiot recalls the urgent optimism in his now 15-year old book, Heat. As a yardstick of how his government has delivered on its climate change promises, it's bleak. Researching

A Fancy Way of Saying 'Theft'

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De facto annexation . That's how Ireland's foreign minister describes Israel's utterly illegal theft of the lands of the Palestinians.  For decades much of the land Israel seized in the West Bank was called the "occupied territories." Then the West decided to turn a blind eye to the illegal taking of Palestinian lands that were quietly transformed into part of the state of Israel. Of course Israel won't admit it has "annexed" the Palestinian homeland. If they did they couldn't perpetuate the myth of the supposed "two-state" solution that underpins the blind support of the US and Canada. Once the two-state option is taken off the table, all that's left is Israel the Apartheid state and we don't care for that - no. But Israel has annexed/stolen the Palestinian territories and made them it's own. That much is inarguable. Israeli forces no longer even make the pretence of meeting the  duties imposed on an occupying power , inclu

Hedges on Israel - No Surprises There

  Chris Hedges is an outspoken, full throated supporter of Palestine and its people. You won't find a shred of neutrality in him but he would say exactly the same about the American (and, for that matter, Canadian) governments, fawning support for the Israeli side. Hedges reminds us that the Palestinians are a people under occupation . Israel is an occupying power. It has no legitimate right to their lands, what we once called the "occupied territories." The false equivalency between Israeli and Palestinian violence was echoed during the war I covered in Bosnia. Those of us in the besieged city of Sarajevo were pounded daily with hundreds of heavy shells and rockets from the surrounding Serbs. We were targeted by sniper fire. The city suffered a few dozen dead and wounded each day. The government forces inside the city fired back with light mortars and small arms fire. Supporters of the Serbs seized on any casualties caused by Bosnian government forces to play the same d

It'll Take More Than Solar Panels and Electric Cars

  At some level most of us probably know that solar panels and electric cars won't be enough to avert a climate catastrophe. Yet they do appeal to our inner "lazy self." However, what sort of future we bequeath to our grandchildren is a function of how much we're willing to change. Anthropologist, Peter Sutoris, says, for all the big talk, we're still in the same, deadly rut . Our society has come to believe that technology is the solution. Electricity from renewable sources, energy-efficient buildings, electric vehicles and hydrogen fuels are among the many innovations that we hope will play a decisive role in reducing emissions. Most of the mainstream climate-change models now assume some degree of “negative emissions” in the future, relying on large-scale carbon capture technology , despite the fact that it is far from ready to be implemented. And if all else fails, the story goes, we can geoengineer the Earth. But the problem with this narrative is that it fo

As Long As They're Here, They Might as Well Make Themselves Useful.

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  Next month, the US will release a report on everything (almost) the government knows about UFOs, now called UAPs or Unmanned Aerial Phenomenon.  The report is expected to include scores of sightings by military pilots. For decades it was feared that rumors might stampede the public into a War of the Worlds panic. Those fears were shown unfounded when the Pentagon released video of unknown vehicles recorded by sensors aboard F-18 Super Hornets. Aside from the odd story on the evening TV news, it was a yawner. I guess with Trump still in the White House, Americans had more on their minds than little green men and their odd little capsules. It's hard to imagine that the next report will send Americans running into the streets. Fair enough, but, if we (they) conclude that another form of intelligent life exists among us, maybe they should make themselves useful. With the knowledge they must have to manage inter-galactic travel, helping us deal with the climate crisis should be a sna

Who Asks "Why?"

Every time there's a conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, all we hear is 'why?'  Why, as in, whose fault is this? It's easier to affix blame if you can truncate the event. Pick a convenient start date, something recent. In this case we'll make it either the Israeli eviction of Arabs from Jerusalem or the scuffle that took place outside the mosque in response. If those don't work, let's go for Hamas launching unguided rockets into Israel. That's even better because it tags Hamas with the blame. The nice thing about this approach is you can just keep using it. It goes on and on, just as it has for the past half-century since the '67 war. You can even date this whole mess to the beginning of the occupation of the Palestinian territories. The Israelis are said to have called these periodic wars, "mowing the lawn." The idea is that, every now and then, you have to take these Arabs to the woodshed. And then you keep your powder dry unt

In the Runup to What Could Be Another Roe v. Wade Showdown, Another Iron Curtain Descends on Reproductive Rights in America

A couple of days ago we learned that the governor of Mississippi had signed into law a blanket prohibition against abortion after 15 weeks.  Not to be outdone, the governor of another slave state, Texas, has enacted a six-week abortion ban . And it's wild. Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), passed by both chambers of the Republican-dominated Texas legislature, bars abortion at six weeks of pregnancy with no exception for rape or incest, amounting to a near-total ban as most women are not aware they are pregnant at this stage. While a dozen states have passed similar so-called “heartbeat” bills – bans on abortion once embryonic cardiac activity is detected – none have yet been enforced due to court challenges. Call In the Evangilantes Unlike those measures, the Texas version absolves the state from enforcing the law. Instead it allows any private citizen the extraordinary authority to sue an abortion provider – they do not need to be connected to the patient or even reside in the same state , o

The Rise of America's Authoritarian Right

This ought to be a bit chilling. Almost half of Republicans would willingly ditch democracy.  So finds CBS News-YouGov polling conducted in mid-May. The survey asked Republicans a series of questions about the required level of fealty to former president Donald Trump, their views of the 2020 election and priorities for the party going forward. The results were bleak. Two-thirds said it was “important” for Republicans to be “loyal to Donald Trump now.” The same share said they did not believe President Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election. (They apparently missed House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) recent assertion that “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election.”) But the most troubling results came from a question about the party’s best strategy for winning in 2022 and 2024. If you were consulting for the party, respondents were asked, would you focus on developing a message and “popular policies and ideas” to wi

Where Was All the Outrage When Houthi Civilians Were Being Slaughtered?

  The US and Canada back Israel.  The US and Canada also back Saudi Arabia. When Israel lowers the lumber on Gaza Palestinians we take to the streets in protest. Who those people are dying by the hundreds. When Saudi Arabia waged a relentless aerial campaign against Houthi civilians it didn't raise more than a whimper.  I couldn't find recent figures but, as of the end of last December, the   death toll in Yemen was closing in on a quarter million , 131,000 of those attributed to "lack of food, health services and infrastructure." The chief UN humanitarian official in Yemen, Altaf Musani, the acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said “These senseless attacks, with so many children and women casualties, are horrific and inexcusable. Today, more families are grieving for children who died needlessly.” This revives memories of Paul Martin's support for a Responsibility to Protect initiative whereby advanced nations would intervene with a powerful nation (such a

Faint Praise

  The Globe editorial board is practically giddy at the prospect that Canada is edging ahead of the United States on Covid-19 vaccinations. While this is the sort of thing that sends politicians scurrying to take a victory lap, our success is primarily because Canadians aren't as stupid as our southern cousins. Unlike Canada, the United States is awash in vaccines. Their shortage is in people intelligent and responsible enough to sit down for a jab. The most vaccine-enthusiastic parts of the U.S. look a lot like Canada. In Vermont, the state with the highest vaccine uptake, 65 per cent of residents have received at least one shot. That’s slightly higher than the level in Yukon, which is Canada’s vaccine leader, thanks to Ottawa having given a large and early allocation to the territories. But in Mississippi, just 32 per cent of people have received their first shot. That figure has barely budged for weeks, despite lots of shots being available. It’s a similar story across much of

Exorcising the Ghost of Pinochet

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  The Chilean people are ready to ditch the constitution imposed on them by former strongman/murderer, general Augusto Pinochet. 2/3rds of the seats in the General Assembly are going to the left, the centre-left and independents clearing the way for a total rewrite of the country's constitution . Chile's long-standing political parties were reeling on Monday following their bruising defeat in an election for delegates to rewrite the constitution that sowed doubts over their future as well as the fate of the country's free-market model. The ruling center-right coalition failed during the weekend vote to pick up the one-third of seats necessary to block radical changes during the convention. And the center-left - which has dominated politics since the end of Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 military dictatorship - garnered less support than leftists who have been pushing for wholesale change to the 'Chilean model' that has been credited with fomenting growth but also

Consuming Earth

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  We are coming to realize that mankind is reaching our limits, albeit belatedly. That old line about giving 110 per cent is now about taking 150 per cent. That's precisely what we're doing. We're consuming the planet's resources at one-and-a-half times the level that Earth can sustainably supply. That's not good. As the line from the B-movie goes, "we can't go on living this way."  We can't but, don't worry, we won't. It's like an aquifer. It doesn't matter how many hundreds of thousands of years it may have taken for surface water to trickle down and fill it, if you start pumping it out to irrigate your crops in less than a century you may run it dry. What then? Indeed. An article in the latest Foreign Policy contends that in our rush to feed eight billion human mouths, we have unleased industrial agriculture, Big Farma, and it's bringing us to the brink of ecological collapse. I won't quote from the article as I recently

What Future?

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  My mother was fond of reminding her sons that the road to Hell was paved with good intentions. Let's not allow the climate crisis become that road to Hell. Biden climate czar, John Kerry, knows the hope for averting runaway climate change (the now never mentioned baseline objective) depends on quickly slashing greenhouse gas emissions. We have less than a decade remaining to cut our GHG emissions by 50 per cent. That's a profoundly Herculean task . Kerry says the US will achieve that goal and, the best part, it will be painless. The secretary says half of the target will be achieved with technologies that haven't been invented yet. Wait a second, John. Less than 10 years, remember? “You don’t have to give up a quality of life to achieve some of the things that we know we have to achieve. That’s the brilliance of some of the things that we know how to do,” he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr show. “I am told by scientists that 50% of the reductions we have to make to get to net

Is This Madness to You?

  I came across an article yesterday about some guy in Texas whose pet tiger got out. Fortunately it was just a cub, still temporarily docile, and was quickly recovered  before being shuttled off to a wildlife sanctuary. It was estimated there are upwards of 5,000 tigers private held in the United States. Perspective. There are estimated to be 3,900 tigers in the wild, world-wide. 3,900 in nature. 5,000 as novelties. This seems like madness to me.

I Despise Netanyahu. That Doesn't Make Me an Anti-Semite.

I hate terrorism.  I hated the it when Assad ordered barrel bombs dropped on civilians in Aleppo. I hated it it when ISIS savagely overran the center of Iraq to establish a caliphate in the gaping wound they had created. I hate the murderous shenanigans of Boko Haram in west Africa. I hate terrorism but that doesn't make me an anti-Semite. When water lines are broken. When sewage gathers in the streets. When there's no electricity to power ventilators for Covid-patients. When those things happen it's not a targeted assault on an adversary. It's an assault on the civilian population . To me, that's terrorism. That's why we have outlawed it in the laws of warfare. It's a war crime. If it happens to be committed by some state that doesn't transform it into something else. It's terrorism. Whether that state is Assad's Syria or Netanyahu's Israel doesn't matter. Now as these internally displaced persons, or IDPs, flock to school shelters, the

Chip, Chip, Chipping Away at Reproductive Rights in Washington

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  A case will come before the US Supreme Court this fall that opponents claim could mark the beginning of the end of Roe v. Wade . The oh so enlightened state of Mississippi is defending its right to impose a 15-week limit on a woman's right to choose abortion. Before 15 weeks, maybe. After 15 weeks, no way. Full confession, I never have delved into these issues. At best I have a Time Magazine grasp of the problem. That said I accept the principle that a woman's body is her business and I have no right to object. A woman's constitutional right to abortion was established in 1973 in Roe v. Wade and the USSC reaffirmed that decision 19 years later. Many Trump supporters wanted a corporation-friendly, socially conservative (i.e. reliably rightwing) Supreme Court. Trump appointed three, plenty to tilt the court balance. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett will be expected to earn their spurs when this case comes before them. I suppose its just an incredible coincidence, a total fluk