Trump takes on the Military-Industrial Complex

 

U.S. President Trump’s goal of pulling troops from the Middle East threatens the established order that has dominated the American economy and foreign policy since the end of the Second World War.

image: cartoonstock

The term “military-industrial complex” was first used by another Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. He warned that government policy was being dictated by the war industry, euphemistically called the “defense industry.”  In his farewell address in 1961, Eisenhower cautioned that the United States must “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex.”

Eisenhower believed that the military-industrial complex was subverting national interests and promoting participation in the nuclear arms race.

The last time that the military-industrial complex was threatened was after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. General Colin Powell worried about running out of enemies: “Think hard about it. I’m running out of demons. I’m running out of villains.”  He was wondering out loud whether the U.S. needed such a large army after the fall of Soviet Russia. What’s the point of having the world’s greatest military power and no dark forces to fight?

Powell worried needlessly. America managed to find new enemies.

Like many of President Trump’s moves, this one is poorly thought out. He is both pushing and pulling U.S. military supremacy. He wants to pull troops out of the Middle East while at the same time promoting U.S.-manufactured goods.

Manufacture creates jobs at home and the U.S. military provides a base for corporate colonization of the world.

Ten per cent of the American economy is directed at making weapons –most of which are sold to the military. The United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries. In comparison, Britain, France and Russia, have 30 foreign bases combined.

The trouble with the business model is not the jobs it creates, it’s the endless war that America must fight in order to make sense of the manufacture of weapons for the “Defense” Department. If the weapons weren’t made to be used, what would be the point in making them?

The rationale of the military-industrial complex is wearing thin and withdrawal of troops has some sympathy. Public Affairs columnist Lawrence Martin says:

“It’s a timely reminder of the debacle created by Mr. Trump’s Republican predecessors. The Iraq disaster and its collateral calamities; American military intervention and nation building that proved futile; the never-ending war in Afghanistan; hundreds of billions spent and tens of thousands of deaths. For what? (Globe and Mail January 2, 2018).”

Derailing the military-industrial complex has long been a dream of global peace-lovers. But there is going to be a lot of push-back from American Generals who want to keep their jobs.

Perhaps President Trump’s next big idea will be to convert U.S.-made weapons into steel to build his Mexican wall. He’s already hinted at a new role for the military in his television address Tuesday to defend against the threat that bedraggled families from Central America pose. “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!” he tweeted earlier.

President Trump’s quixotic tilt at military-industrial complex is likely to fail but in the meantime, peace-lovers can hope.

 

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Ditch the stoner image of cannabis users

Now that cannabis is legal in Canada a more accurate picture of users is emerging. Cannabis users are coming out into the daylight and they don’t look like what’s depicted in the movies.

image: GFarma.news

The Hollywood portrayal of marijuana users usually involves a bumbling buffoon who sits on a couch, smokes weed and binge watches TV. He can barely remember where he left his car keys, much less hold down a job or do well in school.

In Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jeff Spicoli is a carefree stoner and surfer with little regard for school. In Cheech & Chong’s movies like Up in Smoke, a couple of stoners take meandering road trips in smoke-filled van.

The stigma of cannabis use is historical. “Marijuana” was first used as a pejorative term to describe what U.S. blacks and Mexican used in the 1930s. Leafly.ca says:

“The Great Depression had just hit the United States, and Americans were searching for someone to blame. Due to the influx of immigrants and the rise of suggestive jazz music, many white Americans began to treat cannabis (and, arguably, the Blacks and Mexican immigrants who consumed it) as a foreign substance used to corrupt the minds and bodies of low-class individuals.”

With such an image of degenerate and low-life users, cannabis consumers have been reluctant to admit use even after legalization. Some still feel like they have to be secretive about it. A friend emailed me:

“However, nothing has changed for me, somehow I still feel like I have to hide in my back yard if I want to smoke a joint…..how weird is that!!!!”

That reluctance is reflected in surveys. Health Canada’s Canadian Cannabis Survey asked respondents about their willingness to disclose use. Even once cannabis is legal, 25 per cent said that they would not disclose that they use it. While not a majority, it reflects reluctance to be judged by the stereotypical image of befuddled fools.

That connection is also reflected when respondents were asked about social acceptability of cannabis use. Less than half, 45 per cent, said that recreational use was socially acceptable.

Another study by Starbuds Canada done before legalization found that 27 percent of Canadians, or about 10 million people, currently consume cannabis. Another 17 percent said they would consider using it.

The largest growing demographic of users and those curious about using, are older, more affluent consumers. While Canadians over the age of 65 use the least, they are the most interested in trying it.

The majority of users have higher education degrees, including 43 percent university and 32 percent college. Most users are under the age of 54 and one-third of them have children.

Dave Martyn, president of Starbuds Canada says:

“With cannabis going mainstream, the ’stoner’ stereotype is dying. Cannabis isn’t just for intoxication, people are using it to relax, unwind, like they would a glass of wine at the end of the day. The average cannabis consumer is more likely to resemble your neighbour than any portrayal in pop culture.”

Some uncomfortable truths emerge in the U.S.-China power struggle

In his open letter to Canadians, I thought China’s ambassador to Canada was being obtuse by wilfully ignoring Canada’s legal obligations. Now I realize that legalities are not a concern of China’s.

image: China Daily

Under our extradition treaty with the U.S., Canada had an obligation to arrest the CFO of Hauwei Technologies, Wanzhou Meng, because the U.S. Department of Justice alleged that her company violating American trade sanctions on Iran.

Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye says that we should worry about our independence:

”While Canada has continued to stress its judicial independence, did it insist on that independence when facing the United State’s unreasonable request (Globe and Mail, December 13, 2018)?”

He doesn’t seem to understand the rule of law. International extradition treaties are not about independence, they are about legal obligations.

On re-reading the ambassador’s letter, I realize that I have been naive. While Mr. Shaye overlooks what’s inconvenient to his argument (who hasn’t done that on occasion?), he grasps the raw politics involved. Ambassador Shaye continues:

“The detention of Ms. Meng is not a mere judicial case, but a premeditated political action in which the United States wields its regime power to witch-hunt a Chinese high-tech company out of political consideration.”

The use of the term “witch-hunt” in reference to Ms. Meng is unfortunate but his characterization of the politics is spot-on. U.S. President Trump admitted as much in an interview with Reuters. In reference to using Ms. Meng as a bargaining chip in his trade deal with China, he said:

“If I think it’s good for the country, if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”

President Trump has just handed Ms. Meng a gift. Her lawyers will convincingly argue that the motives of the U.S. are political, not legal. Prof. Rob Currie of Dalhousie University, an expert in extradition law, agrees. “Oh yes,” he said, “He [Trump] has given her arguments, for sure (Globe and Mail, December 12, 2018).”

Trump wants to destroy Hauwei because it threatens U.S. global dominance. Canada does not extradite anyone when the motivations are political.

Now I realize that the failure of the Chinese ambassador to mention the legality of extradition is more than an oversight. It demonstrates that China is a lawless country. China has demonstrated that uncomfortable fact by the arbitrary and unwarranted arrest of Canadians Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor.

It’s uncomfortable because it demonstrates that China would not hesitate to violate any trade agreement it had with Canada that it found inconvenient.

It’s uncomfortable, as well, to awaken to the reality that our neighbour and largest trading partner is no longer our friend; whose president would use us as a bargaining chip as well.

It’s entirely possible that Trump ordered the arrest Ms. Meng to punish Canada for our failure to prohibit Huawei from entering Canada’s construction of our new 5G network.

It’s not beyond Trump’s machinations to betray anyone on a whim -as his widening circle of former advisors and friends would surely attest.

 

Redefining pro-life

The hardening of abortion into the pillars of political parties is showing fractures.

image: Heidi Will

Whether abortion is a human right belonging to a woman or a human right that belongs to the foetus used to be a philosophical and religious debate. Now it’s about politics. Republicans in the U.S. and a majority of conservatives in Canada are against abortion. Democrats and progressives in Canada support justifiable abortions.

The abortion issue moved into political camps decades ago. The landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade in 1973 declared that women had the right to choose an abortion. In response, anti-abortion groups began to rapidly mobilize and the “Human Life Amendment” was proposed.

Because it’s better to be seen as for something rather than against it, anti-abortion groups decided to call themselves “pro-life.”

Abortion supporters argue that the when life is at stake, it’s the life of the mother which matters. In a reaction to the pro-life branding, abortion supporters had to come up with a strong brand of their own. “Pro-abortion” doesn’t quite do it because women don’t necessarily want to have an abortion –they just want to shed the yoke of paternalism that dictates what’s best for them.

In response to the pro-life movement, supporters of abortion-as-an-option branded themselves as “pro-choice.” It’s a clever label in an age of commercialism because what consumer doesn’t want a choice? It also fits nicely into to the evolving image of women, and citizens in general, as individual agents rather than servants of the church and state.

Women as free-thinking-citizens is a relatively new phenomena. Only a hundred years ago, women and children were considered the property of men and property doesn’t have an opinion worth considering.

Thanks to U.S. President Trump, the tribalism of pro-life is beginning to fracture. Pro-life Republicans are conflicted by support of this misogynist president.

Tess Clark grew up in Texas and always considered support for the Republican party her “Christian duty (Globe and Mail, December 7, 2018).” All of her life the issues of abortion and immigration made voting Republican her “Christian duty.” Clark recently told The New York Times that the pro-life movement should oppose hard-line treatment of border crossers.

Clark was so sickened by Trump and his crackdown on Honduran families trying to enter the U.S. that she has redefined what it means to be pro-life. She now equates the separation of Honduran families with “a baby in its mother’s womb.” “I feel that being pro-life is being pro all life,” she said.

Chelsey Yeaton, a student at a Christian college in Illinois and a member of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, has also redefined what pro-life means to her in environmental terms.

“If we say we’re pro-life, we have to care for people who are experiencing incredible environmental degradation …,” Yeaton said in a recent interview. “If we’re pro-life, that’s a bigger issue to me than abortion.”

Whether to have an abortion or not is obviously not a trivial matter but the decision shouldn’t be based on politics. The expansion of the pro-life movement into other aspects of a healthy life is a welcome approach.

 

Blueberries without borders

Blueberries have arrived from Peru in my local store. Next they’ll be coming from Chile, then Mexico. As spring moves north, they will arrive from Florida.  Then in late spring they’ll be ripening in Georgia, after that California and Oregon. Washington will start shipping in early July.

image: Investment Agriculture Foundation of British Columbia

The northward march of the blueberries ends in British Columbia, where the largest crops in Canada are grown and the season is long says Corey Mintz:

“Because of the warm, sunny weather blueberries need to thrive; many regions have a growing season of only four to six weeks. But the climate of BC allows for a longer season: nearly three months, from early July to late September (Walrus magazine October, 2018).”

B.C. returns the blueberry favour by sending them south -all over North America. Blueberry production in BC has grown from 4.3 million kilograms in 1980 to 61 million kilograms in 2017.

The fact Canada exports any produce at all may come as a surprise. We can’t compete with American growers for many other crops says James Vercammen, professor of food and resource economics at the University of British Columbia. Economies of scale, higher labour and land costs, give U.S. producers an edge.

But as the sun lingers over Canada in the summer, we have an advantage that Americans lack. Vercammen says that British Columbia is “now growing raspberries and blueberries like crazy.”

Things didn’t look so good at the start of the 2018 growing season. Blueberries, like one-third of the foods we eat, depend on pollination by bees.

Bees prefer a balanced diet. In recent years, honey producers have expressed concerns over the nutritional value of a blueberry diet alone. “It’s a single fruit,” said Kerry Clark, president of the B.C. Honey Producers’ Association, “It’s like going to a buffet and the only thing there is salsa. It doesn’t give you a balanced diet.”

Monoculture crops that cover vast areas aren’t very nutritious for bees. Weakened bees are more susceptible to disease and the wet spring this year meant that growers were applying more fungicides –also not good for bees.

That meant that owners were reluctant to send their colonies to blueberry fields. “It’s become less and less attractive, to the point where the beekeepers have decided not to bring thousands of colonies into the blueberries this year,” said Clark.

While blueberry production has increased, the number of bee hives has not kept up. One beekeeper predicted a loss because he couldn’t supply enough hives:

“There’s definitely going to be a shortage of bees in blueberries this year. It will be worse this year. The plants will be there, but the bees won’t be there to pollinate them, so they won’t get the berries.”

But all the worry turned out to be for nothing. As the damp spring turned into a sunny summer, blueberries thrived and by the end of the year there was a glut of the crop. The lower prices were good news for berry lovers but disastrous for farmers.

John Gibeau of the Honeybee Centre in Surrey was philosophical: “If it’s nice weather we do well. If it’s poor weather we do poorly. That’s farming.

Big Food vs. Canada’s Food Guide

The interests of the food industry don’t always coincide with healthy eating. What’s at stake is Canada’s new Food Guide. It’s a big deal.

image: Globe and Mail

Canada’s Food Guide is widely respected. Seventy-five years after its first launch, it’s the second most requested government document after income-tax forms. It’s distributed to dieticians and doctors for patient advice and to schools and hospitals for creating meal plans. The new guide will be around for a long time, so it’s important to get it right.

Understandably, big food lobbies want the new guide to endorse their products. Even intergovernmental departments disagree on what should be recommended. One agency, Health Canada, wants the new food guide to “shift towards more plant-based foods,” less red meats, and to limit “some meats and many cheeses” high in saturated fats.

Another agency, Agri-food Canada, disagrees. They are in the business of promoting the sale of red meat and dairy industries. Last year, AAFC officials wrote a memo marked “secret” in which they worried:

“Messages that encourage a shift toward plant-based sources of protein would have negative implications for the meat and dairy industries.”

The pressure on Health Canada comes from other food manufacturers as well. Recently, the “Canadian Juice Council” surfaced. Nutritionists had never heard of them before their bright orange booth appeared at the annual conference of the Canadian Nutrition Society. Nutritional biochemist Dylan MacKay said: “I’d never seen or heard of them before and I’ve been going to CNS conferences for years (Globe and Mail, November 23, 2018).”

The origin of the Canadian Juice Council was obscure despite the presence of a web page and a Twitter account (with 2 followers). Food reporter Ann Hui isn’t surprised at the obscurity:

“And no wonder. The Juice Council doesn’t exist in the way you might expect: as an institution disseminating impartial facts and information about juice. Rather, it was created by the lobbying arm of the beverage industry – in a practice known as ‘astroturfing,’ used by lobbyists in all kinds of industries to create the appearance of a grassroots movement and a larger chorus of voices than actually exists.”

Ann Hui found that the Canadian Juice Council was an invention the Canadian Beverage Association whose members include Canada Dry Mott’s, Coca Cola Canada, and PepsiCo Canada. The industry supports 60,000 Canadians workers, 20,000 of those directly.

The Canadian Beverage Association is worried about changes in the Canada Food Guide that would remove the equivalency of whole fruit to juice. The old guide says that a half-cup of juice is a substitute for one portion of fruit.

The new guide, to be released soon, will advise Canadians to avoid drinks high in sugar. One 12-ounce bottle of orange juice contains about the same amount of sugar as 12 ounces of Coke – more sugar than the World Health Organization recommends for the average adult in a single day. Excess sugar consumption is linked with heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

The government is in a hard spot –do they support an industry that employs thousands of workers in the making of an unhealthy product or the health of Canadians who consume it?

When nature gives you tar sands, make carbon fibres

Oil sands crude prices have hit rock bottom. The future could be in the tar -the bitumen. The original name for the deposits, tar sands, should be restored because that’s where their potential value exists.

Image: Mining.com

Extracting oil from tar sands is done at great cost. Huge tracts of land are stripped and the tar sands are dug up or injecting with steam. Once it’s dug up, the thick goo has to be diluted just to get it through pipelines. To turn into useable petroleum, it has to be sent to refineries thousands of kilometres away. Because there aren’t enough pipelines to get it to refineries, and because convention oil is relatively cheap, the extraction of oil from tar sands is not profitable.

Beyond the cost of extracting oil from tar sands, there is the cost to the environment. Because extraction is so energy intensive, more greenhouse gases are produced than from conventional sources. Canada is the fifth largest producer of crude oil in the world but we produce 70 per cent more greenhouse gases per barrel than global averages according to Corporate Knight magazine (Fall, 2018). That higher average is because of the tar sands.

Then there are investment pressures that are moving away from fossil fuels. Europe’s largest asset manager is increasing its “decarbonized portfolios” and so is Canada’s second largest pension fund, Caisse of Québec.

Instead of burning the stuff as fuel, a better plan would be to extract the valuable byproducts of bitumen. An Alberta government agency, Alberta Innovates, is looking to producing derivatives of tar. In their report “Bitumen Beyond Combustion,” they suggest three possibilities.

The most obvious is asphalt for roads. The global market for asphalt is currently at $65 billion and is expected to grow. The tar sands now produce asphalt but the current method of transportation requires that the product be kept very hot for transport. A better way of moving asphalt to market is to turn it into pellets and ship it to markets. An engineer for Stantec engineering who worked on the report says:

“The infrastructure, the rail cars, are out there, the global pull, the pricing mechanisms – people are building roads all over the world everyday.”

Less obvious is the production of carbon fibres. Like any organic compound, bitumen is right for making carbon fibres. The fibres have a wide variety of applications including strong lightweight composite materials used in aircraft, aerospace, and wind industries. They strengthen cement and steel.

When used on their own, they can replace steel in automotive manufacture. If carbon fibres took just one per cent of the global steel market by 2030, that would require 3 million barrels of bitumen a day, one study found.

Another surprising component of tar sands is vanadium used in making batteries and high temperature metals. While one a barrel of bitumen contains only 30 millilitres of vanadium, millions of barrels would produce a lot of the metal.

At the current value of crude oil, it’s not worth mining the tar sands for petroleum. The bitumen, once regarded as a troublesome byproduct, may be the future of the tar sands.