Wednesday, October 8, 2014

One of those weeks! - off to war with Uncle Sam, Tar Sands and railroad follies redux

           This was an unexpectedly busy week for the Harper government.

           Canada has joined another "coalition of the willing" to fight the Islamic State in Irak and environs. Washington asked us for help. Harper held a not very informative "debate" in parliament. Nobody had much to say: all parties came with scripted presentations. It was all Pro Forma, anyway, for the sake of the media: with their majority, the Conservatives had the vote in the bag!

            One can only surmise why the Islamic State is behaving the way it is. Experts give variable opinions. My suspicion is that they are trying to provoke the West to make a lot of martyrs in the expectation that martyrs will attract warriors from the myriads of disaffected, alienated, frustrated young men in the world today. One recalls the propaganda value of martyrdom for the early Christian churches. The West forgets its own history on this point..

             In a sense, the Harper government, is probably getting off the hook easy. Preparations for war tend to put other pressing issues on the back burner, time during which the public may simply forget about them. War is the Ultimate Hot Button issue hence useful for rulers wishing to pull the wool over the public's eyes. Two thousand years ago, the Romans recognized this utility of war: a good war takes minds off how badly things are going at home. War rallies a divided nation..

            Beneath the preparations for war,Tar Sands "development" continues to scarify the environment of Alberta.

            To kick things off, Alberta's own auditor general found serious faults in a joint provincial - federal - industry tar sands monitoring program. The usual type of thing you see when the Harper government finds itself forced to "regulate" - or appear to regulate - the petrochemical or other extractive industries (mines..) Thus, reports are issued well after appointed deadlines (funny - no one suffers chastisement for these repeated delays. The same does not apply to the individual taxpayer and Revenue Canada on tax deadline day, one notes..) The latest annual report was, despite the delays, badly written, unclear and lacked key pieces of information. In other words, the work of people who don't believe in what they are doing. People payed by the taxpayers but just going through the motions of doing a job for the sake of public relations (and also knowing that the "boys upstairs" don't give a shit about monitoring the oil industry either). So much for industry "self-regulation"..

                     Industry self-regulation puts the fox in charge of the hen house

             Meanwhile, on the federal level, the Environment Commissioner found serious flaws in monitoring tar sands emissions. Drafted regulations have not been given the force of law hence amount to little more than public relations. Effects of volatile hydrocarbon emissions on human health (cancers..) are not being properly monitored despite the fact that some northern communities are at risk from emission level spikes that far exceed international or Canadian norms. 

             Finally, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) obtained leaked documents indicating that Transport Canada has been reviewing rail safety in the light of several derailments involving crude oil shipments, including the tragic Lac Mégantic, Québec conflagration which killed 47 last summer.

internal blog links: Key Words: Lac Megantic (8 articles)

            The documents received by the CBC indicate that railways are cutting costs by reducing staff to the minimum, one of the factors already indicted in the Lac Mégantic conflagration. The CBC documents reveal that due to erratic work schedules, most freight train drivers are operating in a highly fatigued state for an unacceptable fraction of their work hours. Some drivers are working in a state of fatigue such that their attention span and reflex speed are equivalent to those of a legally drunk man!

           Once again we encounter the notion of hidden costs or "externalities". During the last 4 decades, Western governments (and Third World states under International Monetary Fund, World Bank tutelage) have cut regulatory mechanisms. 
They were, of course, inspired by the (now) increasingly discredited neo-conservative, "Free Market" ideology. We are now beginning to realize, I believe, some of the hidden costs of this ideology: the Lac Mégantic tragedy for example. One of the real problem in assessing the hidden costs of neo-con economic ideology is how to apportion an economic cost to human lives, health, individual and collective well being. How much was each of the 47 lives lost in the avoidable Lac Mégantic tragedy worth? Do we merely assess lost income over the expected work life of the individuals? What about women who work in the home, how is their economic worth assessed? More fundamentally, is it even a valid exercise to attempt to assign an economic value to a human life?

            More evidence of Harper's foot-dragging, stalling, "smoke-and-mirrors" approach to greenhouse gas emissions. Keep the masses confused and dumb while the future of the planet is compromised in the name of international corporations' bottom line.. 


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