Friday, October 09, 2015

Kudos to Tunisia.

Congratulations to Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet for their well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize, 2015.

"Starting in 2011, the four members of the Quartet — the Tunisian General Labor Union, the Tunisian Human Rights League, the Tunisian Order of Lawyers, and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade, and Handicrafts — have served as crucial mediators among Tunisia’s various political forces, pressing relentlessly for compromise. Without them, political leadership in Tunisia might have been more combative than collaborative, derailing the democratic transition.

"In this context, the prize marks a remarkable achievement in the history of a nation that rose up five years ago and overthrew a strikingly durable and repressive regime. Since then Tunisians have exercised remarkable restraint and compromise as they have struggled to overcome the legacy of autocracy and the rise of new extremist threats."

In March I argued that Canada should stop wasting time and effort waging a futile bombing campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and should, instead, allocate our forces in support of Tunisia should Islamist radicals try to get a toehold there.

Our approach to ISIS - bombing - is futile. It amounts to "we'll bomb ISIS here but not there, there, there, there or there." Sounds pretty rational, doesn't it? Sort of like the Brits figuring to defeat Hitler by liberating the Channel Islands. Then again, you can never underestimate a government that has Harper at its head and Jason Kenney as its defence minister.

If we wanted to give ISIS a setback, we could begin with Tunisia. That's a great place to draw the line, to stop the spread of radical Sunni Islamists. We might not get to bomb anybody but sometimes you have to sacrifice for the greater good.

Why Tunisia? Because it has a population ready to turn out by the tens of thousands to denounce extremism. And these people know a thing or two because they're the same crowd that sparked the "Arab Spring" and achieved a stable democratic system for it.

Let's back Tunisia. Let's give them at least as much support as we're squandering on Iraq to make sure they have everything they need to anchor their democracy and deny ISIS the power vacuum so instrumental to its spread. Draw the line, stop the fanatical brigands here, and then slowly begin rolling them back.

...Our role won't be political or cultural. There'll be no economic back story. It'll simply be that we, Canada, have decided that Tunisia shall not be threatened, or attacked and never, ever destroyed. And we, Canada, (not some coalition of the feckless and compromised) will stand surety for their democracy and liberty.

We're doing this not just for Tunisia but for us too and for everyone else. Where better but a stable, democratic and free (from both Islamic and Western dogma) Arab state to bring the Muslim world into the 21st century and show that Islam and democracy are not remotely mutually exclusive.

Tunisia should really be seen by the outside world as the true, irreplaceable gem in the crown. Where are we if we lose that?

I am delighted that this Tunisian peace group won the Nobel prize but that's no guarantee it won't encourage the Islamists to try to knock them off the rails.  It was just four months ago that Islamist gunmen massacred tourists on Tunisia's beaches. More could follow. The idea that I raised in March still stands. Canada should stand surety for Tunisia's democracy, liberty and peace.

Keep Those Snow Shovels Handy

It's unknown how this will translate on our side of the Atlantic this winter but Britain is bracing for four months of very heavy snowfall.  British meteorologists have made the call based on the interaction of a record El Nino event, a negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation combined with a negative shift in the Arctic Oscillation that could trigger months of polar outflow winds.

The weather models suggest that Britain, top to bottom, could be under a heavy blanket of snow from December to March.

Global Food Security - Rubbing Salt in the Wounds of the Already Insecure

The Brits have a term for it, "chasing the sun." This describes how Britain's industrial agri-giants ensure that consumers will always find high-value products such as fresh strawberries on the shelves at Sainsbury's. They do it by establishing a global chain of production facilities. As the growing season in the UK closes, strawberry production shifts to Spain. After that it moves to Africa and so on. This ensures that somewhere around the world strawberries are being grown for shipment to British markets.

This is fine in theory but monstrous in practice. A lot of the production occurs in poorer nations that are already food insecure. Industrial producers come in and simply muscle out the locals, often land-grabbing the best farmland to meet the market demands thousands of miles distant. It's a piece of cake displacing the locals from the land their ancestors might have farmed for centuries thanks to corrupt government officials and the lack of any land title registration. Families don't get titles to their ancestral lands because there are no titles available. Foreign companies, however, get title deeds quick enough.

One of these countries I studied last year was Kenya. It could be a poster child for land grabbing. Which is why I was dismayed to read an article today that almost half the food grown in Kenya for Europe is wasted.

"Last December I traveled to Kenya to meet farmers and exporters supplying fresh produce to European retailers. I visited farms and pack houses around the country that were routinely throwing away vast amounts of perfectly good food and were losing money as a result. An average of 44.5 percent of the food grown for Europe was being discarded, not because of spoilage, but because it did not meet the cosmetic specifications of the major European retailers.

"Every exporter and producer I met had experienced rejecting their produce because it did not meet the grade. In addition, the drive for producing perfect food meant that farmers always over produced, using unnecessary quanities of resources like land and water to grow food that would never be eaten."

"Last minute order cancellations, whether explicit or based upon false quality claims, unfairly transfer financial risk from the market towards those at the bottom of the food chain, resulting in colossal amounts of food and resources being wasted. With diminishing selling power, fresh produce suppliers are unable to sell their highly perishable produce, meaning it is fed to livestock or dumped."

But, of course, the consumer almost never sees the dark side that lurks behind that lovely fresh produce in the grocery stores.  Big Agra goes to great lengths to ensure we never will.

Since When Did "Dumb Ass" Become a Credential?

That's Mel on the Right

Mel Arnold is not a scientist. Mel Arnold is a dumb ass. He's running for the Cons in North Okanagan-Shuswap and he's showing that he has what it takes to be a loyal member of Team Harper.

Mel has come to the media's attention for his perfectly Harperian views on anthropogenic (man-made) climate change. As far as Mel is concerned, it's not anthropogenic. It's not man-made.

"I don't know that it has been determined for sure that human activity is the main cause. It is part of the process," said Arnold. "But how much of it is actually naturally occurring, that's I think where the debate is."

Arnold said he believes approximately 1.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada are man-made and believes cycles of climate change could be responsible for the rise in global temperatures following the industrial revolution.

"As you know, this area was once buried in kilometres of thick ice during the ice ages. And we have approximately 30 year cycles on weather conditions here. Those types of things are still in play."

Like any good Tory candidate, Mel is long on belief and opinion and desperately short on science and fact. He still uses words such as "know" and "think" when he really means "believe" and "guess." Very much like how Shifty Steve knows that marijuana is "infinitely worse" than tobacco when medical science consistently says that's not true or believes that Canada is in the midst of a major crime spree when crime rates have been falling steadily for decades.

Guys like Mel and Shifty are all we need to realize that, when it comes to Conservatives and their approach to governance, "dumb ass" is their default operating mode.

Looking for the Exit Door

So, what are you doing for the rest of the century? In the context of Canada and the Middle East that might be a question worth asking.

Let's start with the Golden Oldies: Operation Desert Storm. Ah, who can forget those wonderful days, those seven magical months from August, 1990 until February, 1991 when we put aside our differences long enough to drive Saddam out of Kuwait?

Barring a brief ceasefire or two, our side and their side have been at it pretty much continuously ever since.  That's a quarter century now. Four times longer than WWII, impressive.

What's less than impressive is what we've achieved for our quarter-century of precision-guided mayhem.  No, I don't mean the development of new weapons of carnage such as drones. I mean things such as peace and stability, the hallmarks of victory. For all the cruise missiles, the drone attacks, our never-ending "whack-a-mole" air campaigns and our ground conquests, all the money and the lives, we've got remarkably little positive to show for it.  Plenty on the negative side, however.

There's al Qaeda, al Nusra and ISIS, the Islamic State, and all their branch plant operations that have now spread from northwest Africa to Indonesia and China. We've done wonders at rekindling the embers of theological civil war between the Sunni and Shiite Muslim camps.  I wonder how many extended Muslim families don't have some cousin waging Jihad somewhere. There are so many opportunities to pick from.

You know you're in trouble when the Golden Rule, the one about "my enemy's enemy" has gone all to hell. In the Middle East, our "friends" are attacking those who are fighting our enemies, and we're just fine with it. We support Shiites battling Sunnis here and Sunnis battling Shiites there. It's sort of like sending reinforcements to Robert E. Lee here and Ulysses S. Grant there. Cognitive dissonance meet laser-guided munitions.

Now you might have thought we'd have paid some attention to de-clustering this enormous clusterf__k of our own making.  Hardly. Welcome to "mine enemy's enemy is mine enemy too." Yet that doesn't stop us from picking sides a la carte and being all self-righteous about it.

Buggered if we'd ever admit it but it's hard not to see our handiwork at play in the spread of Islamist radicalism across the span of the Muslim world.  We sort of got it kick-started when we backed Osama & Co. in the Soviet war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989.  Like most of our adventures into the realm of the Prophet we were using the mujis, including al Qaeda, for our purposes, not for their benefit. That's why we really didn't give a shit what our "friends" did after the Russian armoured columns retreated back to the Rodina. At least not until our "friends" started bombing embassies and warships and, finally, Manhattan real estate. Then, oh yes, we gave a shit, did we ever.

If they turned it into a university course it might have a catchy name like "Failed states - a "how to" guide, 101." Or maybe we could turn it into a recipe, "just add water and stir" or "rinse and repeat."

We could give it on all our campuses - Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt (opening soon), Libya, Algeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  Wait, did I just say Saudi Arabia? Why, yes, I did. An interesting article in Foreign Policy suggests the crown jewel of the Sunni Muslim world may be starting to come apart at the seams.

As if there weren’t already enough problems to worry about in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia might be headed for trouble. From plummeting oil prices to foreign-policy missteps to growing tensions with Iran, a confluence of recent events is mounting to pose some serious challenges for the Saudi regime. If not properly managed, these events could eventually coalesce into a perfect storm that significantly increases the risk of instability within the kingdom, with untold consequences for global oil markets and security in the Middle East.

Here's the gist of it.  The unrest begins with dissent within the Saudi royal family itself.

Last week, the Guardian published two letters that an anonymous Saudi prince recently circulated among senior members of the royal family, calling on them to stage a palace coup against King Salman. The letters allege that Salman, who ascended to the throne in January, and his powerful 30-something son Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have pursued dangerous policies that are leading the country to political, economic, and military ruin. In an interview with theGuardian, the prince insisted that his demand for a change in leadership not only had growing support within the royal family but across broader Saudi society as well.

Then there's the Saudis' David and Goliath war on Yemen's Houthi rebels that is playing out according to the Biblical script.

In its story on the prince’s letters, the Guardian reported that “many Saudis are sickened by the sight of the Arab world’s richest country pummelling its poorest.” Particular blame is attached to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also serves as the kingdom’s defense minister and by all accounts has been the driving force behind the war effort. Tagged with the unofficial nickname “Reckless,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been accused of rushing into Yemen without a clear strategy or exit plan, resulting in mounting costs in blood and treasure, an ever-expanding humanitarian crisis, and growing international criticism.

For a people who don't seem to blink an eye at the live TV broadcast of some woman being butchered by a headsman's sword in the public square to go all wobbly over the plight of Yemenis suggests something is indeed afoot.

Then there's the Saudi economy, long may it falter.

Saudi Arabia’s 2015 budget was based on the assumption that oil would be selling at about $90 per barrel. Today, it’s closer to half that. At the same time, the Saudis have incurred a rash of expenses that weren’t planned for, including those associated with King Salman’s ascendance to the throne (securing loyalty for a new king can be expensive business) and the war in Yemen.

The result is a budget deficit approaching 20 percent, well over $100 billion, requiring the Saudis to deplete their huge foreign exchange reserves at a record rate (about $12 billion per month) while also accelerating bond sales. The Saudis have reportedlyliquidated more than $70 billion of their holdings with global asset managers in just the past 6 months.

Get this. The "oil rich" Saudis may soon start running out of oil. That's much akin to being in a jetliner over a vast ocean and running out of fuel.

Adding to long-term concerns is the fact that Saudi net oil exports have been in slow decline for years as internal energy consumption rises dramatically. Indeed, analysts now suggest that rapidly expanding domestic demand could render the kingdom a net importer of oil by the 2030s. It goes without saying that such a development poses a mortal threat to the kingdom, where oil sales still account for 80 to 90 percent of state revenues.

As for battling deficits by cutting expenses and imposing austerity, it’s hardly an attractive option for a government whose main weapon for staving off domestic discontent since the start of the 2011 Arab uprisings has been to shower its people with more free stuff. Energy subsidies alone have comprised about 20 percent of Saudi GDP. There are also extensive subsides for food, housing, water, and a wide range of other consumer goods. As they mull the risks of reform, you can be sure that the Saudis are acutely aware of the role that sharp increases in the cost of living played in triggering revolts across the Middle East, including in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen.

And then there's the Saudi royal family's rapidly fraying lifeline, the United States.

Russia’s dramatic intervention in Syria has underscored a much broader threat now rocking the kingdom: the growing reality that America is abandoning its traditional role as guarantor of Middle East stability. That’s of course very bad news for the Saudis, who have hitched their survival for 70 years to Pax Americana. Now, that U.S.-defended order appears to be unraveling before their eyes. Instead, the new normal is Washington cutting diplomatic deals that promise to embolden the kingdom’s worst enemy in Iran, while protesting meekly as its main geopolitical rival, Russia, seeks to overturn the region’s balance of power. As surely as night follows day, the rapid decline of American power and reliability inevitably leaves Saudi Arabia increasingly exposed and vulnerable.

And, to sum up:

Call up any list of warning signs that a society may be approaching the danger zone with respect to possible instability and match it up against what seems to be happening in the kingdom today. Growing elite fissures: check. Mired in a costly foreign war: check. Increasing economic stress: check. Signs of eroding legitimacy: check. Rising power of hostile foreign actors: check. Declining power of traditional foreign protectors: check.

No one knows how this is going to play out because a lot of that hinges on Washington. However, for Canada, the reality that Washington has become dysfunctional, perhaps even psychotic governmentally, should be our cue to get while the getting's good.  "Whack-a-mole" is not a strategy now matter how strenuously our incompetent military and political leadership claim otherwise.

In the Middle East we don't know who our friends are, mainly because we don't have any, not really. We're not doing a damn bit of good over there unless, perhaps, you're in the Afghan opium trade or hold shares in America's corporate war machine.  Those hissing noises are fuzes burning fiercely. Vlad Putin is now eating our lunch in Syria. There are too many players going in too many directions that establishing a rational policy is a matter of herding cats.

It's time to put on our long pants and start acting like grownups. We can start with one rule - no more wars without end. No wars unless we know going in what victory looks like and that we have the means and the will to prevail in the limited time before public support evaporates. Of course that means, for Canada, no more Middle Eastern wars even if we're just in some hapless coalition. It's time to find the exit door.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Does TPP Sabotage Climate Change Action?

Clause 20 of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement sounds pretty good. "The 12 Parties agree to effectively enforce their environmental laws; and not to weaken environmental laws in order to encourage trade or investment." What's not to like there?

All is not as it seems.  While the TPP purports to uphold existing environmental laws, it may leave signatory nations incapable of passing new environmental enactments.  Cracking down on carbon emissions, new carbon taxes, upgraded cap and trade schemes could all run afoul of corporate polluters who could sue for injunctions or compensation.

Marijuana (Users) "Infintely Worse" Than Cigarette Smokers

To Shifty Steve Harper's little mind, marijuana is 'infinitely worse' than tobacco as a public health hazard. Of course Shifty's lizard brain isn't programmed to tell the truth. Fact is he couldn't give a Shifty Shit about the public health aspects of marijuana versus tobacco. Let's decode what he's really trying to say.

Marijuana users are infinitely worse for Steve's re-election prospects when they actually manage to get to the voting booth.  Cigarette smokers, by contrast, tend to fall into the "dumb ass" category more likely to vote Harper.

There, now it all makes sense. Marijuana is infinitely worse.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Real Killer Will be Heat Stress

The death certificate may list kidney disease or heart failure but that could mask the real cause of death - heat stress.  A New Zealand expert on the subject, Dr. Tord Kjellstrom, warns that, with 4-billion people from the world's temperate, tropical and sub-tropical zones already at risk, heat stress may be the most lethal impact of climate change for the balance of this century.

For nearly 20 years Kjellstrom, and more lately the RCRC team, have researched the impact of climate change heat-stress on working people and the lost production and resulting downward slide in national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Kjellstrom, is a softly spoken medical doctor and also holds a masters in mechanical engineering. He has 40 years experience of teaching and research in environmental and occupational health, and epidemiology. He has held professor positions in universities in Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, and United Kingdom.

He worked 12 years at the World Health Organization in Geneva and was the WHO's Office of Global and Integrated Environmental Health director ,with responsibility, for climate change and health from 1994 to 1997.

Kjellstrom said it is not storms or rising sea levels that will be climate change's greatest threat to human life in the next 100 years - but heat exposure. He says it is here already and people are dying.

..."We have 4000 million people already at risk."

The ideal core body temperature for humans is around 37 degrees C. Once it rises to 39C heat stress and strain sets in, organs can be damaged and at higher temperatures death may occur.

Kjellstrom said poor workers were already dying in parts of the world from kidney disease and heart failure in locations ranging from the sugar cane fields of El Salvador and Nicaragua to Qatar where 185 workers died in 2013 building stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in sweltering conditions.

Poor manual workers in hot countries faced major hurdles, he said. They had to work to survive, they could often not carry or source enough potable water to hydrate daily, they usually lived without cooling systems and they faced major migration barriers.

The overall results were health impacts, deaths and was lower production output.

"There are millions and millions of people who do all the work by hand. When it gets up to a certain heat level you can not keep up the pace of work," he said.

"If you lose two per cent of your annual GDP over a 30 years period your average income in the country will be half as much as it could have been."

Even small changes in temperature impact on people.

"Even now construction workers in hot parts of the year can not work in the afternoons. This aspect of heat and how it affects people's lives has, until recently been more or less ignored or not given much emphasis."

Danny Williams States the Obvious - We Can't Trust Harper - on TPP or Anything

Former Newfoundland PC premier, Danny Williams, doesn't mince words when it comes to Stephen Joseph Harper. In fact, he thinks the guy is a real snake:

As Clear as Mud

In under 2-minutes, the BBC explains who is fighting whom in Syria. It's as clear as mud.

So What's Our Excuse?

Amnesty International is urging Britain's Cameron government to stop arms shipments to Saudi Arabia.  Amnesty claims the weapons are being used to deliberately slaughter civilians in Houthi-rebel controlled parts of Yemen.

Amnesty said it found a pattern of “appalling disregard” for civilian lives by the Saudi-led coalition in an investigation of 13 air strikes in north-eastern Saada governorate during May, June and July: these killed some 100 civilians – including 59 children and 22 women and injured a further 56, including 18 children.

Since last March coalition air strikes have hit homes, schools, markets and other civilian infrastructure, as well as miltiary objectives. Saada, a Houthi stronghold, has been badly hit. Thousands who remain in the governorate “live in constant fear of the airstrikes and dire humanitarian conditions”, Amnesty says.

Canada is also on the Saudi weapons of indiscriminate destruction/war crimes gravy train with Harper having inked a $15-billion deal for the sale of light armoured fighting vehicles (light tanks) presumably for democracy suppression patrols. The deal supposedly gags Harper from discussing (having to explain) the sale but seemingly leaves him quite free to excuse it on the basis that, if we didn't sell Saudis its instruments of carnage then some other nation would.

For the radical Sunni Muslim House of Saud, being a Shiite Muslim is enough to qualify you for live-fire target practice.  Fortunately, that exempts the devoutly Sunni al Qaeda, al Nusra and ISIS terrorists/insurgents from Saudi bloodlust. Yemen's Houthi rebels daily fight ISIS and al Qaeda forces while the Saudis, with the active support of Canada, Britain and the US, wage a ground and air war against the Houthis.

If you're interested in this curious murderous mess, check out this episode of VICE TV. The Houthi segment begins at the 17:00 minute mark. It's an eye-opener.

Keeping with the theme of "So What's Our Excuse?" let's talk bitumen and the armada of supertankers that may soon ply British Columbia's coast.  Roger Annis has written an important report, "The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis," for CounterPunch that should be required reading for every British Columbian before they vote in the federal election.  The only party that's even partly standing up for this province and our incredibly fragile ecosystems is Elizabeth May's Green Party and even May is a bit wobbly on bitumen trafficking.

Which brings us to the first segment of the VICE TV episode above concerning the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and how BP used a highly toxic chemical, Corexit, that, instead of dispersing the oil as promised simply made it far more lethal and sank it to contaminate the bottom and the marine life that is found there. Watch it. It's a genuine call to arms.

h/t Northern PoV

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

I Should Go Away More Often

It's pleasant having a few days off, in this case for a daughter's wedding.  Let's put it another way - no news is good news, at least every now and then.

This morning I hit up CBC's web site to learn that they figure the election is now a two way knife fight. They're calling the runoff Trudeau versus Harper. Mulcair, it seems, is being written off.

"What [Justin] Trudeau's team is trying to do, what Trudeau is trying to do, is look at who they would deem is their prime competition, which is the prime minister," said Conservative strategist Jason Lietaer. "Likewise, you won't see the prime minister mentioning [Tom] Mulcair very much from now on until the end."

The Conservative and Liberal battleground is well known — the Greater Toronto Area and Lower Mainland of B.C., Lietaer said, and both parties "will be throwing everything they've got" into those two areas, trying to drive home their message to Canadians.

"I expect there to be a very clear choice presented by both the Liberals and the Conservatives over the next two weeks about what the various options are. At the very end of this, there's very likely to be either Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And I think both of them won't shy away from, in their own way, presenting that choice."

Much as I hate to give unsolicited advice to New Dems maybe,  just maybe, this is the time for Mr. Mulcair to decide whether he really wants Harper to be prime minister again.

Destroyer Down - Again

Canada's geriatric Atlantic fleet flagship, HMCS Athabaskan, is getting a reputation for impromptu port calls when its tired engines falter and fail.

The old warrior was on its way to scare the bejeezus out of Vlad Putin when one of its engines crapped out sending it dockside in the UK to await repairs.  Ottawa Citizen defence correspondent, David Pugliese, writes that the navy's last destroyer, a veteran of 43-years service, has been having a pretty rough time of it lately.

HMCS Athabaskan, the flagship of Canada’s Atlantic fleet, was also sidelined earlier in the summer with cracks in its hull and various other engine issues, the Citizen reported in July.

Earlier this year, the ship broke down in Florida because of engine problems. It later broke down in the Caribbean, again because of engine issues.

HMCS Athabaskan sailors have contacted the Citizen to note a litany of problems, including limitations on fresh water on board the vessel. The ship has also been stripped of some of its radars and weapon systems, sailors say.

But the navy says it has confidence in the ship’s ability to continue to meet its duties. “It should be mentioned that HMCS Athabaskan’s role within the fleet has evolved over time,” said navy spokeswoman Lt. Linda Coleman. “During its service life, it has served as a platform capable of long-range anti-submarine warfare, area air defence, and enhanced command and control. Today, HMCS Athabaskan continues to fill a role that meets the current requirements of the fleet.”

The navy is trying to cope with a dwindling number of ships. The destroyers HMCS Algonquin and HMCS Iroquois were recently decommissioned. Iroquois was taken out of service after cracks were found in her hull. Another destroyer, HMCS Huron, was decommissioned, then sunk in 2007.

Of course Athabaskan's role "has evolved over time." With any luck, some day it'll evolve into an artificial reef.

The Real Bruce Carson Scandal - The One You Paid For

Former Harper aide Bruce Carson had a one-day trial last month for illegal lobbying. That involved a water purification venture that he pitched to First Nations groups on behalf of his then stripper/escort/girlfriend.  Dirty Old Man stuff indeed.

But old Brucie's fat is still very much in the fire. This time it goes beyond Carson's sordid indulgences and extends right into Harper's cabinet, his PMO, the University of Calgary and Canada's major oil producers.  The Tyee's Andrew Nikiforuk describes it as Canada's biggest political scandal you never heard of.

The tale involves Big Oil, millions of taxpayer dollars, call girls and someone the RCMP describes as "one of the prime minister's longest serving advisors": Bruce Carson.

And it largely took place at Stephen Harper's alma mater: the University of Calgary between 2009 and 2011 with a cast of industry CEOs as well as several Harper ministers and aides, including Nigel Wright.

The basic plan was to use $15 million in taxpayers' money for a university think-tank, chaired by Carson, to foster with industry and the federal government a plan to rebrand the oilsands mega-project as "responsible" and "sustainable" and "clean."

The name of that think-tank Carson would run: the Canada School of Energy and Environment (CSEE).


The 1989 Lobbying Act bans public office holders from lobbying for five years after they have left office.

The act requires anyone paid to communicate or set up meetings with federal public office holders on a variety of subjects set out in the statute to register their activities in the Registry of Lobbyists, a federal list with more than 5,000 names.

The act, however, is weakly enforced and full of loopholes. Between 2005 and 2010, the nation's lobbying commissioner referred only 11 cases to the RCMP. No charges were laid.

Since then the Office of the Lobbying Commissioner, the RCMP and Crown prosecutors have decided not to penalize 67 lobbyists caught violating the act and Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.

Their identities have been kept secret.

To date, only one person has been found guilty of violating the act, and only two other people have been charged with violating it, including Bruce Carson.

Democracy Watch calculates that nearly 1,600 people have violated the Lobbying Act and Lobbyists' Code of Conduct since 2004, but that 95 per cent of them were not caught and that 81 per cent were left off the hook.

"Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd has clearly failed to enforce the federal lobbying law and code effectively as she has failed to even name and shame 81 per cent of the lobbyists caught violating the law," saidDuff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and visiting professor at the University of Ottawa in a 2015 press release.

"Together with the RCMP and Crown prosecutors, she has a negligently weak enforcement record as bad as the former integrity commissioner's record, and so Democracy Watch is calling on the auditor general to do a similar review as the auditor did in 2010 of the former integrity commissioner's performance."

Conacher says the act needs to be strengthened as recommended by a 2012 reportby the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information to end secret and unethical lobbying.

The Harper government promised during the 2006 election to end secret lobbying of the federal government, but to date it has not kept its promise. -- Andrew Nikiforuk

The whole case shows clearly that [the] prime minister didn't care about the ethics of who worked for him as long as he thought they could help him win and stay in power," says Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and visiting professor at the University of Ottawa.

"And it shows clearly that the Conservatives broke their promises to clean up the federal government."

Which brings us back to the PMO and Harper's litany of lies when the media finally got wise to the jailbird in the prime minister's office. In true Harper form, this equally unprincipled prime minister, anted up with the opening lie. This began with the story that Harper was let down by his staffers who failed to properly vet Carson before he was allowed into the PMO. Harper said if only he'd known about Carson's criminal background he would have never set foot inside the PMO. When that bluff didn't work, Harper went for the follow-up lies, eventually conceding that he knew just a little bit of Carson's background but thought the guy deserved a second chance, an opportunity for redemption.

By Nikiforuk's account, that was all pure, unadulterated, prime ministerial bullshit.

Carson, who looks like pugilist, long has had ties to Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. He served as director of policy and research for the federal leader of the Opposition from 2004 to 2006.

Harper liked what he saw. After the election Harper promptly elevated Carson to senior advisor from 2006 to 2008. In 2009, Carson also assisted the government with its federal budget.

The political power broker had a formidable reputation. He often described himself as the "mechanic," a political fixer who got things done in the corridors of power.

In fact, Harper often began conversations with his former top advisor "in his usual complimentary way," writes Carson, by saying since you are "familiar with every vice known to man," can you help me with this or that problem.

..."The Duffy scandal was about trying to cover up an expenses scandal, but the Carson saga shows the rot goes much deeper," says Keith Stewart, head of the climate and energy campaign for Greenpeace Canada.

"Carson could lobby for the oil industry at the highest levels without anyone raising an eyebrow because the Harper government forgot that they work for Canadians, not oil CEOs."

The courts have yet to rule on any of the charges against Carson.

Stewart met Carson just once at an Energy Café organized by Shell in Calgary in 2011 before Carson's energy world came undone.

According to Stewart, when Stewart introduced himself, Carson blurted: "Will you take down that blog you wrote about me?"

Stewart's blog detailed EPIC's lobbying efforts. But Carson was most upset that Stewart had mentioned that the former advisor had been disbarred as a lawyer.

The blog remains.

Putin Rides to the Defence of Westphalia

Few would dispute that Vlad Putin can be a little thuggish but, when it comes to Russian intervention in Syria, his arguments do hold some water.

Putin points an accusing finger at the West's recent history of demolishing sovereign states and leaving utter chaos in their wake - Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Kosovo and now Syria. Our side doesn't have a lot of successes to boast of - unless you consider Grenada or Panama great victories. Mark Twain was thinking of someone remarkably like us when he wrote that, to a man who has only a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Experts in this sort of thing regularly point out that, around the world, the nation state is becoming an endangered species.  The stitching is beginning to fray from any number of causes - ethnic tensions and tribalism; the rise of non-state actors from militias to rebels, insurgents and organized, transnational criminal gangs; water and food insecurity and the destabilizing ravages of climate change.  The status quo that once held us together domestically and internationally is weakening and, in some obvious hotspots, collapsing.

The very concept of state sovereignty is considered to be rooted in the Peace of Westphalia of 1648.  It embodied notions of territorial integrity, self-determination, legal equality between states and non-intervention. The Soviets, in their time, wiped their boots on these principles but, in the course of this century, it's been the West that has tossed Westphalia into the rubbish bin, which, in the context of Syria, presented Putin with an open door.

"The only way to solve this problem for good is to restore statehood where it has been destroyed," Putin said, by shoring up "the legitimate government of Syria".

A leading Putinologist at the Brookings Institution, Fiona Hill, told me: "There shouldn't be so much mystification about what the Russians are doing. They've been very consistent and very direct. They've been asking: if not Assad, who? They want to see a strongman in place who can keep order."

What else does Russia want in Syria? Some hawks charge that Putin's decision looks like a campaign to make Russia a major military power in the entire Middle East. But Hill and other experts describe Russian goals as more limited and practical, and even defensive.

The Assad regime has been Russia's most dependable ally in the Middle East for more than 40 years. Assad's father, president Hafez Assad, asked the Soviet Union for military aid and gave the Soviet navy a base in Tartus, on the Mediterranean coast, in 1971, when Bashar Assad was six years old.

Russia's initial airstrikes were clearly designed to help Assad defend his home territory in western Syria against a growing rebel threat. That's why the first targets included units of the US-backed rebel coalition instead of Islamic State, which is concentrated in eastern Syria.

Still, Russia is worried about Islamic State, too. Russian officials say more than 2000 Russian citizens have joined the extremist group, many of them Muslims from Chechnya, the rebellious republic in southern Russia. "Now that those thugs have tasted blood, we can't allow them to return home," Putin said at the UN.

So Russia is involved in Syria for practical domestic reasons, not merely the pursuit of prestige. But global factors are real, too. Mired in diplomatic isolation by his 2014 invasion of Ukraine, Putin clearly didn't mind being able to command a meeting with the US President last week.

And that brings us to American policy in Syria, which is, alas, much less clear than Russia's. While Russia has sent planes and troops to shore up its client, Obama has refused to put American forces directly into the fight, except for airstrikes against Islamic State.

Putin's policy is ugly – Russian airstrikes produced immediate reports of civilian casualties – but effective for its purpose. Obama's policy is high-minded and prudent, but it has been painfully ineffective.

US officials think Putin's strategy will in the long run earn Russia lasting enmity from the Sunni Arabs who are a majority in the Middle East. But in the short run, Putin appears to be getting what he wants: a guaranteed seat at the table.

When will we come to our senses and recognize that "whack-a-mole" endless, ineffective, even counterproductive bombing campaigns are simply bad policy; bad foreign policy, bad military policy. Killing people does not a military victory make. I'm not sure our military and political leadership even recall what a victory is or why it matters.

Read more: 
Follow us: @smh on Twitter | sydneymorningherald on Facebook

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Perfect Timing! Harper is Closing in the Polls so Mulcair Moves to Attack Trudeau.

Where have I heard that song before?

Harper's poll numbers are rebounding and so, in the full tradition of the Great Layton, Mulcair is focusing the NDP's efforts on attacking Trudeau.

How I cast my vote on October 19th is irrelevant, utterly inconsequential, especially in contrast to what Mulcair is doing to aid and abet Stephen Harper's bid to cling to power. It's what the NDP did to Martin. It's what they did to Ignatieff. And now it's Mulcair's turn to do the same goddamned thing to the Trudeau Liberals.

Might as well enjoy it. I'm sorry and I hate to point this out but, if this music doesn't embed itself in you at some quasi-primal lebel, you got to ask yourself just what that tells you.

Are We Heading for the Crimean Showdown Only in Syria?

For months there were great fears that the standoff between NATO and Russia over Ukraine could get out of control, Cold War II turning into WWIII in a heartbeat.  Putin even grumbled about using his considerable arsenal of nuclear weapons if pushed too hard.

True to form, the West got all hot and bothered until, in due course, it got bored with playing SitzKrieg on Ukraine's borders. Besides there were plenty of Muslims for the bombing in Iraq and Syria. If there's one game that never gets old, it's "Whack-a-Mole."

Putin could have done victory laps of Red Square to mark his stare down victory over the West. He could have but that's not Vlad's style. So where could he put a burr under our saddle?  Of course, Syria!

There's a certain symmetry to what's going on. We, the West, are backing the Sunni Muslim potentates. We're even willing to overlook their indiscretions such as birthing outfits like al Qaeda and ISIS. So, in classic Cold War 101 fashion, if one side aligns with one side, the other cozies up to the other. We had first pick and chose the Sunnis. They'll take our leavings, the Shiites.

By throwing in with Assad, Putin gets something we can't have - a base of operations inside Syria itself. The Russkies took over a Syrian airfield, built up the runways, landed a bunch of tanks and naval infantry (Speznatz maybe?) before flying in a bunch of bombers and strike fighters.  Word has it they're also bringing in Russia's supremely capable surface to air missiles, the S-300. Hey, at least they're not bringing in the S-400.

The S-300 batteries are Putin's calling card to the West. The rebs don't have an air force and neither does ISIS. No, the S-300 is designed to turn modern Western warplanes into lawn darts. Those missile batteries are Putin's way of proclaiming A2/AD, the ever popular anti-access and area denial capability. It's sort of like telling the West, "we'll let you fly here but we do reserve the right to change our minds." Short of a pre-emptive attack on Russian forces, we have to concede the point.

We're mighty miffed that Putin's warplanes aren't attacking ISIS but are, instead, going after the anti-Assad rebels that we're backing. So what? Assad, monster that he may be, is still the legitimate head of state of Syria and Russia is in Syria as his guest. And if, on behalf of their man Assad, Russian warplanes are targeting anti-Assad rebels, what are we going to do about it?

Are we going to funnel sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to the rebels knowing how ISIS often succeeds in getting its hands on that sort of thing? Dare we risk having the rebels down Russian warplanes, legally in Syria, with our weaponry that could have been given to them for just that purpose?

There's more of a showdown to this than we imagine and it has the potential to escalate. So far Putin hasn't deployed his capable air superiority fighters, the Su-30/35s. They would pose a direct and lethal challenge to Western aircraft, one that would invite Western escalation.

Update: Iran is now in the game in Syria. Hundreds of Iranian troops have been deployed to Syria to support a government offensive against the rebels and ISIS. It's hard to see how Israel will respond to having an Iranian military presence in Syria.  Think Golan Heights.

A Civilization Living in an Antique Shop

You know as soon as you disembark from your train at London's Victoria Station that you're strolling through a genuine antique, a window in time.  The station, which came into full operation in the 1860s, sports ornate overhead girder structures supporting an array of glass panels that really seem, well, Victorian.

They don't make'em like that anymore and more's the pity. Yet we're surrounded by antiquated infrastructure that largely goes out of sight/out of mind. It's only when these structures and systems fail that we pay them any notice.

Take your electricity grid, especially you residents of Quebec and Ontario. It's a grid but it's more like a patchwork quilt combining new and old, high and low capacity sections and these critical nodes that when even one fails can bring the whole grid down meaning "lights out" for vast sections of eastern Canada and the U.S.

There have been plenty of warnings about the need for a new grid but privately owned utilities aren't all that keen on costly, long-term investments. Not good for the bottom line.

Aging, antiquated and enfeebled grid system meet climate change your new nemesis. Don't worry, you're not alone. Most of the other infrastructure is in the same boat. Everything is vulnerable to some threat be it storms, flooding, heatwaves or sea level rise.

The world’s energy infrastructure is at risk from the extreme weather expected to result from climate change, a group of prominent energy companies has warned.

Energy systems, including fossil fuel power stations, distribution grids, and the networks that reach to people’s homes, are all at risk from effects such as flooding, severe storms and sea level rises, according to a new report from the World Energy Council, which brings together energy companies, academics and public sector agencies.

When energy systems fail, the knock-on effects on other aspects of modern infrastructure - from water and sewage to transport and health - can be catastrophic.

Christoph Frei, secretary-general of the World Energy Council (WEC), warned that the question of the resilience of modern energy systems under the threat of imminent disaster must be treated as one of great urgency. “We are on a path where today’s unlikely events will be tomorrow’s reality,” he said. “We need to imagine the unlikely. Traditional systems, based on predicted events, no longer operate in isolation.”

WEC warned that the number of extreme weather events globally had risen by a factor of more than four in the past three decades, from about 38 events - such as major storms, heatwaves and flooding - to 174 events in 2014. The insurance industry has struggled to keep up, with global insured losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters reaching $35bn (£23bn) last year, with the losses of the uninsured exceeding $130bn.

Well, there's another urgent warning that'll be flushed straight down the memory hole. We're getting really, really good at that.

Ah, Jeebus! Is Everything Rigged?

Last week it was Volkswagen getting caught having embedded "defeat device" code into its diesel engine systems to confound emissions testers.  Then it was news that just about every other manufacturer's diesels are likewise nowhere near as clean as they claim.

Okay, I get it - diesels are bad, almost as bad as the companies that foist them off on the public.  But this?  Televisions?

Independent lab tests have found that some Samsung TVs in Europe appear to use less energy during official testing conditions than they do during real-world use, raising questions about whether they are set up to game energy efficiency tests.

The European commission says it will investigate any allegations of cheating the tests and has pledged to tighten energy efficiency regulations to outlaw the use of so-called “defeat devices” in TVs or other consumer products, after several EU states raised similar concerns.

Isn't it time we gave this deregulation movement the boot?  The Listeria crisis of 2008 showed what can happen when industry is invited to regulate itself. Giving the pipeline companies freedom from the regulator's boot has brought predictable results. Now we discover everyone from the automotive to the electronics industry are well established at gaming the system. Industry won't protect us. No, that costs money. Protecting us is our government's job even though they may have fettered their powers to do that under various trade agreements (without our knowledge or consent).

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How the Empire Falls

Flag designed by Mark Twain. No, really.

You may remember Lawrence Wilkerson, former secretary of state Colin Powell's chief of staff.  A veteran of combat in Vietnam, Wilkerson went on to serve with the US Navy and Marine Corps. He's been an assistant to Powell when he was National Security Advisor to Reagan and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

For all of that, Wilkerson proved to be anything but some rightwing zealot. He now lectures quite a bit and has given some eye-opening talks on the looming demise of the American empire.

Wilkerson warns that America's empire might meet its end abruptly in chaos. He sees the signs of imminent demise in attributes the USA shares with former great empires. A sign of the end is when the empire chooses to pursue the status quo forever, the underlying premise of the Bush doctrine. This is marked by the concentration on military force in lieu of diplomacy and other instruments of foreign policy. Empires in the final stages maintain massive standing armed forces supplemented eventually by large mercenary forces. The nation enters a state of ethical, moral and economic bankrutpcy, paying only lip service to the principles and aspirations on which the state was founded. Economic and political power merge usually under the control of the financial sector.

Wilkerson notes that past empires usually collapsed following some massive display of their military prowess which he sees mirrored in America's multi-trillion dollar adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Canadians need to have a clear sense of just where America and its empire are, where they're heading and what lies ahead. Wilkerson even thinks it more than just possible that the United States could break up. He warns the separatist South that, if it wasn't for the massive influx of money from New York and California, the South would be America's Bangladesh (49:30 mark).

So, Is "Strategic Voting" Still a Thing?

Back at the beginning of the federal election campaign, Tom Mulcair's New Dems enjoyed a commanding lead and seemed poised to become our next government.

Back at the beginning of the federal election campaign, New Dems were ardent champions of "strategic voting." The idea was that Libs and Greens should throw in with the NDP because of the imperative need to absolutely rid Canada of Stephen Harper.

We don't hear the clarion call to strategic voting much these days. I suppose that might have something to do with how strategic voting tends to favour the party leading in the polls. No one understood that better than Green Party supporters who were routinely castigated with claims that supporting their party meant supporting Shifty Steve Harper.

I suppose it doesn't help much that Tom Mulcair is back in "attack the Libs" mode, the now shopworn tactic introduced by Layton that treated the Liberals as the NDP's Great Satan no matter how that played to the direct and powerful benefit of the Harper Conservatives.

Mulcair is running to salvage second place. That's many things but it's not running to win. If one guy, Trudeau, is running to win and the other guy, Mulcair, is running mainly to stop Trudeau, then the rationale for strategic voting is flushed straight down that big orange toilet bowl.  Sort of reminds me of that fable of the scorpion and the frog.

Let's Remember, They're a "Permanent Warfare State."

Canadians should be concerned over the direction our military leadership is pursuing - integration with the armed forces of the United States of America.

Uncle Sam has transitioned into a state of "permawar." That's constant, never-ending warfare. It's the type of warfare in which victory or defeat becomes irrelevant. It's the type of warfare that's not fought to achieve some clear political objective. It's not the type of warfare that ever ends. Unlike warfare in previous eras it doesn't lead to peace.

Part of this is not America's doing. Part of it is. Modern warfare is sometimes called Gen 4 warfare. It's not the old state versus state conflict that produced a winner and a loser and a treaty followed by a return to peace. Today's warfare engages a confusing array of parties - state actors and non-state actors that run the gamut from militias to rebels, insurgents, terrorists and an array of criminal organizations, some local some regional or transnational.

Every morning each of them starts off with an agenda that, at times, may evolve rapidly according to changing circumstances. Alliances are made out of convenience and broken for the same convenience. Each actor pursues its own interests which renders the major players, i.e. the United States, having to herd some very vicious cats.

The question Canadians have to ask is whether we want our soldiers committed to fighting wars that we are not prepared or willing to win? That, ultimately, is the price of integration. It means consigning both our military and foreign policy to an endless trail of suffering, death and misery with names like Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. It is a type of warfare that turns wobbly states into failed states. Is that what we really want? Is that what we're prepared to allow our already suspect military commanders to talk us into, to back us into?

Except for North American defence, Canada should be reclaiming our nation's foreign and military sovereignty, our independence from Washington. That's not to say we can't support American military actions abroad but only provided that we first know what we're out to achieve and how we're going to meet our objectives within a reasonable but finite time period.

When our military leadership talks us into pointless adventures that are doomed to failure, they're betraying our country and the Canadian people.

Volkswagen - You Owe Me a New Power Plant

Here's the deal. There's not much wrong with my VW Golf TDI "clean diesel" except for the clean part.

I was promised an ultra fuel-efficient, ultra low-emissions engine that, it turns out, was neither but for a "defeat device" that turned off much of the emissions control system.

To add insult to injury, VW's TDI clean diesel engine wasn't available in their base models. If you wanted the diesel you had to pay for a mid- to high-grade model. The diesel was for top-end customers, not ordinary Volk.

So I wound up with a great little car with the leather upholstery, top-end sound system, and oodles of handling and safety systems some of which I can disengage if I get that sporty feeling.

Problem - answer. Keep the car. Replace the powerplant. VW could engineer a hybrid system. They could even consider refitting their straight electric powerplant now coming out in the e-Golf in the States.

Now, getting VW to do something, that will be the trick. And the chances of getting that just grew less cheery with word that VW isn't the only automotive bad boy.

New diesel cars from Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo and other manufacturers have all been found to emit substantially higher levels of pollution when tested in more realistic driving conditions, according to new data seen by the Guardian.

Research compiled by Adac, Europe’s largest motoring organisation, shows that some of the diesel cars it examined released over 10 times more NOx than revealed by existing EU tests, using an alternative standard due to be introduced later this decade.

If you follow the link you'll see a chart showing how poorly each vehicle did in testing. Curiously enough, the Audi TT which uses the same 2.0 TDI engine that's in my car was one of the cleaner types.
Enough bickering. This may be an ideal opportunity to transition the automotive industry into clean, near fossil-free engines.

Mark Carney Again Warns of Climate Change Induced Financial Collapse. Is Anyone Listening?

The former governor of the Bank of England said it. The current governor of the Bank of England is saying the same thing - to anyone who'll listen.  Mark Carney who recently left the top perch at the Bank of Canada to sit on the top perch of the Bank of England says, unless we get climate change under control, soon (as in now), we'll enter an era of financial crises and collapsing living standards.

In a speech to the insurance market Lloyd’s of London on Tuesday, Carney said insurers were heavily exposed to climate change risks and that time was running out to deal with global warming.

The governor said that proposals would probably be put to the G20 meeting in Turkey in November urging the world’s leading developed and developing countries to bring in tougher corporate disclosure standards so that investors could better judge climate change risks.

...“The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come,” Carney said. “The far-sighted amongst you are anticipating broader global impacts on property, migration and political stability, as well as food and water security. So why isn’t more being done to address it?”

...“Climate change is the tragedy of the horizon. We don’t need an army of actuaries to tell us that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be felt beyond the traditional horizons of most actors – imposing a cost on future generations that the current generation has no direct incentive to fix.

“The horizon for monetary policy extends out to two to three years. For financial stability it is a bit longer, but typically only to the outer boundaries of the credit cycle – about a decade. In other words, once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.”

Carney addressed the subject that Canada's political leadership relentlessly avoids mentioning, the looming Carbon Bubble, and the inevitability that high-cost, high-carbon fossil fuels - yes, including bitumen - will become "stranded assets."

“Take, for example, the International Panel on Climate Change’s estimate of a carbon budget that would likely limit global temperature rises to 2 degrees [centigrade] above pre-industrial levels.

“That budget amounts to between a fifth and a third of the world’s proven reserves of oil, gas and coal.  If that estimate is even approximately correct it would render the vast majority of reserves “stranded” – oil, gas and coal that will be literally unusable without expensive carbon-capture technology, which itself alters fossil fuel economics.

So far the best we're getting out of our political leadership are promises of carbon pricing or cap and trade schemes with the revenues handed off to the provinces in one form or another. Nobody is willing to say they'll take that money and keep it in Ottawa's treasury and use it to replace and reinforce our national infrastructure that is already decaying and definitely not Anthropocene-ready.

Our supposed leaders are waiting for market conditions to kill off Athabasca but there's no discussion of who cleans up the mess afterwards, after the foreign oil companies have bugged out.  We're not discussing the enormous environmental hazard that is Athabasca, how we're going to clean it up and at what cost and who'll get stuck with the tab or what awaits Alberta and the rest of Canada if we don't clean it up. These are conversations that come with price tags of hundreds of billions of dollars, definitely not suited for delicate ears wanting to hear only lies about balanced budgets and sunny tomorrows.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Turnaround Tom, Where Are You?

I knew that New Dems were getting wobbly in the knees about their party's flagging campaign when I started getting the line about how a vote for the Green Party is a vote for Harper. Isn't that what they used to call "projection"?

The NDP doesn't need my help to sink their campaign. Tom Mulcair seems to be doing that for them.  The Toronto Star's Tim Harper writes the NDP needs to focus on putting some spine back in their campaign.

In the early months of 2015, the team around Mulcair worked hard to humanize their man, having him drop biographical snippets into his speeches, trying to ensure he looked accommodating and non-threatening.

With it came the ubiquitous reassuring smile. But Mulcair began the campaign so focused on appearing comforting and prime ministerial that his passion appeared to be vacuumed out. In the French debate a bit of his aggressiveness returned, but Mulcair seems so leery of being caricatured again as “Angry Tom” that he has forgotten that part of his appeal in the first place was the indignation he regularly flashed when taking on Harper in Ottawa. He was channelling some of the passion of voters seeking change, but too few voters have seen that Mulcair and have only been exposed to this toned down, more vanilla version of the NDP leader.

He argues that Mulcair made a strategic blunder when he 'toned down' his platform.

Mulcair would raise the corporate tax rate, but not tax the upper income 1 per cent or make any changes to Harper’s child care benefit. It is Trudeau who would tax the rich and take the child benefits away from “millionaires.”

A drug-buying scheme that sounds like pharmacare stops just short of being pharmacare. A bold daycare plan would take years to unspool and is predicated on provincial buy-in.

Trudeau would end any bid to buy the F-35 fighter jet, leaving Mulcair to muddle in the middle of the jet fighter debate, criticizing Harper’s defence procurement but defending the open competition process.

It’s not that the NDP hasn’t put an electoral package on the table. It is that they seem reluctant to go the extra, bold step in selling their ideas because Mulcair got trapped in the cautious front-runner frame of mind.

Now he has a niqab problem in Quebec. He has had to spend too much time threading the needle on issues — and taking on Trudeau instead of Harper.

Similarly on the question of the environment and pipelines, proximity to power has forced Mulcair to pull his punches.

His position on the Energy East pipeline sounds murky to this ear and he has to be careful of the opposition to the pipeline in Quebec, home to the lion’s share of his support, while appearing sufficiently responsible on the energy sector to look like a man who could run the country. It is a tight fit politically.

An election campaign is a lousy place for the timid. To some you may appear indecisive, to others insincere.