Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Spot the Differences

SPOT THE DIFFERENCES. One is honest, courageous, a real warrior, ferocious yet selfless, the ideal Canadian general. The other is ...well, he's "the other", right? You choose.

Being Progressive

This is one of those articles that "restoreth" the soul. This is the elixir for progressives:

Making Sense of Insanity - More Than Meets the Eye?

This is a follow up to the next post that outlines an account in Asia Times that claims Pakistan has decided to actively support the Taliban in this year's Spring Offensive.

At first blush the claim sounds insane. Why would Pakistan betray the US and NATO to help topple the shakey Afghan government of Hamid Karzai? Why would Pakistan help the Taliban?

When things such as this don't seem to make any sense it's sometimes helpful to step back and see the situation from the other side's perspective and then factor in contemporaneous events, especially those that also don't seem to make any sense.

Take, for example, Dick Cheney's bizarre trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan yesterday. For some reason - and there had to be some reason - the media were sworn to secrecy about the trip until after Cheney was flying out of Pakistan. Even then, reporters were required to describe Cheney's comments as coming from a "senior White House official." Read the comments he made, statements that clearly identify the speaker as Cheney himself, and try to make some sense of that.

Think about what happened when Cheney arrived at Bagram air base after Kabul airport was closed due to snow? In short order there was a suicide bombing at the gate that killed upwards of two dozen people. The Americans claim that, despite claims to the contrary, Cheney wasn't targeted because no one could have known he was in Bagram. The same people who knew the departure of his flight - Pakistan's air traffic control - certainly knew his flight had been diverted to Bagram. Some people certainly knew and a bombing followed in short order. My simple mind can come up with about four possible ways the two could be connected and I'm pretty sure you can craft some scenarios of your own. I don't think the bombing actually targeted Cheney so much as it sent a message.

Consider the take that the reporters were first given about Cheney's message to Musharraf - a stern "warning" to play ball or else. Consider the Pakistan foreign ministry's prompt press release afterward proclaiming that Pakistan was not about to be dictated to by any country.

Take those five facts together - the secret trip, the ridiculously concealed briefing source, the "warning" and the angry Pakistani response, the Bagram bombing. Now, try to make some sense of those events. Put them together, take them apart, figure out how they all fit together - and they do, in some way or another.

Dick Cheney has shown that he can do sinister things, openly deceitful things, even vicious things but has he ever shown himself to do blatantly irrational things? No. Naive, idelogically hidebound, even stupid, yes. Less than shrewd? Never. So what was behind the bizarre events of his trip yesterday? There is a lot more to this than meets the eye. That's obvious.

Add in a few other ingredients such as Karzai's corrupted and likely fatally wounded government. Factor in the emerging dominance of the former Northern Alliance warlords, the same group Pakistan opposed during the Afghan civil war when it backed the Taliban. Then fit in the growing influence of India, Pakistan's principal rival and threat, in Afghan affairs. Add to this Bush's weakened position at home and abroad, rejected by the American people, his party rejected by the American voters, his military trapped and exhausted in Iraq. Then consider NATO, its members divided as never before in the alliance's history, indecisive, woefully understrength and confused.

Toss in the reality that the West has a demonstrated inability to feed the meat grinder of an insurgency for the decades it would clearly take to sort out the Afghan troubles. Find a Western country where these wars remain popular. I'll bet that Musharraf has done that calculation a long time ago.

Never underestimate the nuclear factor. Pakistan has amassed an arsenal of nuclear weapons and the missile systems to deliver them. Can the West afford to see Musharraf ousted and radical Islamists take over in his place?

Add in the factor of Pakistan's own Pashtun and Baloch people, their abiding support for the Taliban and their unwillingness to see their cousins in Afghanistan fall to a coup by default to the northern tribes. These tribes in Waziristan are already a huge problem for Islamabad. How much worse would that become if the already wobbly Pakistan government was seen to acquiesce in suppression of their kinfolk in Afghanistan?

Watching Afghanistan fall to the Tajik and Uzbek warlords (no friend of Pakistan) thanks to a hapless Karzai and a hesitant and weakened US and the NATO alliance in disarray, may be more than Pakistan (and not just Musharraf) can bear. Options that are available this year may be foreclosed the next. Whatever control and influence Islamabad may be able to exert over the Taliban may be fleeting. Pakistan may be gambling that this is the best possible time, for it and the Taliban, for a Taliban uprising to remove Karzai and install a regime more acceptable to Pakistan than the looming alternative.

Islamabad may have done the math and decided that the circumstances on the ground - Karzai, the northern warlords, the US, NATO, the Pashtuns and Balochs, the Uzbeks and Tajiks, al-Qaeda and Iraq, even Iran and Hezbollah - give Pakistan a better than even chance of calling our bluff, the best chance it's ever likely to have.

Whatever the reality, one thing is clear. There's an awful lot going on here, stuff that we should be hearing about from Hillier and Harpo, that puts our soldiers in Kandahar at grave risk. Whatever that may be, we don't have the luxury of much time to mull this over before the Spring Offensive begins in a few weeks.


The following article, if true, is extremely disturbing. It claims that Pakistan has betrayed the West and is now in league with the Taliban in their mutual goal to topple the Karzai government and set up, in his place, a pro-Pakistan, Taliban-Warlord coalition regime.

It is not apparent whether Pakistan president Musharraf is even a party to the purported deal or whether this is being done behind his back by Pakistan's powerful military intelligence service.

The usually reliable Asia Times reports that Pakistan has agreed to provide logistical support to the Taliban. The purported pact is intended to extend Islamabad's influence into southwestern Afghanistan and significantly strengthen the insurgency in its bid to capture Kabul.

"...Mullah Dadullah will be Pakistan's strongman in a corridor running from the Afghan provinces of Zabul, Urzgan, Kandahar and Helmand across the border into Pakistan's Balochistan province, according to both Taliban and al-Qaeda contacts Asia Times Online spoke to. Using Pakistani territory and with Islamabad's support, the Taliban will be able safely to move men, weapons and supplies into southwestern Afghanistan.

"The deal with Mullah Dadullah will serve Pakistan's interests in re-establishing a strong foothold in Afghanistan (the government in Kabul leans much more toward India), and it has resulted in a cooling of the Taliban's relations with al-Qaeda.

"Despite their most successful spring offensive last year since being ousted in 2001, the Taliban realize they need the assistance of a state actor if they are to achieve "total victory". Al-Qaeda will have nothing to do with the Islamabad government, though, so the Taliban had to go it alone.

"Taliban commanders planning this year's spring uprising acknowledged that as an independent organization or militia, they could not fight a sustained battle against state resources. They believed they could mobilize the masses, but this would likely bring a rain of death from the skies and the massacre of Taliban sympathizers. Their answer was to find their own state resources, and inevitably they looked toward their former patron, Pakistan.

"Al-Qaeda does not fit into any plans involving Pakistan, but mutual respect between the al-Qaeda leadership and the Taliban still exists. All the same, there is tension over their ideological differences, and al-Qaeda sources believe it is just a matter of time before the sides part physically as well.

"Ever since signing on for the US-led "war on terror" after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, Pakistan has been coerced by Washington to distance itself from the Taliban. The Taliban were, after all, enemy No 1 for harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda's training camps.

"So when the opportunity arose, Islamabad was quick to tap up Mullah Dadullah. This was the perfect way in which Pakistan could revive its contacts in the Taliban and give the spring uprising some real muscle, so the argument went among the strategic planners in Rawalpindi - in fact, so much muscle that forces led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would be forced into a position to talk peace - and who better than Pakistan to step in as peacemaker and bail out its Western allies?

"The 2006 spring offensive was veteran mujahideen fighter Jalaluddin Haqqani's show. Nevertheless, the main areas of success were not Haqqani's traditional areas of influence, such as southeastern Afghanistan's Khost, Paktia and Paktika. The Taliban secured major victories in their heartland of the southwest, Helmand, Zabul, Urzgan and Kandahar. And their leader was Mullah Dadullah, whose men seized control of more than 12 districts - and held on to them.

Pakistani strategic circles are convinced that as a proven military commander, Mullah Dadullah will be able to work wonders this spring and finally give the Taliban the edge over the Kabul administration and its NATO allies.

"This, ultimately, is Pakistan's objective - to revive its role in Kabul - and Islamabad is optimistic that Dadullah's considerable diplomatic skills will enable him to negotiate a power-sharing formula for pro-Pakistan Afghan warlords.

The article claims that, with help from the Pakistan military, the Taliban have been able to signficantly upgrade their Russian-made surface to air missiles with American sensor technology:

"The Taliban acquired these missiles in 2005, but they had little idea about how to use them effectively. Arab al-Qaeda members conducted extensive training programs and brought the Taliban up to speed. Nevertheless, the SAM-7s, while useful against helicopters, were no use against the fighter and bomber aircraft that were doing so much damage.

"What the Taliban desperately needed were sensors for their missiles. These detect aircraft emissions designed to misdirect the missiles.

"And it so happened that Pakistan had such devices, having acquired them from the Americans, though indirectly. The Pakistanis retrieved them from unexploded cruise missiles fired into Afghanistan in 1998, targeting bin Laden. They copied and adapted them to fit other missiles, including the SAMs.

"Now that the Taliban and Pakistan have a deal, these missiles will be made available to the Taliban. Much like the Stingers that changed the dynamics of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets, the SAMs could help turn things Mullah Dadullah's, the Taliban's and Pakistan's way."

And We're Paying These Bozos?

The National Post ran an item today headlined "Quit whining, diplomats tell MPs." It's an account of how two diplos told Canadian MPs to start acting like they had a pair.

First up was NATO spokesman James Appathurai who told the Commons defence committee that Canada had really bolstered its clout at NATO by its active participation in Afghanistan. Okay, fair enough.

Appathurai also said Canada should stop harping on about its casualties in Afghanistan:

"Canada is not bearing the burden alone when it comes to casualties," he added. "Over a dozen NATO countries have lost troops in significant numbers. I can tell you we have the flag down in front of NATO headquarters on a regular basis.... These sacrifices are being made by everybody and in all zones, in the north, the west, and the capital and the east and the south."

It's not that the sacrifices aren't being made by others, it's that a disproportionate share of them are being borne by the countries whose forces are in the southern war zone. His crack was probably a bit out of line but it paled compared to the stuff spewed out by our home grown guy,
Chris Alexander, the UN's deputy special envoy to Afghanistan and Canada's first ambassador to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.

Alexander must have spent too much time listening to the White House speeches because he yarded out just about every specious argument they've used to prop up their inept war on terror. First up, we can't leave Afghanistan because we've spent a lot of money there already:

"The billions of dollars spent in the past five years assisting Afghanistan would 'go up in smoke,' while the very existence of NATO and the UN would be threatened if the West withdrew, he said."

Next was the standard Bush line about how we can't leave without dishonouring the 40-Canadian soldiers who've already died over there:

"And most tragically, none of us around this table would be able to explain to the families of the 44 Canadians who have lost their lives in Afghanistan what the purpose of that sacrifice was."

So, Chris, is losing another 40 or 240 going to make that better? What is your threshold? How many dead would make you happy or would justify the first 40?

The most despicable line trotted out by Alexander was the one about leaving would be "giving comfort to the enemy."

Later Mr. Appathurai chimed in with his own nonsense, claiming that the issue of why Canada is in Afghanistan is not up for debate:

"There is no controversy in any serious discussion," he told a luncheon audience of diplomats, military and non-governmental organizations. "Anyone who calls that into question is not being serious."

Sorry Jimmy, there is controversy aplenty. The corruption of the Karzai government is controversial. The corruption of Afghanistan's security forces is controversial. The oppression of Afghanistan's women is controversial. The spreading power and influence of Afghanistan's warlords within the Kabul government is controversial. That country's narco-economy is controversial. The role of Pakistan and the growing involvement of Iran is controversial. The place is one huge controversy and that makes the issue of why Canada is there and what we're achieving controversial and demanding of serious discussion.

There's a reason why these guys don't touch on these problems and how they undermine NATO's efforts in Afghanistan. Unless the controversies are ignored they might just lead to serious discussion by genuinely serious people and that's the last thing Alexander and Appathurai need.

What To Do, What To Do?

Okay, it looks like we're getting pretty much everyone onside about the reality of Global Warming. It's real, it's happening and it's going to get worse. It isn't going to get any better in our lifetimes, our kids' or their kids' either. The best we can do at this point is whatever is in our power to prevent it from getting any worse than necessary while we work on reversing the causes of this climate change and even that modest goal is going to be a herculean task.

We're going to have to learn to do things differently. Part of that means we're going to have to get smaller, consume less. Sooner or later that's going to mean carbon-rationing. That will mean no more unnecessary gas guzzlers (some, a few, will still be needed); smaller houses (no more heating empty three-car garages), more efficient energy use (flourescents, etc.) and some restructuring in the way we produce and deliver goods and services. A lot of these things mean sacrifices we aren't going to like but quite a few of them aren't really going to bother us or deprive us nearly as much as we might first imagine.

An inernational research team released a report today on what can be done to mitigate global warming - to fend off the worst effects. From the LA Times:

"The scientists from 11 countries urged sweeping conservation measures to hold the expected increase in temperatures to no more than an average of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — less than half the expected increase if emissions of greenhouse gas and soot continue unabated.

"Based on two years of study, the scientists called for bold actions, including carbon taxes, a ban on conventional coal-fired power plants and an end to beachfront construction worldwide.

"The researchers were financed by the nonprofit United Nations Foundation and the 60,000-member research society Sigma Xi.

"With its emphasis on policy recommendations, the panel's effort marks a shift in the international politics of pollution and climate change, analysts said. Researchers are no longer debating whether human-induced global warming is genuine, but have begun the painstaking process of negotiating international agreement on what to do about it.

"They urged stricter fuel efficiency standards, as well as fuel taxes, registration fees and rebates that favor more efficient transportation, which today is responsible for 40% of the world's carbon emissions.

"A 20-fold improvement in car efficiency is well within existing technology, they said. Moving freight by rail instead of truck could also cut emissions substantially.

"The researchers also recommended the expanded use of biofuels to reduce dependence on the oil that accounts for one-quarter of the world's CO2 emissions. They endorsed broader use of nuclear power, if it can be made safer. Energy research budgets worldwide ought to triple, they said.

"In addition, the scientists called for improved designs of energy-efficient appliances, office equipment and "greener" commercial and residential buildings. Taken together, the heating, cooling and lighting of buildings accounts for about 30% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.Most tellingly, the panel called for a ban on any new coal-fired power plants that cannot be equipped to capture and store the carbon dioxide they emit.

"All told, the U.S., China and India plan to build about 850 coal-fired plants over the next decade, which by environmentalists' calculations would pump as much as five times more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than international control measures aim to eliminate.

"No matter what people do to reduce soot or curtail emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the world will continue to warm somewhat, and people will have to adapt, the researchers said.

"To minimize the hazards of rising sea levels and more powerful storms, the group called for a worldwide ban on beachfront construction near existing high-tide lines.

"To reduce the effects of climate-related disasters, such as floods or prolonged droughts, the panel urged better international emergency response measures, warning that there may be as many as 50 million environmental refugees by 2010."

Disreputable Politics - Fearmongering

The Bush administration may be inept at everything else but it has shown itself the ultimate master of fearmongering. At their peak, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice even Powell had the American people and their Congress so terrified that the administration was able to write its own ticket utterly liberated from America's vaunted system of "checks and balances."

While all this was going on, our own Harpo watched his American Idols in utter fascination. He absorbed every lesson about spin and deception, the tricks of sleight of hand, and, above all, the power and political advantage to be had from fearmongering.

Harpo has even learned the language of George Bush, right down to "cut and run" and "stay the course" and "support the troops."

In the recent battle to extend extraordinary police powers to fight terrorism, our Furious Leader didn't hesitate to resort to the ultimate scumbag tactic of smearing the opposition as soft on terrorism for insisting these measures lapse. You have to be a bit of a degenerate to stoop that low.

What about these extraordinary police powers? Have the Libs now left Canadians exposed to terrorism, their police stripped of an essential weapon in the fight against Islamist extremism?
That certainly is the pitch of the fearmonger Harpo but Jeff Sallot, writing in today's Globe and Mail, shows the prime monster was merely blowing smoke:

"What's changed in five years? Even immediately after the 9/11 attacks, many MPs were never convinced that authorities needed the extraordinary powers of preventive arrest and investigative hearings.

"Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a law professor and civil-liberties crusader, says he swung back and forth on the issue. It was one of those questions on which people of good will could honestly disagree.

"'It's a judgment call,' he said.

"He and many other MPs insisted on building procedural safeguards into the Anti-Terrorism Act. The extraordinary powers, for example, could be used only with the explicit approval of a federal or provincial attorney-general. Police and judges couldn't go off willy-nilly on their own, holding people and interrogating them.

"Even with these safeguards, many MPs worried that once the powers were on the books, it might be impossible to get rid of them even if experience showed that they were never needed. Thus, a five-year sunset provision was included in the legislation, specifying that the powers would lapse unless the House and the Senate renewed them with a parliamentary resolution.

"As it turns out, the powers were never invoked in the past five years. The RCMP report they have quietly disrupted several terrorism plots in that time without ever arresting anyone.

"However, two other terrorism cases have attracted attention. An Ottawa man, Momin Khawaja, was arrested here and charged with conspiracy in a plot that was being hatched in Britain. He is alleged to have offered to build a bomb trigger for the British conspirators.

"The other high-profile terrorism allegations -- also still before the Ontario courts -- involve 18 men. Last year, police rounded them up in the Toronto area and charged them.

"If the police and security agencies are correct, they've successfully foiled more than a dozen plots without ever resorting to the extraordinary arrest and investigative powers."

I'm sure Harpo and his far-right government would love to turn Canada into a police state but now that's not going to happen. Unlike the Democrats in the US, the Liberals took a stand and held their ground against Harpo's smear campaign to label them soft on terrorism and unwilling to protect Canadians.

If you're not sure what kind of a lifeform Harper is, this little episode speaks volumes. He's a fearmongerer, completely uninhibited when it comes to manipulating his own people and preying on their vulnerabilities.

All Dressed Up and No Place to Go

This is another story about "the myth of Canadian peacekeeping." Those who won't be happy unless Canada's soldiers are shooting at somebody and getting shot at in return - the red meat gang - like to point to Canadian peacekeeping doldrums of the past decade to prove their own myth, that the image of the Canadian peacekeeper was never more than a myth anyway.

What really lay behind Canada's decade of military slumber? Oh yeah, that's right, it was a national emergency. Don't remember that? Try to go back to Canada as it was when Jean Chretien took over from Brian "Big Pockets" Muldoon. We were broke and getting even broker faster than the country, our country, could stand.

The Canada we have today is in many ways a much better country than the Canada left by the previous conservative government. It's so much better that, today, Harpo can splash money around in the hundreds of millions of dollars. He cavorts bare arsed, rolling in the legacy of a guy named Paul Martin.

Despite General Rick Hillier's griping about a decade of darkness, the Canadian Armed Forces, like the rest of Canada, had to make do without while the Liberals pulled the country's fat out of the fire. It wasn't Hillier or MacKenzie or any other damned general that rescued Canada from that emergency and they were smart enough while that rescue mission was underway to keep their mealy mouths shut.

We had to put the military- and just about everything else - on the back burner for that decade so that we could restore the country, including the military, sooner rather than later. Lord knows if we'd just carried on in the Mulroney tradition, Hillier might be collecting shopping carts in some mall parking lot today.

So, yes, Canada did undergo a hiatus in its peacekeeping efforts and for longer than we should have but that hardly makes the country's tradition a myth. Now it's time to shatter the myth about the myth. We can save a lot more lives and do a lot more good in other spots around the world than we'll ever achieve in Afghanistan.

Here's another myth that needs to be shattered, the myth that we're all partners in America's "war on terror." At best, NATO has become America's Foreign Legion, enablers of its dysfunctional foreign policy and incompetent military adventurism. Why are so many NATO countries so reluctant to get dragged into Washington's 5+ year Afghanistan screw-up? Could it be because they see what Ottawa isn't willing to see?

It's time for a thorough debate on the future role to be played by Canada's military. If we're going to be America's water boy let's be honest about it and equip our forces properly so they can be the best water boys around. If we want our forces to maximize the good they can achieve, let's explore those options also. Before we consign it to the dustbin, let's go back and take a hard look at the peacekeeping option again.

Green Up Your Cellphone

If you're one of those people who likes custom ringtones for your cell you might want to try something new. Go to . They have free ringtones of endangered and rare species. They've got 40 ringtones to choose from and they run the gamut from owls and macaws to wolves, toads and beluga whales. Imagine what your friends will think when they hear a toad croaking in your pocket. And they are free.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

This is Just Way Too Weird - Even For Cheney

Dick Cheney has completed his whirlwind trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was an odd trip, one in which the media were sworn to secrecy until Cheney left Pakistan. Major American news services knew where Cheney was and where he was going, they even had reporters on Cheney's flight. They just couldn't let out so much as a hint that the veep was going to Pakistan.

That, however, wasn't the really weird part. It came from a briefing on Cheney's plane on which the official who briefed reporters may only be called a "senior administration official."

The senior administration official, whose identity is not to be divulged, was, of course, the Dickster himself, something obvious from the remarks he made:

"'Let me just make one editorial comment here,' the official said. 'I've seen some press reporting says, `Cheney went in to beat up on them, threaten them.' That's not the way I work. I don't know who writes that, or maybe somebody gets it from some source who doesn't know what I'm doing, or isn't involved in it. But the idea that I'd go in and threaten someone is an invalid misreading of the way I do business.

'I would describe my sessions both in Pakistan and Afghanistan as very productive. We've had notable successes in both places. I've often said before and I believe it's still true that we've captured and killed more al-Qaida in Pakistan than anyplace else. And I think we're making progress in Afghanistan.'"

Has Dick Cheney lost his mind? Reporters can't mention his name but he gives his identity away quite freely in his remarks. Maybe the Dickster has gone off the deep end.

Bring on La Nina

El Nino is over, fini, or at least so we're told by officials of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. The El Nino weather pattern is associated with unusual warming in the eastern area of the mid-Pacific. La Nina, the ugly stepsister, is triggered by cooling of the equatorial Pacific region.

La Nina spells possible trouble, particularly to southern parts of the US. It typically means more hurricanes in the Atlantic, fewer in the Pacific, less rain and more heat for the already drought-stricken South, and a milder spring and summer in the north, Lautenbacher said. The central plains of the United States tend be drier in the fall during La Ninas, while the Pacific Northwest tends to be wetter in the late fall and early winter.
La Nina conditions are typically milder than El Nino's heavy rainfalls and landslides.

A World of Turmoil and Zeroes

I don't like round numbers very much, especially when a politician pulls one out of the hat that's followed by seven or eight zeroes. Once you get into that many zeroes it's pretty obvious that the number you're being given is a political number not a factual number.

Take the number 200,000,000 or two hundred million. That's the amount Stephen Harper has come up with to fund six or seven priorities for Afghanistan. Now, what do you think the chances are of costing out six or seven things, adding up those costs and coming out with a 2 and 8 zeroes?

No, $200,000,000 is a number picked out of the air, plain and simple, and that's a political number. Once you start rounding off figures in the tens of millions of dollars, you're talking political numbers. This isn't even rounded off to the nearest million. Let's hope it's rounded off to the nearest ten million. If not, it's even a bigger political number than I'd feared.

Spending that's not defined by actual cost projections is one thing but priorities that are shaped by political numbers awash in zeroes make me wonder whose purposes are actually being served. Anything with eight zeroes in it is a grandstanding number, a photo-op number, and there's nothing that Harpo likes more than a good photo-op where he can grandstand.

I think Harpo may be getting the Kabul Virus. It's an infection that swells the organs north of the eyebrows. The symptoms are inconsistency of purpose, incoherent policy, myopia and a thorough state of confusion. It's not just Harpo who's been stricken. This is contagious.

In the past year the NATO forces have had - what - four commanders? A Canadian, then a Dutch General, then a Brit and now an American. Each has arrived with his own playbook. Some want to fight. Some want to emphasize reconstruction. Some want to negotiate local ceasefires. Each comes in with a "fresh" approach.

Four conflicting approaches and the worst - or best part of it is that they're all right, every one of them. We have to fight. We have to rebuild. We have to negotiate. Each of those guys is correct and because they're all right we come to the hidden truth - we can't do all these things because we only have a small fraction of the troops necessary for the challenge we've taken on.

You can't have coherent policy without the resources required for coherence. Absent those resources, commanders have to pick and choose what their priority will be and that leads to inconsistency which, in turn, leads to incoherence, myopia and confusion.

Confusion? You bet. We're still getting all the nonsense about how we're liberating Afghan women when, in reality, the guys we're propping up want the country to return to medieval feudalism - when just down the road from the Canadian base, girls as young as 12 are in prison because they refused to let their fathers sell them to other old men, when women legislators are threatened with rape inside parliament and can only visit their constituencies concealed in burqas lest they be killed.

We're still getting the crap about how we're protecting the people when it's the government's security services that are their main predator and when the people distrust their government so much that they take their complaints and disputes to the Taliban insurgents for judgment and justice.

We're still getting the garbage about democracy when the Karzai government has been infested with warlords and thugs who grant themselves amnesty for their atrocities, take all the plum posts and rake enormous profit from the land they impoverish.

We're barely able to keep the insurgents from toppling the rotten government in Kabul. We went over there to take the fight to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Wouldn't it be terrific if that's all we really had to do to save Afghanistan? But we can't save the women and girls of Afghanistan from their menfolk. We can't save the peasants and farmers from their police and the warlords and drug lords. We can't save Hamid Karzai from the thugs and butchers who have insinuated themselves into his government and have spread their control and influence like a rampant malignancy.

What, then, is there left to save? Is it any wonder that all we can come up with are political numbers?

The Assault on Freedoms

Many of us see Britain as the birthplace of our modern civil rights and freedoms. It all began with Magna Carta Libertatum, the great charter of 1215, that first provided the King could be subject to the Rule of Law. From that evolved the English Common Law that most of the English-speaking world, America included, embraces today.

The first decade of the third millenia may eventually become known as the retreat from civil liberties, civil rights. Notions such as secret surveillance, indefinite detention without charge or trial, and the demise of habeus corpus mark the evolution of a relationship between governments and their peoples that would have been considered outrageous just a decade ago. Australia, Britain, the United States and even Canada have used the war on terror as a pretext to strip away the constraints on government.

Now the Brits are toying with the idea of abandoning the principle of "reasonable cause" to allow UK police to stop motorists at random to demand breath samples. This would gut both the right to privacy and the right to be protected against unreasonable searches by the state.

Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety director Rob Gifford said the move would be a deterrent. "Giving police this power will make many people think they have a greater chance of being caught."

This smacks of trampling on historic and fundamental rights for the sake of convenience. Rights out never to be abridged except when that is absolutely necessary to achieve a critical purpose and there is no other solution.

Peter Brookes, Times online

Stumbling Over Poppies

The Telegraph has reported that the poppy eradication programme in Helmand province is collapsing under the weight of corruption:

"A 500-man Afghan police force backed by American private security contractors and two helicopter gunships began work in the drug heartlands two weeks ago aiming to destroy 22,000 hectares before April's harvest. In two weeks, only 1,200 have been ploughed.

"A policeman provided a detailed account of systematic corruption within the force. 'The only people [whose crops are] being eradicated are those without money or connections,' said the man, who cannot be named for his own safety. 'On the eradication force, this is being called 'the season to make money'."

"Powerful local landowners were bribing officials at a rate of about £500 per hectare. A hectare produces about £3,500 worth of opium.

"This year's effort is regarded as a crucial test of the Kabul government's ability to tackle the drug problem after previous years ended in disaster amid similar tales of corruption.

"If the campaign fails in Helmand, which produced 40 per cent of the country's opium last year, then British officials admit that US-led pressure for a radical campaign of aerial spraying of poppy next year will become irresistible.

"'The local police are worse than us at taking bribes,' said the police officer, who was recruited in Kabul. 'But every officer from the highest to the lowest is doing their best to take bribes.'"

The Telegraph: Take Heart Taliban

British newspapers don't think much of our chances to "win" in Afghanistan. The leftist journals such as The Independent posit that, thanks to six years of neglect, the Afghan campaign is probably already lost.

You might expect sterner stuff from a right-of-centre paper like The Telegraph, Conrad Black's old broadsheet. Well it might not be as fatalistic as The Independent but today it published an article on, "Two reasons for the Taliban to take heart" namely our inability to force Musharraf to move effectively against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan and the West's pathetic and corrupt poppy eradication programme in Afghanistan:

"The Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence has been heavily involved in Afghanistan since the 1980s, when it trained tens of thousands of mujahideen to fight the Soviet occupation. The army has made it clear that it no longer wants to undertake large-scale offensive operations in the tribal agencies, thus the reliance on deals with local leaders. And, despite his strongman image, General Musharraf lacks the authority to override his defence establishment and seal the border.

"Mr Cheney and Mrs Beckett are no more likely to change this situation than the many Western politicians who have preceded them to Islamabad with the same intent. That means that American, British, Canadian and Dutch forces in the south and east will continue to face an enemy with a bolt-hole across the border. An insurgency with that luxury is very hard to defeat.

"The Taliban will also take heart from the corruption which is undermining the poppy eradication campaign in Helmand. The original intention was to cover 22,000 hectares in a province which accounts for about 40 per cent of national production. That has now been revised downward to 7,000 hectares, amid evidence that, through bribery and intimidation, the rich and powerful are avoiding destruction of their crops. There could be no more effective recruiting advertisement for the Taliban, who will argue that nothing better can be expected from a corrupt Western-backed government."

Japanese Xenophobia

If there's one xountry that defines "xenophobia", it's Japan. The nation shut itself off to the rest of the world for four centuries and even today takes pride in its ethnic purity. It's a fertile garden for sowing paranoia, something not lost on a senior official of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who has warned that his country could become "just another Chinese province" within the next 20 years if Beijing's military development continues at its current rapid rate.

It's hard to imagine anything that could send a greater chill into the Japanese people than the idea of being taken over by China. There remain enormous tensions between the two countries over Japanese atrocities against the Chinese during World War II. The notion of China getting its own back has to be terrifying to many Japanese.

Japanese MP, Soichi Nakagawa, is quoted by the Kyodo news agency as warning, "If something goes wrong in Taiwan in the next 15 years we [Japan] might also become just another Chinese province within 20 years or so." Nakagawa claimed Beijing was seeking hegemony in Taiwan "and beyond."

He later told reporters in Tokyo: "If Taiwan is placed under its complete influence, Japan could be next. That's how much China is seeking hegemony."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang raised suspicions about the timing and nature of the outburst. "China's military expenditure per capita is 7% of that of Japan," he said. "Meanwhile, it claims that China is a threat. We should question: What is the real purpose and motivation behind these claims?"

"Of the People, By the People, For the People" - A Quaint Notion?

In that one phrase, Abraham Lincoln summed up what most of us think should form the basis of democracy. The government should, at least in a general way, do our bidding, balancing the realities of leadership and democratic principle with the popular will. It is a balance that seems to have been somewhat forgotten in the ascendancy of the far right.

Remember Preston Manning and his "grassroots" approach to government. MPs would consult their constituents and vote accordingly? Preston probably took the balance too far to the vox populii side which can, if unchecked, lead to a form of mob rule and yet it was a forceful recognition of the legitimate role of public opinion in government.

From Manning to Harper, what a contrast. There'll be none of that grassroots nonsense for Harpo. He has all the opinion, all the vision he needs - his own. He's probably the most top down autocrat we've had in a prime minister in more than half a century.

Look at Harpo's American Idol, George Cheney-Bush. He has ignored the popular will from the day he was sworn in. He's abused his power to benefit a very small segment of the American population and he's placed the welfare of powerful corporations over the public interest at every turn. How did he get away with that? Oh yeah, he and his bald-headed partner spread fear around as far and as thick as they could spread it and used their Global War Without End on Terror to scare voters into keeping them (albeit just barely) in power. That served as a formula to wage a class war on the American people, a war that the people are just beginning to understand.

Bush has "corporatized" his democracy, a key trait of fascist government. His people have repeatedly expressed their support for universal health care but they're not going to get it at the expense of the health care insurance industry. The American people want access to cheaper prescription drugs but they won't get that so long as Big Pharma throws so much money at Congress and the White House. Bush's people want an end to the wars he's so ineptly waged, especially the war in Iraq, but their administration is now trying to provoke war with Iran. Bush has even privatized war by hiving off ordinary military functions in highly profitable deals with private contractors, outfits like Haliburton and Kellog, Root and Brown.

It's time the pendulum began to swing the other way, away from the autocratic bent of the Bushes and Cheneys and Harpers and Howards. We need leaders who will lead, not by dictate but by persuasion and genuine leadership. That will require an end to extremist partisanship, the sort that rejects progressive government. Maybe it's time to bring back the Progressive Conservative party.

Changing Course in Afghanistan

"We do not use the word 'win'. We can't kill our way out of this problem."

That sums up the thinking behind a change in tactics by British forces in Afghanistan. According to The Guardian, it's more of a "let's make a deal" approach to counterinsurgency.

"Officials say the new tactics are to identify "Talibs who are sick of fighting" and persuade them to rejoin their tribes and benefit from the human rights laws and state structures being set up in the country. Captured fighters may also be offered alternatives to incarceration, while more deals will be sought with tribal elders.

"They hope increasingly to damage the Taliban without relying on a shooting war, a tactic which has often proved counter-productive in the past, notably when Nato air strikes kill civilians. 'We are convinced most people do not support the Taliban and want to take a route through it,' said one source. British officials distinguish the Taliban from al-Qaida, describing it as a 'more fluid' organisation.

The British say the new approach recognizes the opportunity to approach the Taliban differently than al-Qaeda:

"An official familiar with British policy on Afghanistan described the difference this way: 'The Taliban is not a homogenous group. It is a mixture of characters - criminals, drug dealers, people out of work. There is a wide variety of different people. The Taliban pays them to carry out these attacks so there are ways to tackle the problem, to split off the disillusioned.'

In addition to their tactical heresy, the British also part company with the Americans on dealing with Afghanistan's drug trade:

"British officials are worried about the consequences of US proposals to eradicate Afghanistan's opium poppy harvest, which include spraying the crops from the air, a policy it adopted in Colombia.

"The fear is that tough anti-narcotic measures now would alienate poor farmers who have no alternative livelihood and drive more Afghans into the hands of the Taliban. Such a policy would further endanger British troops, military commanders say. 'The Americans are more impatient than we are,' said one official, adding that the immediate priority should be to target and disrupt 'convoys and laboratories and medium value drugs traffickers'.

Cheney Stands Up to the Taliban

I think they clearly try to find ways to question

the authority of the central government.

Striking at Bagram with a suicide bomber, I suppose,

is one way to do that. But it shouldn't affect

our behavior at all.

- Dick Cheney

Man, that sounds pretty brave. "Shouldn't affect our behavior at all"? Hey Dick, it couldn't affect your behaviour more. You zip in and out of places unannounced with even the press corps sworn to the utmost secrecy.

To make a long story short, Cheney had a drive-by visit to Pakistan yesterday where he purportedly chewed out Pervez Musharraf. He left Islamabad for a flight to Kabul where he was to meet Hamid Karzai, possibly to chew him out too. Kabul airport was snowed in so Cheney diverted to the US air base at Bagram.

The Taliban got word that Cheney was at the base and wasted no time getting a suicide bomber to the front gate where he killed an undetermined number of American and coalition soldiers along with some Afghan and Pakistani truckers waiting for clearance to enter the base. Cheney was safely inside the base and was in no danger. After the explosion he was hustled into a bomb shelter so he could think up bold things to say.

Canada's Own Roadmap

It seemed as though some American papers took more interest than our own in the Supreme Court of Canada's unanimous decision against indefinite detention without trial. It was on the web sites of prominent American newspapers at least as quickly as it showed up on their Canadian counterparts' sites. Today the decision was the basis of the New York Times lead editorial:

"The Canadian justices rejected their government’s specious national security claim with a forceful 9-to-0 ruling that upheld every person’s right to fair treatment. “The overarching principle of fundamental justice that applies here is this: before the state can detain people for significant periods of time, it must accord them a fair judicial process,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote.

"The contrast with the United States could not be more disturbing. The Canadian court ruling came just days after a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that Congress could deny inmates of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp the ancient right to challenge their confinement in court. The 2006 military tribunals law revoked that right for a select group who had been designated “illegal enemy combatants” without a semblance of judicial process.

"In late January, Canada created another unflattering contrast with United States policy when it offered a formal apology and financial compensation to Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was a victim of Mr. Bush’s decision to approve open-ended detentions, summary deportations and even torture after 9/11. Mr. Arar was detained in the United States and deported to Syria, where he was held for nearly a year and tortured.

"Instead of apologizing to Mr. Arar, who was cleared of any connection to terrorism by a Canadian investigatory panel, Justice Department lawyers are fighting a lawsuit he has brought in this country, using their usual flimsy claim of state secrets. The Bush administration still refuses to remove Mr. Arar from its terrorist watch list.

"The United States Supreme Court has ruled twice in favor of Guantánamo detainees on statutory grounds, but it has yet to address the profound constitutional issues presented by American practices, including the abuses Congress authorized when it passed the Military Commissions Act. Such a showdown does not seem far off, but Congress also has a duty to revoke or rewrite the laws that have been abused in the name of national security, starting with the 2006 tribunals law.

"Lawmakers have only to look to the Canadian court for easy-to-follow directions back to the high ground on basic human rights and civil liberties."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Really Worth Checking Out

There's a terrific piece about the realities and perils of trucking in remote parts of Canada that can only be reached by truck in the winter. They realize what global warming means:

The Downfall of Chavez?

If you can judge by the past, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez may have just signed his own death warrant.

Chavez has signed a decree to seize oil projects run by foreign oil companies in Venezuela's Orinoco River region. Among the companies are names such as British Petroleum, Exxon, Chevron, Conoco and Total.

The foreign oil companies will have four months to negotiate settlements and new deals if they want to remain in the existing projects as minority partners. The oil companies are estimated to have about $17-billion invested in the Orinoco projects. While Chavez has paid fair prices for previous takeovers, it's unclear whether he'll be willing or even able to do the same on this initiative.

Chavez has said he doesn't want the foreign oil companies to leave, just accept becoming minority partners.

Cheney Skulks In - And Out - of Pakistan

Since the conquest of Iraq we've gotten used to "surprise" visits by White House big wigs, surprise being clearly intended to minimize the threat of someone downing their aircraft or laying in wait for them with a roadside bomb.

Today's visit to Pakistan by vice president Cheney, however, took things one giant step further. The news media were sworn not to mention anything about it until Cheney had safely left the country. That degree of ultra-secrecy was apparently necessary for Cheney to show his face in Islamabad and he only stopped by for a grand total of three hours.

For a guy who wrangled an astonishing five, that's FIVE draft deferments while the Vietnam War was underway, it's pretty obvious that Cheney is crazy about war as long as he's not the one he's sending to the places where the bullets are flying. The man is a damned Chickenhawk, always has been.

But Cheney's distaste for actually having to defend his country - in person - doesn't stop him from talking tough. He's a true warrior when it comes to talking tough, especially from a Fox News studio.

He was talking tough over lunch with Musharraf today. Cheney made it plain that if Mushy didn't start getting serious about all those al-Qaeda running around Pakistan, why he might have to unleash the Democrats on him. Hmmm, let me see. bin Laden attacked New York and Washington in September, 2001, right? US forces had bin Laden run into the hills of Tora Bora by November, 2001, right? Since then his al-Qaeda operation has set up shop in Pakistan, right? So, now, in February, 2007, Cheney decides to lower the boom on Musharraf, right?

Cheney has waited for five and a half years, until his administration has made a complete mess of two Middle East wars and is weakened and despised at home and around the world - he's waited until now to twist Musharraf's arm - right? And then he has to threaten Musharraf with the Democrats?

Cheney's chair was still warm when Pakistan issued its public response, “Pakistan does not accept dictation from any side or any source.” I think that's a diplomatic way of saying "..and don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out - Dick."

The Lesser of Two Evils

George Bush secretly funding Sunni Arab extremists? Islamist groups that hate America and are sympathetic to al-Qaeda, the very outfit that started this whole Middle Eastern fiasco are now okay with the White House?

According to Seymour Hersh writing in the latest New Yorker, that's precisely what's happening. Sure it was the Sunni al-Qaeda that bombed embassies and a warship and destroyed the World Trade Centre. Sure it was the Sunni Taliban that allowed al-Qaeda to base itself in Afghanistan. Sure it was the Sunni Saddam that led the US to invade and occupy Iraq. Sure it's been the Sunni insurgency that has mainly targeted US troops in Iraq. Sure it's Sunni fundamentalists, in and out of the government, that threaten Pakistan's ruler, Musharraf, and could potentially wind up with that country's nuclear arsenal. Sure - but so what?

Hersh reports that in America's war against Islamic theocracies, the Shia are now seen as the greater threat, leaving the Sunnis, by default, as America's new allies:

"After the revolution of 1979 brought a religious government to power, the United States broke with Iran and cultivated closer relations with the leaders of Sunni Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. That calculation became more complex after the September 11th attacks, especially with regard to the Saudis. Al Qaeda is Sunni, and many of its operatives came from extremist religious circles inside Saudi Arabia. Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney.

"In the nineteen-eighties and the early nineties, the Saudi government offered to subsidize the covert American C.I.A. proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Hundreds of young Saudis were sent into the border areas of Pakistan, where they set up religious schools, training bases, and recruiting facilities. Then, as now, many of the operatives who were paid with Saudi money were Salafis. Among them, of course, were Osama bin Laden and his associates, who founded Al Qaeda, in 1988.

"This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

"Patrick Clawson, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, depicted the Saudis’ coöperation with the White House as a significant breakthrough. “The Saudis understand that if they want the Administration to make a more generous political offer to the Palestinians they have to persuade the Arab states to make a more generous offer to the Israelis,” Clawson told me. The new diplomatic approach, he added, “shows a real degree of effort and sophistication as well as a deftness of touch not always associated with this Administration. Who’s running the greater risk—we or the Saudis? At a time when America’s standing in the Middle East is extremely low, the Saudis are actually embracing us. We should count our blessings.”

"The Pentagon consultant had a different view. He said that the Administration had turned to Bandar as a “fallback,” because it had realized that the failing war in Iraq could leave the Middle East “up for grabs.”

“'It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals,' Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, told me. 'The Saudis and some in the Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line.'

"Martin Indyk, a senior State Department official in the Clinton Administration who also served as Ambassador to Israel, said that 'the Middle East is heading into a serious Sunni-Shiite Cold War.' Indyk, who is the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, added that, in his opinion, it was not clear whether the White House was fully aware of the strategic implications of its new policy. 'The White House is not just doubling the bet in Iraq,' he said. 'It’s doubling the bet across the region. This could get very complicated. Everything is upside down.'”

Another Warning On US Debt

Tensions between the United States and China have never been good during the Bush administration's tenure. It began just months after the US Supreme Court annointed Bush president when an American reconnaisance plane collided with a Chinese fighter sending the Chinese plane into the sea below.

Differences over Taiwan, Chinese rearmament, and China's growing influence in the Middle East and Africa haven't had much impact on trade and financial dealings between the two countries. For years, China has been the major buyer of America's foreign debt and now holds close to a trillion dollars in US securities and reserves.

That has led University of California business professor, Peter Navarro, to warn of a growing strategic threat posed by China, one that doesn't involve weapons but is potentially more powerful. Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, Navarro says China is amassing a very real mercantile weapon and its aimed right at the US:

"Today, as a result of its currency manipulation, China has become the largest monthly net buyer of US securities. More than two-thirds of its massive and highly undiversified $1 trillion in foreign currency reserves are estimated to be invested in US bonds. China will very shortly eclipse Japan as America's largest creditor. And its foreign currency reserves are projected to double within a few short years.

"Here's the clear and present danger: What may have started out as a simple mercantilist currency gambit for China to sell its exports cheap and keep imports dear has morphed into a powerful weapon to hold off any effective US response to China's unfair trade practices. And make no mistake: Such practices run the gamut from a complex web of illegal export subsidies and currency manipulation to rampant piracy and woefully lax environmental, health, and safety standards.

"...any time that the Bush administration or Congress threatens any kind of significant and tangible action – as opposed to simply beating its chest – China can now credibly threaten to stop financing US deficits and start dumping greenbacks.

"Some say that the Chinese would never take such an action because it would hurt them as much as Americans. But it's Beijing's view that the Chinese people are far tougher and better able to withstand any economic shock than Americans who've grown soft living the good life – and they are probably right. Chinese officials also take a far longer view of strategic action. So if a "dump the greenbacks" strategy needs to be implemented to break the back of a rising American protectionism, to secure Taiwan, or to achieve any other strategic goals, sobeit.

"In the next five years, as China's foreign reserves hurtle toward the $2 trillion mark (and perhaps as China begins to allow its currency to appreciate somewhat), the Chinese government and its many state-run enterprises will be in a very strong position to go on an acquisition binge for US companies.

"So what, you say? Corporations bearing the flags of countries such as Germany, Japan, and France regularly shop for US assets, and no harm has come of it.

"This is very different. China's "buying of America" will be largely financed and orchestrated by the Chinese government – not corporations. This means China's acquisition binge will be far more strategic from a policymaking, rather than from a profitmaking, perspective. The likely result: a rapid acceleration in the transfer of sensitive technology, as well as the outsourcing and offshoring of US jobs. Ironically, as more US companies offshore their production – and as more fall into Chinese hands – there will be fewer voices to lobby against China's mercantilism.

"To protect against these dangers, Congress must pass a comprehensive bill. The US trade representative and commerce secretary must have freer rein to seek relief from Chinese mercantilism in forums such as the World Trade Organization. More broadly, the Bush administration must work with the many other victims of Chinese practices around the world – from Brazil and Mexico to Europe – to take a much harder line in trade negotiations.

"Absent prompt action from Washington, the US will lose this undeclared trade war without firing a shot."

Is America's Borrowing Binge Coming To An End?

For many, many years the American economy has depended on the willingness of foreigners to buy US debt. Foreign lenders have propped up America's enormous, balance of trade deficits and its government's borrowing. It didn't really matter. The money was cheap and the lenders needed the US as much as it needed them - or at least that was how the story went. Every now and then there would be speculation as to what might happen if the foreign lenders changed their minds and stopped financing US overspending but there wasn't much sign of that happening.

Now, according to Bloomberg News, that may be starting to change as foreign reserve banks diversify their holdings by investing in euros and pounds rather than dollars:

"'Central banks are open to saying they've been diversifying to improve returns and reduce exposure to any single currency,' said Sean Callow, senior currency strategist at Westpac Banking in Singapore. 'There's no doubt that when they say 'diversification' they mean selling dollars.'

"Diversification of official reserves could make it more difficult for the United States to fund its current account deficit, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, and cause yields on U.S. Treasury bonds to rise. The dollar accounted for 65.6 percent of the world's currency reserves in the third quarter, according to the International Monetary Fund.

"The U.S. current account deficit widened to a record $255.6 billion in the third quarter of last year, according to the Commerce Department.

"When a country runs a deficit in the current account, it relies on overseas investment to offset a shortfall in savings. Net purchases of U.S. stocks, notes and bonds by investors from abroad fell to $15.6 billion in December, the lowest in almost five years, according to the Treasury Department.

"Nineteen of the 47 central banks surveyed had cut their share of dollars, with 10 saying they had increased holdings of the U.S. currency. Twenty-one respondents said they had increased their reserves of euros, compared with seven who said they had reduced their holdings of the single currency."

Why should we care? Because the United States is our key trading partner. It buys the majority of our exports. Its financial health therefore impacts directly on our own. The strength of the American dollar also impacts on our ability to export to the US.

Kissinger Calls for Talks

More advice that George Cheney-Bush isn't going to want to hear.

Henry Kissinger has called for an international conference to decide the future of Iraq. He says there's no other way:

"If America fails to achieve its immediate objectives — if terrorist camps or terrorist regimes emerge on the soil of Iraq, backed by its huge oil resources — no county with a significant Muslim population will be able to escape the consequences: not India, with the second largest Muslim population in the world; not Indonesia, with the largest; not Turkey, already contending with incursions from the Kurdish portion of Iraq; not Malaysia, Pakistan or any of the countries of Western Europe; not Russia, with its Muslim south; nor, in the end, China.

"If the Iraq war culminates in a nuclear Iran (as an indirect consequence) and an Islamic fundamentalism that can claim to have ejected Russia from Afghanistan and America from Iraq, a period of extreme turbulence verging on chaos is unavoidable, and it will not be confined to the Middle East. A threat to global oil supplies would have a shattering impact on the world economy, especially the economies of the industrialized countries.

"...what is most frequently debated is whether diplomacy should be invoked at all. The administration, following one strain of American attitudes towards diplomacy [the neo-cons], has implied that it is not yet ready to negotiate over Iraq — especially not with Iran and Syria, which are accused of fomenting the conflict and stirring up the violence.

"The political framework needs to be created by countries with a stake in the outcome. These would include the permanent members of the Security Council; Iraq's neighbors; key Islamic countries like India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia; and major oil consumers like Germany and Japan.

"These countries have many conflicting interests, but should have a common concern in preventing jihadist fanaticism from driving the world towards an ever-widening conflict.

"The international conference should be the occasion, as well, to go beyond the warring factions in Iraq to moving toward a stable energy supply. It would be the best framework for a transition from American military occupation. Paradoxically, it may also prove the best framework for bilateral discussions with Syria and Iran.

"American military policy in Iraq must be related to such a diplomatic strategy. Unilateral withdrawal on fixed timetables, unrelated to local conditions, is incompatible with the diplomacy described here."

There's a certain beauty to Kissinger's proposal but its questionable whether the Bush administration, it's credibility at home and abroad in tatters, could initiate such a conference even if it chose to try. A lot of lines have been drawn and interests already defined and it would take a strong America to sweep those aside. That's not to say the international approach isn't worth trying but is there any reason to believe that Bush is willing to take that step?

My Great-Great Grandfather Owned Your Great Grandfather

Strom Thurmond and Al Sharpton, there's an odd couple for you.

The late senator Thurmond had been a segregationist when he ran for a presidential nomination in the 50's. Sharpton is, of course, a colourful and outspoken champion of black civil rights. So, what could these two possibly have in common?

Thurmond's ancestors owned Sharpton's ancestors, that's what. Geneaological searches reveal that a distant cousin of Thurmond's had owned Coleman Sharpton, the reverend's great-grandfather.

Musharraf In Trouble at Home

Poor old Pervez, he's getting it from all directions. George Bush is demanding that he crack down on al-Qaeda while his own people are giving him hell for being Bush's puppet.

Hundreds of female students from an Islamic seminary in Islamabad have occupied a public library demanding that Musharraf rebuild a half dozen mosques the government destroyed because they were built on illegally seized lands and dozens more demos are planned.

According to the LA Times, the protest is about a lot more than a handful of mosques:

"...the dissident Muslim cleric who appears to have masterminded the protest has parlayed it into a broader challenge to Musharraf's authority, at a time when the president is under growing Western pressure to act against Islamic militants who find sanctuary in Pakistan.

"'People are angry that Musharraf is a puppet of America,' said Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who together with his cleric brother, Abdul Aziz, runs the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, which adjoins the girls' seminary and the library. 'That is the heart of the matter.' Pakistani authorities view the mosque as a hotbed of radicalism, and orders are out for the arrest of both clerics.

"The confrontation is playing out against the backdrop of some of the most stringent state precautions in years against suicide bombings by Islamic militants in Pakistan, which have claimed scores of lives since the start of the year. Attackers have targeted the capital's international airport, a luxury hotel, a courtroom and various security installations.

"The mosque protest appears to be an explicit warning to Musharraf against bowing to Western demands that he reform the country's network of more than 13,000 madrasas, or religious schools. Many are known to have direct links to militant groups that have been staging attacks both in Pakistan and abroad, and have sent fighters to battle North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops across the border in Afghanistan.

"The young women now say they will not abandon their protest until Sharia, or Islamic law, is imposed throughout Pakistan.'That is the only way that this will end,' said Amna Adeem, a 20-year-old protester wearing a black veil that left only her flashing brown eyes uncovered. Like many of the seminary students taking part in the sit-in, she is from Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, which is far more religiously conservative than Islamabad, the relatively cosmopolitan seat of government."
As though he didn't have enough problems with appearing to be a puppet of Washington, Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Musharraf today to pressure for a crackdown in the tribal lands. Cheney's timing, and judgment, are astonishing.

A Not Too Serious Warning to Musharraf

The New York Times reports that George Bush is sending a stern warning to Pakistan's president Musharraf - start cracking down on al-Qaeda operations within Pakistan or face a cut off in aid by the Democrat-controlled congress.

Like previous dealings the message refers to al-Qaeda and seems to make no mention of the Taliban. Whenever he's pushed, Musharraf makes a few, token strikes on al-Qaeda compounds and arrests a few of its leaders in Pakistan cities and then the business winds down.

Why leave out the Taliban? Because they're the "home team" of the Pashtuns, slightly more of whom live in Paksitan than Afghanistan. The Pashtuns and Balochs occupy the ungovernable tribal lands adjacent to the Afghan border including Waziristan.

A military campaign against the Taliban could easily turn into a civil war with the Pashtuns and Balochs and that could be fatal for the vulnerable Musharraf. There have already been two assassination attempts against the Pakistan president. It is quite possible that, if Musharraf was assassinated or toppled, he could be replaced by an Islamist regime and the idea of Islamists with nuclear weapons and North Korean missile technology is a prospect that Washington doesn't even want to contemplate.

Musharraf is the cork that keeps the genie of the Islamic Bomb safely inside the bottle. What that means is that the Afghanistan situation is basically insoluble. We can't defeat the Taliban because we can't bring enough pressure on Musharraf because we can't risk having Pakistan's nuclear arsenal fall into the hands of Islamists. Game, set and match.

No one understands this reality better than Afghan president Hamid Karzai. He's regularly sending out overtures to the Taliban, the very same Taliban we're over there supposedly to fight to protect - why Mr. Karzai and his thoroughly corrupted government.

We can't allow the Taliban to return to Kabul because, after all, they tacitly allowed bin-Laden's al-Qaeda to operate from their territory. Okay, fair enough, but then we have to take a kid glove approach, even send hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, to Musharraf who is tacitly allowing al-Qaeda to operate from his territory.

The logical disconnect to all of this is astonishing. We're not bringing security to Afghanistan because we can't eliminate the Taliban bases in Pakistan, we're not bringing anything resembling true democracy to Afghanistan because Karzai has allowed warlords and thugs to infiltrate his government and security services, we're certainly not liberating the women of Afghanistan from brutal oppression because the countryside has reverted to fundamentalist feudalism, so just what are we doing in Afghanistan?

Our Green Harpo - That Scam Didn't Last Long

It always had to come down to the tar sands. That was where Harpo had his dream of Canada as an "energy superpower" and where he had to draw his line in the tar. Oh he could claim he had done a 180 and now embraced the global warming issue but it was at the Athabasca Tar Sands that Harpo would face his "put up or shut up" moment. Now its time for our Furious Leader to come clean.

A report in this morning's Globe claims the Harpo boys are going to allow substantially more greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands in the future. It shows the Reform Conservative government is going to stick with the discredited, intensity-based, Bush/Cheney approach to the tar sands, ignoring the fact that Canadian GHG emitters are already producing way too much of the stuff and need to be cut back, way back.

What it comes down to is money, or as Harpo likes to refer to it, "the almighty dollar." He doesn't care about the almighty dollar when it comes to trade with China but he very much cherishes the almighty dollar when it comes to the filthy business of producing artificial oil for American SUVs.

Nine out of Canada's top 15 GHG emitting companies are in Alberta. These nine are involved with the tar sands. In terms of trying to halt the onset of global warming, this is where the rubber meets the road.

The report referred to by the Globe came out just before Christmas. That means there could, just possibly could, be a different treatment of the tar sands in the policy Baird is to unveil before the end of next month.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Pentagon Revolt?

According to the Times of London, a number of American generals are prepared to resign in protest if their commander in chief, Dick Cheney (or his ventriloquist's dummy, George), moves to launch a war against Iran.

"'There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,' a source with close ties to British intelligence said. 'There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.'

"A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. 'All the generals are perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.'

“'There are enough people who feel this would be an error of judgment too far for there to be resignations.'

"A generals’ revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. 'American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired,' said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders.

This spreading discontent would go a long way to explaining the actions of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, last week when he directly contradicted White House claims that the top Iranian leadership was inolved in sending weapons to Iraq to be used against US forces. Pace may have been rushing to avert a showdown between his top generals and the White House.

"Hillary Mann, the National Security Council’s main Iran expert until 2004, said Pace’s repudiation of the administration’s claims was a sign of grave discontent at the top.

“'He is a very serious and a very loyal soldier,' she said. 'It is extraordinary for him to have made these comments publicly, and it suggests there are serious problems between the White House, the National Security Council and the Pentagon.'

"Mann fears the administration is seeking to provoke Iran into a reaction that could be used as an excuse for an attack. A British official said the US navy was well aware of the risks of confrontation and was being “seriously careful” in the Gulf.

"The US air force is regarded as being more willing to attack Iran. General Michael Moseley, the head of the air force, cited Iran as the main likely target for American aircraft at a military conference earlier this month.

Secular Democracy

Writing in today's Times, Michael Portillo makes the case for shunning politicians too tightly bound up with their God:

"I worry because men of power who take instruction from unseen forces are essentially fanatics. Blair is filled with a self-confidence and self-satisfaction that are dangerous. They were evident last week as he refused to take responsibility for anything that has happened in Iraq since America and Britain occupied it. Those who look for judgment not from the electorate or parliament or a free press but from God release themselves from the constraints of democracy.

"If today the Church of England is wishy-washy and middle-of-the-road, that is no accident. It is the long-term result of Elizabeth’s design. Britain has benefited enormously from a weak clergy that has mainly remained aloft from politics. Britain’s established church, headed by the monarch, has made few demands of our leaders or people.

"When Blair correctly cites tolerance as one of Britain’s defining virtues, he should recognise that we owe it to those wise rulers who over centuries insisted on separating religion from politics.

Blair, "...was deeply uncomfortable when Jeremy Paxman asked him whether he and President Bush prayed together. If the answer was “no”, the prime minister was open to a charge of hypocrisy. Why wouldn’t two practising Christians share a moment of communication with their maker? If the answer was “yes”, the British electorate would be terrified. Not surprisingly he refused to answer.

"Britons should worry that religion and politics could again be bound together. If moderation and secularism have been overturned in parts of the Muslim world, why should not the same thing happen in Christian societies? Bush aroused that fear unwittingly when he referred to the war against terror as a “crusade”. The remark evoked a return to religious warfare by Christians under the banner of the cross. The idea is not so farfetched given that the president has also said that God had told him to “end the tyranny in Iraq”.

"In other societies theocrats, religious leaders or fanatics citing holy texts dictate violent actions. That constitutes the greatest threat to world peace today. For the first time since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, mainland Britain is menaced by religious violence, now committed at the behest of Al-Qaeda.

"But if our political leaders cite faith as their political guide, then how do we distinguish ourselves from the religious extremists who wreak havoc in our world? It may seem harmless to “do God” a little in an essentially moderate country like ours. But once you claim that He is judging you or telling you what to do, there is no logical defence against another who claims that his God is instructing him to blow up discotheques or fly planes into buildings. If one God sent the Americans into Iraq, why shouldn’t another insist that by every means it be defended against infidel attack?

"My guess is that historians will look back on the early 21st century in puzzlement. How was it possible, they will ask, that man had such deep scientific understanding but clung so tenaciously to his gods? Why did western politicians think that doing God (even a tiny bit) was an electoral or strategic asset? "

The Last Stand of Conrad Black

We're just weeks away from the start of the fraud trial of Conrad Black, a case that led one observer to note, "Black has taken a huge gamble. He could end up dying in jail."

The Observer has a pretty good assessment of Black and how he got where he is today:

A British Take on Tony's Withdrawal from Iraq

The British seem to begrudgingly endorse Tony Blair's decision to get British troops out of Iraq. Even the Telegraph supports the move although not the result:

"The British people have shown a lot of patience. Four years is surely enough time to set a successor regime on its feet. Yet, as Douglas Hurd writes on this page - and we support his call for an inquiry into how we got into this mess - little has gone as hoped. Life, liberty and property are less secure now than in the latter days of Saddam. The occupation has served to radicalise Muslim opinion, not only in Iraq, but throughout Europe and the Middle East. The overthrow of the Ba'athists and the Taliban in Afghanistan removed anti-Shia powers on Iran's flanks, while making a direct confrontation with the ayatollahs politically and logistically impossible. Britain's standing has plummeted: America is resented, but we are resented and despised, viewed as Washington's trailing hyena.

"Yet there comes a point when we exhaust our utility. We tried working with the existing police. That failed. We tried scrapping the army and starting anew. That failed, too. If it is not in our power to create a better society in Iraq, there is no point in hanging around."

Britain Under Seige

If Eliza Manningham-Buller can be believed, and I think she can, there are between 1,600 and 2,000 British-based, Islamist terrorists preparing to launch a wave of attacks. Ms. Manningham-Buller is the Director-General of Britain's MI5 intelligence agency.

The Sunday Telegraph reports having seen the document, entitled "Extremist Threat Assessment" which predicts a substantial increase in terrorist attacks in Britain in 2007. The report speaks of 200 known networks involved in at least 30-plots.

The report notes the resurgence of al-Qaeda throughout the Sunni Muslim world and warns Afghanistan is expected to supercede Iraq as a venue for terrorists planning Jihad against the West.

"Two years ago, western intelligence said that al-Qaeda was virtually a spent force, disrupted by counter-terrorist operations around the world."

Warming Up to New Pathogens

They're not actually new, they're just new to some of their surroundings. They're bacteria and parasites that are expanding their reach as the planet warms. This is already happening. The World Health Organization estimated that in 2000 about 154,000 deaths around the world could be attributed to disease outbreaks and other conditions sparked by climate change. 154,000 and that's six years ago.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the earth has already warmed enough to bring trouble to northern regions from Sweden to Alaska. Bacterial blooms in Alaskan inlets have forced producers to change the way they raise and harvest shellfish. Sweden, meanwhile, is trying to cope with the northern migration of encephalitis-bearing ticks. What researchers are finding is that even incremental increases in temperature are expanding the distribution of bacteria, bugs and weeds.

The US Department of Agriculture has been testing how increasing CO2 levels affect weeds. They're testing ragweed with CO2 levels predicted for 2050. One researcher is quoted as saying, "It's like feeding a hungry teenager."

The Christian Right Comes Up Empty-Handed

A group of powerful Christian conservatives that calls itself the Council for National Policy is disappointed at the current slate of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. Their trained seal has less than two years remaining in office and they can't find another one with a weak mind and a strong back.

The council is a secretive organization whose members include James C. Dobson, Jerry Falwell and Grover Norquist. They recently had a closed-door meeting at Florida's Amelia Island. At the meeting they decided that McCain, Guilliani and even Romney weren't nearly far enough right for their liking. You have to be swinging from the end of the branch for these folks which is why they seem so very fond of our own Harpo. The New York Times reports these extremists are worried, very worried:

“'There is great anxiety,' said Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation. 'There is no outstanding conservative, and they are all looking for that.'

"Mr. Weyrich, a longtime member of the council, declined to discuss the group or its meetings. The council’s bylaws forbid members from publicly disclosing its membership or activities, and participants agreed to discuss the Amelia Island meeting only on the condition of anonymity.

"For eight years and four elections, President Bush forged a singular alliance with Christian conservatives — including dispatching administration officials and even cabinet members to address council meetings — that put them at the center of the Republican party.

"But in the aftermath of the stinging defeats in the midterm elections, and with discontent over the Iraq war weighing heavily on the public, some Christian conservatives worry that they may find themselves on the sidelines of the presidential race."

Gee, I can see their point. This could just lead to separation of state and religious fanaticism. Where would we be then?

Oh yeah, just a reminder. Harpo himself addressed the Council for Religious Extremism when they showed up in Montreal back in 1997. Here are a few things he told his American pals about us and about his movement:

On the Canadian people:

"It may not be true, but it's legendary that ifyou're like all Americans, you know almost nothing
except for your own country. Which makes youprobably knowledgeable about one more country
than most Canadians."

On the NDP:

"The NDP could be described as basically a partyof liberal Democrats, but it's actually worse thanthat, I have to say. And forgive me jesting again (about theological references), but the NDP is kind of proofthat the Devil lives and interferes in the affairs of men."

"Some people point out that there is a small element ofclergy in the NDP. Yes, this is true. But these are clergywho, while very commited to the church, believe that it made a historic error in adopting Christian theology."

And then on to those Evil Papists:

"For historic reasons I won't get into, the Liberal party gets the votes of most Catholics in the country,including many practising Catholics. It does have a significant Catholic, social conservative element which occasionally disagrees with these kinds of policy directions. Although I caution you that even this Catholic social conservative element in the Liberal party
is often quite liberal on economic issues."

And a real big swipe at those pinko, Progressive Conservatives:

"...before the Reform Party really became a force in thelate '80s, early '90s, the leadership of the Conservative party was running the largest deficits in Canadian history. They were in favour of gay rights officially, officially for abortion on demand. Officially - what else can I say about
them? Officially for the entrenchment of our universal, collectivized, health-care system and multicultural policiesin the constitution of the country."

And on his natural home, the Reform Party:

"The Reform party is very much a modern manifestationof the Republican movement in Western Canada, the U.S.Republicans started in the western United States."

Harpo Called Out - By Suzuki

It's about time. Our Furious Leader has been called out into the street to defend his beloved tar sands and the notion that he's become an instant convert to environmentalism. David Suzuki yesterday told a gym full of Calgary elementary school kids and their parents that, when it comes to the environment, Harper is, well, a fraud.

The only thing he cares about is getting re-elected with a majority government," Suzuki said, adding any of the PM's pledges to preserve the environment are cynical ploys to that end.

"I don't believe there is a green bone in Harper's body - he has never, ever indicated he cares about the environment."

"Albertans have always had the highest standard of living in the country. Why do you need all this out-of-control expansion of the oilsands. It's insanity ... it's crazy."

The Athabasca Tar Sands (no, they're not "oil" sands) have been the 800 pound gorilla of Canadian politics. When it comes to pols, Libs included, there's a genuine reluctance to anger Alberta (and Washington) by pointing out the obvious.

I suspect Harpo will lay low on this one and wait for it to go away or hope that it grows into a Suzuki-Stelmach fight that he can duck until he sees his numbers in the next election. Either way, Harper has been tagged as a fraud and ducking this one is a clear admission of that.