Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Failing Canada's Seniors

Flashback to the early 70's. I was a young, Ottawa reporter searching for a story. A block down the road from my highrise, two nursing home patients died in the span of a week. They had committed suicide by crossing the road to the local convenience store, buying a lethal quantity of aspirin and downing the lot in their rooms.

The idea of two oldsters from the same joint offing themselves in such short order sounded like just the sort of story I could use. So, off I went in pursuit of glory and gain.

Somehow I wound up talking to the psychiatrist responsible for the denizens of this nursing home and several others. He was plainly distressed and lamented how he alone was responsible for the impossible task of tending to the emotional troubles of seniors in several nursing homes.

I learned from this fellow a lot about the emotional turmoil that attends removing an intellectually intact individual from their home and relocating them, against their will, into a nursing home where their very psyche is under stress from the get go. These two gents just couldn't accept the end of their independence, their dignity and so decided ending it was the best way out.

What began as a bit of sensationalism developed into something much greater as I began to explore Ontario's extended care nursing home legislation. I came to feel that, once you fell into that category, you were dead meat.

It dawned on me that those consigned to these institutions were, in essence, incarcerated. They were inmates. That drew me to consider how we expected other inmates to be treated.

My research led me to the Geneva Conventions. While nearly four decades later I can no longer recall specifics, I did find that were we to provide enemy prisoners of war with such limited resources as we afforded our own elderly, we would be in violation of the treaties - war criminals.

That, in turn, led me to what is now known as Corrections Canada, the Canadian Penitentiary Service. I wasn't surprised to discover that the minimums under the Ontario nursing home legislation fell far short of the minimums prescribed for Canadian criminals.

I concluded my series with a short radio piece explaining how the impecunious senior, facing incarceration in a state nursing home, would be so much better off by simply murdering someone to get a life sentence under vastly better conditions in a Canadian pen.

And now, three and a half decades later, are Canada's seniors any better off? From what I've seen, it's difficult to imagine they are. Without caring and watchful relatives, seniors are compelled to surrender much of their identity, freedoms and basic rights, even their personal safety. But, then again, who cares?

What Happened to "Fight"?

During the ascendancy of Rick Hillier our Department of National Defence put out some very polished and dramatic TV spots that appeared to pitch the new, red-meat armed forces under the buzzword "fight". If you missed the ads you simply weren't watching anything remotely Canadian on your television.

These ads seem to have vanished. No more clarion calls to Canadian youth to set free the testosterone, put on the camo paint, pick up the assault rifle and have at it.

So, what happened to "Fight With The Canadian Armed Forces"?

I have no idea. Do you?

The Face of Success

With the Iraqi parliament on holidays for the month, none of its benchmark legislation passed, and the September deadline for assessment of the "surge" by US lawmakers, the neo-cons are coming out in full force, churning out glowing op-ed pieces for any newspaper that'll print them.

The surge is working, they proclaim. We're winning this one. Just another year, wait, make that two, maybe three. Victory is just around the corner.

So what is this success supposed to look like? Well, don't look at the dysfunctional Baghdad government, that's no success. Forget about the roughly four million displaced Iraqis either. Don't dwell on the soon-to-be breakaway Kurdish state in the north. Forget about the fuel shortages in this nation awash in oil or the lack of electricity of other essential utilities. And then there's the third of Iraq's population that Oxfam now deems in urgent need of emergency aid. That, then is the face of success in Iraq.

Oxfam reports that, with unemployment hovering at 50%, 43% of Iraqis live in "absolute poverty." Here are a few other clear signs of success:

70% of Iraqis lack adequate water supplies

80% lack effective sanitation

92% of Iraqi children show learning problems related to the pervasive sense of fear

800,000 Iraqi kids have dropped out of school

40% of Iraq's doctors, teachers, water engineers and other professionals have fled the country.

So, when you start reading all the "think tank" articles about how Iraq is turning the corner, remember these numbers. They won't be getting any better between now and September.

Putin for President! - In 2012

There's speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin may seek re-election. Not this year. That's when his second term expires and Russia has a 2-term limit - sort of.

It seems the Russian constitution limits the presidency to two consecutive terms. That would let Prince Vlad sit the next one out and then come back again in 2012.

"As long as the president has decided not to run for a third term, our party will be ready to nominate Vladimir Putin for president in 2012," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Sergei Mironov, leader of the loyal Fair Russia party, as saying during a visit to Russia's Bakhkortostan region at the southern Urals.

Putin, criticised by the West and disparate opposition groups at home of backtracking on democracy, has said he will present a candidate of his choice to succeed him in an election.

Despite the fact that he cannot run for a third term, around two thirds of Russians would have voted for Putin if an election was held last Sunday, according to the latest survey by pollster VTsIOM.

On Being a Leftie

I'm a genuine Leftie. I'm a sinistral - a left-hander. Now, according to stuff I've found on the BBC website, it turns out there are a lot of plusses (and a few minuses) to being left-handed.

BBC reports that an Oxford team has found a gene that increases the likelihood of being left-handed. It turns out the same gene also increases the likelihood of developing psychotic illness such as schizophrenia.

But - on the plus side. It turns out the 10% of us who aren't right have a lot of real advantages. For example, we think more quickly. That's right, unlike you dullards, scientists have found that signals move decidedly faster between the hemispheres of our brains.

Connections between the left and right hand sides or hemispheres of the brain are faster in left-handed people, a study in Neuropsychology shows.

The fast transfer of information in the brain makes left-handers more efficient when dealing with multiple stimuli.

Experts said left-handers tended to use both sides of the brain more easily.

Chartered psychologist, Dr Steve Williams said left-handed people tended to be better at using both sides of the brain.

"This seems to go with evidence that left-handers use both sides of the brain for language - that they are more bicerebral. They get faster at it because they're having to use both sides of the brain more."

"In football, being able to shoot with either foot is a huge asset (each foot like each hand is under opposite-side control) and I've heard that left-handers tend to have better backhands in tennis," he added.

But wait, there's more. We're better in fights:

The endurance of left-handedness has puzzled researchers, because it is linked to disadvantages including an increased risk of some diseases.

But University of Montpellier experts, writing in Proceedings B, say it could be because they do well in combat.

A study of eight aboriginal societies found homicide rates increased significantly with the incidence of left-handedness. Oops!

Not only that, but being left-handed makes me - sort of - Churchillian! Yes, Winston was one of us. Then again, so was Hitler. Yeah, but so is Clapton!

A Timebomb Under Gonzales?

This is good. The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee has given the White House 18-hours to come clean over Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The ultimatum is in the form of a demand by Arlen Specter that the White House issue a letter by noon tomorrow addressing the question of Gonzales' "veracity."

"Given the difficulty of discussing classified matters in public, I think it is preferable to have a letter addressing that question [of Gonzales' veracity] from the administration ... by noon tomorrow, which will be made available to the news media," Specter wrote in the statement. "The administration has committed to producing such a letter."

Some observers believe Specter will take off the gloves tomorrow, possibly joining the Democrats in a bid to unseat Gonzales.

O'Connor To Walk the Plank?

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has been a complete dud. He contradicts himself, he contradicts his military staff, he often seems confused or ill-informed. He's a dud and for Stephen Harper, Gord is becoming a real liability.

It strikes me as unusual to have the minister and the chief of the defence staff saying different things,” said Tom Flanagan, a professor at the University of Calgary and a close Harper friend. “All I can say is that it looks odd. It makes you wonder what's going on.”

O'Connor isn't getting any help from his Chief of Defence Staff, Hillier. A number of times O'Connor has stated some policy or view only to have it undermined and contradicted by Hillier.

Strongman Rule

It's something we associate with tin pot dictators not parliamentary democracy. Yet Canada is living with our very own version of Strongman Rule in Stephen Harper.

Harper doesn't just lead the Conservative government, he is the government or thinks he is. When there's an announcement to be made, Stevie is the one before the cameras. He micromanages his government which means when something falls off Harper's radar screen it all but disappears.

Tomorrow the Tories will gather in Charlottetown for a 3-day policy session. Stuck in the mud, the party needs to come out with some fresh ideas to increase its popular support. MPs and Senators may toss ideas around but most expect will be more of Harpo's "top down" control-freak management.

This may be a critical year for Stephen Harper, a year that will determine whether he has taken his party as far as he can. Unless he pulls off some sort of breakthrough Harpo may find out what lies in store for autocrats who let down their own side.

Felderhof Acquitted

Former Bre-X geologist John Felderhof has been acquitted of all 8-charges of insider trading.

Felderhof was accused by the Ontario Securities Commission of selling $84 million worth of Bre-X stock between April and October 1996, while having information that was not disclosed to investors.

Despite the acquittals by the Ontario Superior Court, Felderhof remains beset by civil litigation.

The Best Way to Fight Islamist Terrorism - Stop Fighting

Before you dismiss this idea out of hand, just look how well all our high-tech Western military muscle has done in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. We're actually creating our own enemies and we're doing it faster than we're killing off the existing foe. Do the math.

Wired editor, Nicholas Thompson, believes we have the means to defeat Islamist extremism in the proven wisdom of one George Keenan who gave birth to the strategy known as "containment":

In the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, Kennan, who was then the State Department’s policy planning chief, gave American strategy a name, but not much else. He argued that we didn’t have to actively defeat the Soviet Union, only outlast it. Communism held inside itself “the seeds of its own decay.” The United States should refrain from provoking Moscow, whether through confrontation or histrionics. Patience would lead to success.

Kennan explained that he didn’t mean containment with guns. He didn’t want American armed forces to intervene in countries where the Soviets were mucking around but hadn’t gained control, like Greece, Iran and Turkey.

The Soviets are making “first and foremost a political attack,” Kennan wrote. “Their spearheads are the local communists. And the counter-weapon that can beat them is the vigor and soundness of political life in the victim countries.”

Kennan’s insight was that a long-term, complex struggle wasn’t best judged in terms of winning or losing. Communism wasn’t something we could immediately conquer. The same holds true for Al Qaeda, a movement that, like Soviet communism, offers its subjects oppression and poverty. Time is on our side — particularly if we act in a way that doesn’t inflame our enemies’ pride and anger and win them new recruits.

Kennan’s insistence on a political strategy, rather than a military one, makes more sense now than it did when he published his essay. Applied today, that advice would entail spending more time and money building up our Muslim allies. The Center for Strategic and International Studies reports that only about $900 million of the $10 billion we’ve given Pakistan since 2002 has gone to health, education and democracy promotion. Most of the rest has gone to the military. The Bush administration has recently taken steps to change this ratio. But Kennan, one of the authors of the Marshall Plan, would have wanted the numbers to be closer to the reverse.

“Let us find health and vigor and hope, and the diseased portion of the earth will fall behind of its own doing. For that we need no aggressive strategic plans, no provocation of military hostilities, no showdowns.”

Brazil Meets Reality - At Last

For years Brazil has viewed global warming and greenhouse gas emissions as a Northern hemisphere problem, something to be resolved by the Western world. That's now changing as Brazil comes to realize that it can no longer defy gravity.

Most scientists see Brazil as the fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter. Those emissions come not from vast seas of fossil-fuel burning cars or from heavy industry or coal-fired power plants. They come from deforestation - the clearing and burning of the Amazon rainforest.

As recently as last June, Brazil joined with India and China to tell the developed world to mind its own business on GHG reductions. It was a stupid, juvenile response and one that was quickly overrun by events even the West cannot control. From the New York Times:

A number of recent events have led political leaders and ordinary Brazilians to conclude that they are not immune to climate change. First and foremost was a disastrous 2005 drought in the Amazon that killed crops, kindled forest fires, dried up transportation routes, caused disease and wreaked economic havoc.

Brazil sees itself as an emerging agricultural and industrial power, and global warming could have a disastrous impact on those aspirations. Scientists note that Brazil’s southern breadbasket flourishes largely because of rainfall patterns in the Amazon that are likely to be altered if droughts recur or climate change accelerates.

“Once they really register that the Amazon rain machine is very important to the south of Brazil, they are going to be much more interested in avoiding deforestation,” said Thomas Lovejoy, president of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. “You don’t have to be interested in biodiversity to want rain to keep that amazing agricultural system going.”

Brazil also envisions constructing a large network of dams throughout the Amazon over the next several decades to supply electricity to its industrial heartland in São Paulo, 2,000 miles south of here. But those plans depend on water flows in the region’s vast rivers not drying up.

In addition, in 2004 a hurricane formed in the South Atlantic for the first time since weather records began being kept. The storm came ashore in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, which was not prepared for it, and destroyed houses and forced thousands to flee.
“There was no previous registry of this happening, not even in the literature of colonial times,” said Carlos Nobre, Brazil’s most prominent climate scientist, who works at the National Institute for Space Research.

The latest report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued in April, has added to concerns here. “By mid-century, increases in temperature and associated decreases in soil water are projected to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savanna in eastern Amazonia,” it predicted, while also warning that “crop productivity is projected to decrease for even small local temperature increases” in tropical areas, “which would increase risk of hunger.”

Among climatologists who study the Amazon, the buzz words these days are “tipping point” — the moment at which damage to the environment is so severe and widespread that it pushes the ecosystem into an irreversible cycle of self-destruction.
Whether it's China or India or Brazil, climate change is as real as gravity. Put another way, you don't have to "get" global warming, it'll come to you.

Making Japan Own Its History

Most of us see Japan as we came to know it during the last quarter of the past century. We see it that way because we like it that way. We don't see Japan as it was from the 1920's until the end of WWII. We don't like to look at the ugly face of Japan - its brutal, barbaric, martial face.

Half a century later Japan is evolving to take its proper place in the community of nations. There's nothing wrong with that, in itself. What is troubling is the lengths to which Japan's ruling right-wingers have been going to erase the country's hideous past.

The Japanese government has plunged into a furious campaign of denial. They deny that Japanese kidnapped many thousands of Asian women, a lot of them Korean, and forced them into sexual slavery for their troops abroad. Even more atrocious has been their utter denial of what is known as the "Rape of Nanking" where invading Japanese troops indulged themselves in an orgy of rape and mass murder which was well documented by Westerners living in the city back then.

The US Congress has passed a resolution calling on Japan to apologize for its wartime sexual slavery of Asian women. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has rejected the resolution, calling it "regrettable." From the New York Times:

Some of the aging former sex slaves, known euphemistically in Japan as comfort women, and their advocates welcomed the resolution. But they reacted angrily at Mr. Abe’s response. “Abe denies that they were the ones who violated the women,” said Jan Ruff O’Herne, 84, a Dutch woman who was forced into sex slavery in Indonesia.

“I didn’t expect anything better from him than that,” she said, speaking by phone from her home in Adelaide, Australia. “But this resolution puts enormous pressure on the Japanese government. I’m still hoping that something will happen because the women are getting old, and we deserve a proper apology.”

Japan absolutely must own its own history. We have to see to that.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Which One Walks Like a Chimp?

All right. You tell me.

Why Iraq is So Much Worse Than Vietnam

Those who say Iraq can't be compared to Vietnam are right. As John Gray, professor of European thought at the London School of Economics, writes in the Guardian, Vietnam pales in comparison to the mess George w. Bush has crafted in Iraq:

America was able to walk away from Vietnam because that country was peripheral in the world economy and the knock-on effects of US withdrawal were comparatively slight; Iraq, by contrast, is a key factor in global oil supplies, and if the US pulls out its ability to protect its allies in the region will be called into question. Another crucial difference is that Vietnam had an effective government in the north that could take over when the US exited. No such entity exists in Iraq. The feared domino effect in south-east Asia did not occur, but Iraq could be the scene of a domino effect in reverse in which the country's warring neighbours fall into the void left by the Americans' departure. By any standard, defeat in Iraq would be a more devastating blow to US power than Vietnam.

The most important - as well as most often neglected - feature of the conflict shaping up around Iraq is that the US no longer has the ability to mould events. Whatever it does, there will be decades of bloodshed in the region. Another large blunder - such as bombing Iran, as Dick Cheney seems to want, or launching military operations against Pakistan, as some in Washington appear to propose - would make matters even worse.

The chaos that has engulfed Iraq is only the start of a longer and larger upheaval, but it would be useful if we learned a few lessons from it. There is a stupefying cliche which says regime change went wrong because there was not enough thought about what to do after the invasion. The truth is that if there had been sufficient forethought the invasion would not have been launched. After the overthrow of Saddam - a secular despot in a European tradition that includes Lenin and Stalin - there was never any prospect of imposing a western type of government. Grotesque errors were made such as the disbanding of the Iraqi army, but they only accelerated a process of fragmentation that would have happened anyway. Forcible democratisation undid not only the regime but also the state.

Liberal interventionists who supported regime change as part of a global crusade for human rights overlooked the fact that the result of toppling tyranny in divided countries is usually civil war and ethnic cleansing. Equally they failed to perceive the rapidly dwindling leverage on events of the western powers that led the crusade. If anyone stands to gain long term it is Russia and China, which have stood patiently aside and now watch the upheaval with quiet satisfaction. Neoconservatives spurned stability in international relations and preached the virtues of creative destruction. Liberal internationalists declared history had entered a new stage in which pre-emptive war would be used to construct a new world order where democracy and peace thrived. The result of these delusions is what we see today: a world of rising authoritarian regimes and collapsed states no one knows how to govern.

What the world needs from western governments is not another nonsensical crusade. It is a dose of realism and a little humility.

Air India Villains

If media reports can be believed (and who would doubt them?) the key plotters behind the Air India bombings have been unmasked.

According to the taped confession of Babbar Khalsa International leader Talwinder Singh Parmar, who was later believed executed while in police custody, Lakhbir Singh Brar “Rode”, nephew of the late Bhindranwale and head of the banned International Sikh Youth Federation, was the mastermind of the bombing. Rode, who is now said to be holed up in Lahore, has never figured in the investigations of either the CBI or the Canadian authorities.

The confession is said to implicate two others, Inderjit Singh Reyat and Manjit Singh as participants in the bombings.

Harmail Singh Chandi, a former Punjab police officer, says he was present when Parmar admitted his involvement in the June 1995 bombing during an intensive interrogation over five days in October 1992.

He provided detailed information to Indian magazine Tehelka Magazine, which quotes Chandi saying Parmar implicated Inderjit Singh Reyat, a long-identified suspect named Lal Singh and Lakhbir Singh Brar, a founder of the International Sikh Youth Federation who once lived in Vancouver.

Chandi said he kept a tape-recording of the confession even though senior officers told him to destroy it prior to ordering Parmar’s in-custody execution

Warfare Masks Suffering Elsewhere

We've become preoccupied with waging war. Whether it's "the mission" in Afghanistan or Bush's war of whim in Iraq or the looming next war in Iran, warfare is grabbing far too much of our attention.

Even in Afghanistan we were too busy pretending to be defeating the Taliban to put much effort into relieving the famine there last year. Who is dropping everything to send badly needed help to Iraq's millions of dispossessed? What about the refugees of Darfur? Then there's the million Bangladeshi's displaced by the current flooding. The biggest of all, however, is the Congo.

According to the Congolese humanitarian affairs minister, Jean Claude Muyambu, a staggering six million of his countrymen have been driven from their homes where, despite truces, fighting continues. That's six million atop the four million dead from fighting during the 1998-2003 war that drew in six African countries.

Simpleton or Chronic Liar?

Hurricanes Tied to Global Warming


A new study directly links increases in the frequency and severity of hurricanes to global warming. From BBC:
This new study, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in London, looks at the frequency of these storms from 1900 to the present and it says about twice as many form each year now compared to 100 years ago.

The authors say that man-made climate change, which has increased the temperature of the sea surface, is the major factor behind the increase in numbers.

"Over the period we've had natural variability in the frequency of storms, which has contributed less than 50% of the actual increase in our view," said Dr Greg Holland from the United States National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, who authored the report.

"Approximately 60%, and possibly even 70% of what we are seeing in the last decade can be attributed directly to greenhouse warming," he said.

NATO Comes to Its Senses

There's been an epiphany at NATO. The alliance has realized that chasing Taliban insurgents through civilian villages with 2,000 pound aerial bombs was a really dumb idea. So in future NATO warplanes will be using smaller bombs. Just how much smaller remains to be seen. But the encouraging news is a change in attitude about letting the Taliban draw NATO in to slaughtering civilians:

Alliance commanders have also recently delayed attacks on Taliban forces in some situations where civilians were at risk.

"We realise that if we cannot neutralise our enemy today without harming civilians, our enemy will give us the opportunity tomorrow," [Nato secretary-general de hoop Scheffer] told the Financial Times. "If that means going after a Taliban not on Wednesday but on Thursday, we will get him then."

Great thinking, long overdue - if it actually turns out to be true.

How the Right Sees Afghanistan - Poorly

Some bloggers suggest that the National Post is on the verge of bankruptcy, a flagship furiously sucking equity out of its CanWest parent. I hope they're right. The paper is nothing so much as a far-right, politically bent propaganda rag. It would be a small loss to Canada if it went under.

Columnist Don Martin is an example of why we don't need NatPo. He's been on assignment in Afghanistan where the heat must've given him brainwaves such as calling for Canadian forces to issue body counts to pump up support at home. Martin even wanted us to count the "pink mist" that resulted from NATO's aerial bombardments, not particularly worried that mist could be the mortal remains of some kid we exterminated.

Martin leaves Afghanistan today and, predictably, is doing it with a column that comes with everything but pom-poms. He also shows that he just doesn't get it.

Hundreds of Soviet tanks, troop carriers, trucks and artillery guns, perfectly preserved by Kandahar's desert-dry environment right down to goggles and binoculars, lie abandoned in a gated compound within sight of Canadian base headquarters.

For nine bloody years in the 1980s, the Soviet Union tried to prop up a Communist government in Kabul and annihilate the mujahedeen insurgency. Finally, the fading superpower ditched its military hardware here in the rush to flee a fight it couldn't win.

There's a reason the arsenal sits in a gated compound under the watchful eyes of Canadian forces and it isn't because the stuff was abandoned by the Soviets when they left. It's because all this weaponry was put to use by one of the many sides to the civil war that wracked Afghanistan for many years after the Soviets left. This stuff wasn't abandoned, it was surrendered and impounded.

Then Martin comes up with this gem: Right off the bat, let me argue that Canada cannot impose a political timetable on successfully ending this military mission. Earth to Martin, no one is suggesting that Canada can "impose" any manner of timetable on "successfully ending this military mission" whatever that may mean - and it does mean very different things to different people. Does this guy just pull this stuff out of his backside?

This one is precious: Soldiers who believed they had a Churchillian prime minister now know he's just another political weather vane, twisting in response to the winds of public opinion. What soldier in his right mind would have thought Harper "Churchillian"? It would take an incredible ignorance of Winston Churchill to ever draw that comparison, not a problem for Don Martin.

The war against the poppy is lost.

Even with eradication activity picking up under British supervision, the opium-producing plant is setting record high harvests. Detection is not a problem -- soldiers often remark how beautiful the poppy fields look when they're in full red bloom. But British military officials tell me it's a struggle to convince farmers to switch their illegal crop for less lucrative melons, grapes or even marijuana.

Fair enough, Don, but what does that mean to "the mission", to NATO and to the Kabul government? Do the math.

The combined air and ground firepower of the joint forces here is a sight to behold. How so much destructive technology can be neutralized by a few thousand religious extremists armed with ancient rocket launchers, last-generation rifles and old anti-tank mines boggles the mind.

I can't imagine what it would take to boggle a mind like Martin's but his schoolboy fascination with firepower means he has no idea that massive firepower can contribute to losing a guerrilla war. Seven weeks in Afghanistan and he still hasn't grasped that this is classic, asymmetrical warfare and that is precisely how so much destructive technology can be neutralized by a few thousand religious extremists armed with ancient rocket launchers.

Martin goes on to rave about how Kandahar city is bustling with construction and commerce, just as Kabul did previously. What hasn't dawned on him is just what is driving all that activity. It's drug money. Kandahar's very prosperity speaks of our failure to establish an alternative to the narco-economy of the countryside. Kabul too flourished - until the Americans laid into the poppy fields in that region. When the opium money dried up, so did Kabul.

Martin concludes by noting that the job (whatever that is) won't be finished by 2009 which, he says, makes it imperative that Canadian forces stay here until the job is done, even if the surrender monkeys in Ottawa think it's politically convenient to leave.

It's sad, really, that despite almost two months in Afghanistan, Martin has grasped so little of its history and its reality. Of course, if you go there to be a cheerleader, deep thoughts need not be a priority.

Martin is just plain wrong on so many levels. He completely ignores the corruption-riddled Kabul government that, of itself, virtually guarantees that "the mission" cannot succeed. He doesn't get that. He ignores the narcotics driven prosperity that leaves the welfare of the country in the hands of insurgents and criminals, some of them politicians. An economy based on lawlessness cannot give rise to a civil society, end of story. He doesn't realize that we don't control our own war in Afghanistan. We're a part, an important part, but still a part of a far larger campaign and, even if we notionally succeed in Kandahar (which we're not), our contribution can be rendered insignificant if the rest of the place is a failure.

It's unfortunate that the National Post thought so little of this story that it sent a guy of Martin's calibre to analyze it. Really unfortunate.

Ex- Says Felderhof is Innocent

David Walsh is dead. So, apparently, is Michael de Guzman. That leaves only one principal of mining fraud Bre-X to take the heat - geologist John Felderhof.

The company imploded a full decade ago wiping out $3-billion of investor equity. Some got rich, most lost their shirts. When the dust settled the company was worthless, no vaste horde of Indonesian gold.

Today's Report on Business has a detailed account, from the former Mrs. Felderhof, about the Bre-X aftermath and her ex-husband's plight. Ingrid Felderhof doesn't have a lot good to say of her former spouse but she insists he was as much a victim of the fraud as anyone else.

Forgive the Hummer? Hardly!

Is the massive Hummer really more eco-friendly that the hybrid Prius?

According to CNW Marketing Research of Oregon, it is. A controversial study by CNW holds that hybrids, at least the technology being fielded today, are more energy intensive throughout their lifetimes than Detroit's most massive gas-guzzlers. From the Globe & Mail:

CNW identified 4,000 "data points" for each car, ranging from the energy consumed in research and development to energy consumed in junkyard disposal. It calculated the electrical energy needed to produce each pound of parts. It calculated greenhouse gas emissions. It calculated mileage, too - adjusting for the differences between rush-hour Tokyo and rural America.

To keep it relatively free of technical jargon, the company expresses energy requirement as the dollar cost of energy for every mile across a vehicle's anticipated years of use - "U.S. dollars per lifetime mile." Thus it reports the lifetime energy requirement of a Hummer as $1.90 a mile; the lifetime energy requirement of a Prius as $2.86 a mile.

It reports by model name and by category. For 22 models of economy cars, the average lifetime energy cost is $0.85. For six models of pickup trucks, it's $2.58. For 14 models of smaller-sized sports utility vehicles, it's $2.07; for nine models of larger-sized SUVs, it's $3.98. For 10 models of gas-electric hybrids, it's $3.65.

Toyota, however, still has some of the greenest vehicles on earth. The Scion has the lowest energy cost of all at 48 cents a mile. The Corolla, at 72 cents, and the Echo (Yaris), at 77 cents, are also in the best-on-earth class. Low-energy competitors include Dodge's Neon (64 cents) and Saturn's Ion (67 cents). Cars with the highest energy requirement include the Rolls Royce ($10.97) and the equally elegant German-made Maybach ($15.83).

I'm not convinced. Hybrid technology is still in its infancy. New technologies tend to be flawed and need years of refinement. What is also not apparent is how much of the energy consumption attributed to these various machines is "fossil fuel" energy, the dirtiest kind? If you want to compare apples to apples, it's the Yaris at 77 cents to four bucks for a full-size SUV. That, in my view, is where the focus needs to be.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Cheney Malignancy

A lot of what has gone wrong with the Bush presidency lies with they way it has been warped by his veep, Dick Cheney. Carter-administration veep, Walter Mondale, says Cheney's manipulations have been "alarming". From the Washington Post:

...it wasn't until Jimmy Carter assumed the presidency that the vice presidency took on a substantive role. Carter saw the office as an underused asset and set out to make the most of it. He gave me an office in the West Wing, unimpeded access to him and to the flow of information, and specific assignments at home and abroad. He asked me, as the only other nationally elected official, to be his adviser and partner on a range of issues.

Our relationship depended on trust, mutual respect and an acknowledgement that there was only one agenda to be served -- the president's.

Subsequent administrations followed this pattern. George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle and Al Gore built their vice presidencies after this model, allowing for their different interests, experiences and capabilities as well as the needs of the presidents they served.

This all changed in 2001, and especially after Sept. 11, when Cheney set out to create a largely independent power center in the office of the vice president. His was an unprecedented attempt not only to shape administration policy but, alarmingly, to limit the policy options sent to the president.

Through his vast government experience, through the friends he had been able to place in key positions and through his considerable political skills, he has been increasingly able to determine the answers to questions put to the president -- because he has been able to determine the questions.

Whatever authority a vice president has is derived from the president under whom he serves. There are no powers inherent in the office; they must be delegated by the president. Somehow, not only has Cheney been given vast authority by President Bush -- including, apparently, the entire intelligence portfolio -- but he also pursues his own agenda. The real question is why the president allows this to happen.

Three decades ago we lived through another painful example of a White House exceeding its authority, lying to the American people, breaking the law and shrouding everything it did in secrecy. Watergate wrenched the country, and our constitutional system, like nothing before. We spent years trying to identify and absorb the lessons of this great excess. But here we are again.

Is America Becoming a Spent Force?

In global terms, the United States has always been a mix of reality and perception. What other nation could fuel its economy for decades on debt and deficits underwritten by foreign investors? What other nation would dare field something as globally obnoxious as the "Bush Doctrine"?

America's success has always been built on the goodwill of others and their faith and reliance on Washington. To keep that going America has had to preserve its credibility. But, thanks to George w. Bush and his influential Dick, America's credibility has taken a pummeling as the balance shifts away from perception and steadily toward reality.

The upcoming Middle East voyage of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates is expected to show just how frail has become America's coercive grip. The duo will attempt to to persuade Iraq’s neighbors to do more to help stabilize the country, to counter Iran’s growing ambitions and to try to get real movement on peace between Israel and the Palestinians. According to the McClatchey Newspapers service, they face an uphill battle:

America's credibility in the region has plummeted. The U.S. has failed to stabilize Iraq, destroy al Qaida, pacify Lebanon, isolate Syria or bolster moderate Palestinians. Instead, its policies have fueled Sunni Muslim extremism and emboldened Shiite Iran, which America's moderate Arab allies consider the two greatest threats to their rule.

So far, its support for Israel's ill-fated war in Lebanon and its efforts to undermine popular radical groups such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon have borne little fruit. Along with its support for autocrats such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, such actions have undercut American claims that it's championing Muslim democracy.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the Bush administration’s time in office. Leaders of friendly Arab states have lost confidence in President Bush’s ability to deliver on his promises and are wary of sticking their necks out too far to cooperate, according to diplomats and some U.S. officials.

Our credibility is in tatters. They are not going to commit because they don’t trust us. That doesn’t mean they are not concerned about Iran. It just means they just don’t know what we are going to do,” said one senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to reporters.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other U.S. allies in the region want the United States to reach out to Hamas, which now controls Gaza. But Rice has repeatedly ruled out dealing with the group, which is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.
"The strategy is based on the assumption that you could isolate, weaken ... Hamas," while strengthening Abbas and his Fatah faction, said Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert at the University of Maryland. "It cannot succeed. ... Everybody agrees that you can't simply isolate Hamas."

Can America recover its former prestige and clout abroad? That will be a question answered by the next administration and how quickly and successfully it can extract the United States from Iraq. With another year and a half left of the hopelessly inept Bush/Cheney administration, time is not on America's side. If Bush's successor keeps trying to force feed America's ideology to the world, the American century may be over.

The New World Order

There are two types of places in the world - those that get too much and those that don't.

Too much, this summer at least, means floods or droughts. Britain along with Texas, large parts of China and South Asia have been inundated by floodwaters. Southeast and Southwest United States, Australia, Africa and Southeast Europe have all been hit by heatwaves and drought.

In Bangladesh the flooding has turned bad enough that the country is now cut in two. Half of Bangladesh is now submerged. Flooding has also hit Pakistan, India and Nepal. Throughout the subcontinent millions are reported taking to the high ground whether that be on rooftops or in refugee camps where they await government relief.

Is this the New World Order? Climate change scientists have long predicted that global warming will bring extreme conditions - droughts and floods - as temperatures rise and alter precipitation levels and distribution worldwide. Gee, that seems to fit the bill!

The Battle of the Arctic

It's going to take more than a handful of light icebreakers to fight, much less win this one.

British and American submarines have now taken up permanent station under the Arctic ocean in preparation to confront their old adversary, the Russian navy. Russia, for its part, is building one new submarine and has ordered three more, as it brings its badly neglected navy back online.

Everyone's eyes are on what is believed to be the vast, untapped oil wealth beneath the Arctic waters. With the ascendancy of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) an enormous demand for oil is developing. These same Arctic waters, soon to be ice-free for much of the year, are also believed to have rich fish populations and enormous, sub-surface mineral wealth.

Russia is now using a mini-sub to try to establish that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Siberian continental shelf and, therefore, Russian territory. This would allow Russia to claim an area of the Arctic equal in size to Western Europe.

Both Canada and Denmark claim the Lomonosov Ridge is attached to their own undersea shelves and therefore belongs to them. Claiming it and enforcing those claims are two distinct matters and neither of these minor countries would be wise to count on much support from Britain or the US. (If you don't think we're a "minor" country in this thing, think again).

Many scientists believe the Arctic ecology too fragile to sustain economic exploitation. They're probably right but there's far too much potential wealth involved to stop what has already well begun.

The Petraeus Factor

Frank Rich, writing in today's New York Times, details the surprising rise to political power of General David Petraeus, America's last hope in Iraq. Rich claims Bush has all but ceded the Iraq problem to his top general:

And so another constitutional principle can be added to the long list of those junked by this administration: the quaint notion that our uniformed officers are supposed to report to civilian leadership. In a de facto military coup, the commander in chief is now reporting to the commander in Iraq. We must "wait to see what David has to say" Mr. Bush says.

Actually, we don’t have to wait. We already know what David will say. He gave it away to the Times of London last month when he said that September “is a deadline for a report, not a deadline for a change in policy.” In other words: Damn the report (and that irrelevant Congress that will read it) — full speed ahead. There will be no change in policy.

Rich goes on to dismantle the Petraeus image as just that - image:

It has been three Julys since he posed for the cover of Newsweek under the headline “Can This Man Save Iraq?” The magazine noted that the general’s pacification of Mosul was “a textbook case of doing counterinsurgency the right way.” Four months later, the police chief installed by General Petraeus defected to the insurgents, along with most of the Sunni members of the police force. Mosul, population 1.7 million, is now an insurgent stronghold, according to the Pentagon's own report.

By the time reality ambushed his textbook victory, the general had moved on to the mission of making Iraqi troops stand up so American troops could stand down. “Training is on track and increasing in capacity,” he wrote in the Washington Post in late September 2004, during the endgame of the American presidential election. He extolled the increased prowess of the Iraqi fighting forces and the rebuilding of their infrastructure.

The rest is tragic history. Were the Iraqi forces on the trajectory that General Petraeus asserted in his election-year pep talk, no “surge” would have been needed more than two years later. We would not be learning at this late date, as we did only when General Peter Pace was pressed in a Pentagon briefing this month, that the number of Iraqi battalions operating independently is in fact falling — now standing at a mere six, down from 10 in March.

In Rich's analysis, Petraeus' main role has now become anchoring an increasingly delusional president - a political, not a military role.

Bye bye - Abe

Japan's days of far right government may be drawing to a close. Prime minister Shinzo Abe's conservative LDP suffered a sharp defeat in the country's upper house elections, losing its majority to the moderate Democrats.

The LDP still holds a large majority in the lower house which Abe says he'll use to stay on as prime minister, a move his own party may resist.

With the upper house in the hands of the populist opposition, it could lead to a legislative deadlock that would trigger dissolution in the lower house and early elections the LDP does not want to face. Japanese voters have turned against the right due to a series of scandals and blunders.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Taliban Add Anti-Aircraft Missiles to the Mix

The Taliban are said to have deployed heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles in Afghanistan. The Telegraph reports that an American C-130 Hercules transport was brought under attack on July 22.

It closed in on the large C-130 aircraft, pursuing it as the pilots launched a series of violent evasive manoeuvres and jettisoned flares to confuse the heat sensors in the nose of the missile. Crew members said that they saw what they believe was a missile passing very close to the aircraft. The C-130 was not damaged in the attack.

NATO will neither admit nor deny the attack but a surface-to-air missile alert has been issued to all Western aircraft flying in the southwest region of Afghanistan.

The recent attack was probably with an SA7 shoulder-launched missile, an elderly model of Soviet or Chinese origin. Though relatively primitive they are still a potent weapon, particularly against low-flying helicopters, such as the workhorse Chinook transporters used by British forces in the southern Helmand province.

In April members of the Special Boat Service operating in Nimroz province intercepted several truck loads of weapons coming across the Iranian border, including a working SA7 missile. It was one of a number of recent weapon caches that Western officials claim have been seized on the border with Iran, fuelling allegations by Britain and America that Iran, or elements within the Iranian government, have begun supplying arms to the Taliban.

Hundreds of SA7 missiles disappeared into the black market in Iraq in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein, where they have since been used to shoot down dozens of helicopters and aircraft, reportedly including a British C-130 in 2005.

Maliki Wants Petraeus Relieved

He's the US Army's counterinsurgency guru, General David Petraeus. He's the guy George w. Bush is counting on to make the "surge" work, to save Bush from the ignomy of defeat. But the very leader Petraeus is supposed to help, Iraqi president Nouri al Maliki, wants the general to go.

The Telegraph reports that Maliki has begged Bush to recall Petraeus:

One Iraqi source said Mr Maliki used a video conference with Mr Bush to call for the general's signature strategy to be scrapped. "He told Bush that if Petraeus continues, he would arm Shia militias," said the official. "Bush told Maliki to calm down."

At another meeting with Gen Petraeus, Mr Maliki said: "I can't deal with you any more. I will ask for someone else to replace you."

Gen Petraeus admitted that the relationship was stormy, saying: "We have not pulled punches with each other."

President Bush's support for Mr Maliki is deeply controversial within the US government because of the Iraqi's ties to Shia militias responsible for some of the worst sectarian violence.

Bush's Neighbourhood Improvement Project

If there's one thing the Middle East/South Asia region could really use right now, it would have to be more weapons. Let's face it, no Carnage Festival worth the name can go on and on and on without an abundant supply of stuff to kill other people with. And when it comes to the Muslim world, George w. Bush's attitude is full-bore, party time.

This week, Washington made a lot of noise about how the Saudis are becoming a pain in the backside that we sometimes call Iraq. The Saudis, it seems, are busy funneling aid and other goodies to Iraq's Sunni insurgency which, just coincidentally, likes to spend much of its time attacking American soldiers. So, what to do?

How about offering an arms sale package to the Saudis and their neighbours worth, oh say, $20-billion? Well that naturally didn't sit too well with Israel so Washington went ahead and upped their weaponry welfare package to $30-billion over the next 10-years. There's a tidy $50-billion of new killing stuff, all of it heading to what has to be by far the most unstable little corner of the world. Oh, and don't forget, the new nuclear package America has negotiated with India. That should spur those Pakistanis to get busy, don't you think?

The Americans say they're worried about giving the impression they're fueling an arms race in the Middle East. Not so, they say. They're only bolstering friendly nations to meet Iran's growing military capability. Hey... what the hell... that is an arms race!

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Tax On Everybody? Oh No!

America's top cross-dressing, Republican presidential candidate has lambasted Democratic nomination hopefuls, Barack Obama and John Edwards, Edwards for proposing tax increases on the wealthy and Obama for saying he would meet with leaders of nations such as Cuba, Iran and Libya without preconditions.

As for Edwards, Rudolph Guiliani, presumably dressing straight if only for the sake of gravitas, said the former senator's platform that would raise the top tax rates on long-term capital gains "This is a tax on everybody.'' That, of course, flies in the face of the Bush Doctrine which says really rich people ought to be spared the indignity of taxation whenever possible.

In response to Obama, whom Guiliani privately finds strangely attractive, the failed former New York mayor said, "Fidel Castro is a dictator and he is a murderer. He should not be visiting with U.S. presidents.''

My E-Mail to the Prime Minister of Canada's New Government

The whole Mulroney/Schreiber controversy just won't die. Wouldn't it be great if our current Conservative prime minister took a few, simple steps to put the whole thing to bed? I think so. That's why I sent the following e-mail to Mr. Harper:

Dear Prime Minister Harper:

The Airbus affair simply won't go away. In persuading the Chretien government to settle by paying Mr. Mulroney $2-million of taxpayer funds, Mr. Mulroney gave sworn evidence that he had never had any business dealings with Mr. Schreiber.

After CBC's Fifth Estate obtained Mr. Schreiber's Swiss bank accounts showing a trail of funds from Airbus to Schreiber and, hence, on to Mr. Mulroney, your Conservative predecessor changed his account and said he had received that money as a retrainer for providing legal services to Mr. Schreiber. It appears that, at the same time as the payments were exposed, Mr. Mulroney also made a voluntary disclosure to Revenue Canada of certain unreported income.

The documents alone raise a strong suspicion that your Conservative predecessor misled federal government lawyers in compelling a settlement of his defamation claim. Particularly as Mr. Mulroney was a Conservative prime minister and is linked to Canada's New Government, you should be intent on obtaining clarification that exonerates Mr. Mulroney.

Sir, if these monies were indeed given to Mr. Mulroney as a legal retainer could you ask his firm to produce copies of its trust ledger confirming receipt and deposit of these funds? I'm sure Mr. Schreiber would agree to relinquish his privilege on this matter. Could you also have Mr. Mulroney's then firm furnish a copy of their accounts to Mr. Schreiber pursuant to which these monies would have been withdrawn from the firm's trust account?

Mr. Harper, lawyers are under strict obligations as to handling retainers that leave a clear paper trail. You may be aware that, until recently, Mr. Schreiber publicly stated that your Conservative predecessor rendered no legal services to him in consideration for these payments. Mr. Schreiber also described the original source of these payments, the Airbus monies, as "schmiergelder" or grease money, a bribery fund in connection with the Air Canada purchase of Airbus jetliners.

This whole business has a terrible smell, Mr. Prime Minister, and I know that Canada's New Government has no time for political chicanery. Would you therefore please get to the bottom of this?


Note - I will of course promptly post the unedited response I receive from the Prime Minister. Once Mr. Schreiber is sent back to Germany this will all probably die on the vine. If you want these loose threads tied up, the dangling questions answered, write Mr. Harper. Or, if you like, you can copy the message above, add your name to it and e-mail it to "pm@pm.gc.ca" Then we could all share our responses.

There is every reason to believe that Mr. Schreiber is a dodgy sort of wheeler-dealer. He is a wanted man in Germany. Yet his allegations have been troubling, a blight on Mr. Mulroney's good name. Surely this controversy can all be cleared up by the production of just a handful of documents that will corroborate Mr. Mulroney and vindicate him of any suggestions that he received tainted money from Mr. Schreiber. Then we could all just forget about this unhappiness.

A Mulroney/Schreiber Sidebar

This story illustrates why so many of us are angered at the current state of media concentration in Canada.

When CBC's Fifth Estate aired its account of this story it was mentioned that, while the Globe & Mail broke the story, the National Post had it first but spiked it - deliberately chose not to publish it.

A few weeks after the Fifth Estate broadcast I visited my elderly Dad in Leamington, Ontario. The paper they get is the Windsor Star, another CanWest Global newspaper. When I mentioned the Schreiber/Mulroney story to my Dad, he'd never heard of it. He decided to find out why not and so called the Star editor. Here is the explanation he was given.

Yes the editor of the Windsor Star was aware of the story. No the Windsor Star hadn't carried the story. The Windsor Star published what came to it via the CanWest tunnel - Asper approved - and there was nothing in that newsfeed about Mulroney/Schreiber at all and so nothing was printed in their paper.

More Dead Afghan Civilians

NATO reports 50 Taliban killed along with 28 civilians. More dead civilians. Who cares? Harper? No. O'Connor? No. Hillier? No.

Nobody cares, at least not enough to do what they know has to be done to protect innocent Afghan lives. End of story.

Wait, I've got an idea. How 'bout we change "dead civilian" to "Civilian Inadvertently Liberated from Taliban Oppression"? There, that sounds much better, doesn't it?

Congress Succeeds Where Putin Failed

The US Congress is expected to refuse funding needed by George w. Bush to establish an interceptor missile battery in Poland. From The Guardian:

The House appropriations committee cut $139m (£69.5m) from the $310m the Bush administration wants for preparatory work on the missile project in Europe. It approved funds for a radar system in the Czech Republic but cut the $139m Mr Bush requested to establish a missile interception system in Poland, the most controversial part of the defence system.

John Murtha, chairman of the committee, said the Bush administration has "got to convince us this is worthwhile".

As well as reducing the budget, Congress is shifting priorities from futuristic programmes to more immediate concerns, such as improved healthcare for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, pay rises for soldiers and marines, and much-needed weaponry for Iraq, such as the heavily-armoured Stryker vehicles.

The committee's pared-down budget will go to the full House for a vote next week but is almost certain to be passed.
The House and Senate have questioned whether establishing the system in eastern Europe is sensible given the extent of the opposition it has aroused in Russia. They also question its technical feasibility and the failure of other Nato countries to commit fully to it.

Are we beginning to watch the unravelling of the Imperial Presidency? If Congress chokes the beast into unconsciousness over the missile defence scheme, what's next? Has the day of the rightwing nutbar finally come to an end?

US Ordered To Pay $107 Million for Murder Frame-Ups

Four decades ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation set up four innocent men in a 1965 gangland murder. From the Boston Globe:

In a decision that was as dramatic as it was stern, US District Judge Nancy Gertner said from the bench that the FBI had deliberately withheld evidence that Peter J. Limone, Joseph Salvati, Louis Greco, and Henry Tameleo were innocent, and that the bureau helped cover up the injustice for decades as the men grew old behind bars and Tameleo and Greco died.

"FBI officials up the line allowed their employees to break laws, violate rules, and ruin lives, interrupted only with the occasional burst of applause," said Gertner, berating the FBI for giving commendations and bonuses to the agents who helped send the men to prison for the killing in Chelsea of Edward "Teddy" Deegan, a small-time hoodlum.

Japan's Brief Fling with Neo-Cons Ends This Weekend

The party of Shinzo Abe are called Liberal Democrats, which is sort of like branding Stephen Harper as "Mr. Accountability." They're actually a bunch of right wing hard-liners intent on restoring Japan's imperial grandeur by erasing all traces of the country's hideous past.

This Sunday Abe may take a kamikaze flight of his own. The Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, the New Komeito, need at least 64 of the 242 seats up for grabs to maintain a majority in the upper house.

But polls indicated that the governing coalition will win far fewer than the 64 seats and that the opposition Democratic Party is likely to gain a majority.

No word yet on whether Abe will cleave to his traditionalist zeal and go out the sepuku route.

Iran Isn't America's Only Pain in Iraq

It's probably a statement of how America's current weakness in Iraq is viewed across the Middle East. The Saudis are getting downright uppity with Washington.

The New York Times reports that the Bush/Cheney administration/regime/junta is becoming vexed at the Saudi's efforts to meddle in Iraq.

Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.

One senior administration official says he has seen evidence that Saudi Arabia is providing financial support to opponents of Mr. Maliki. He declined to say whether that support was going to Sunni insurgents because, he said, “That would get into disagreements over who is an insurgent and who is not.”

Officials in Washington have long resisted blaming Saudi Arabia for the chaos and sectarian strife in Iraq, choosing instead to pin blame on Iran and Syria. Even now, military officials rarely talk publicly about the role of Saudi fighters among the insurgents in Iraq.

The Bush administration’s frustration with the Saudi government has increased in recent months because it appears that Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to undermine the Maliki government and to pursue a different course in Iraq from what the administration has charted. Saudi Arabia has also stymied a number of other American foreign policy initiatives, including a hoped-for Saudi embrace of Israel.

American officials in Iraq also say that the majority of suicide bombers in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia and that about 40 percent of all foreign fighters are Saudi. Officials said that while most of the foreign fighters came to Iraq to become suicide bombers, others arrived as bomb makers, snipers, logisticians and financiers.

The administration “thinks the Saudis are no longer behaving the role of the good vassal,” said Steve Clemons, senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. The Saudis, in turn, “see weakness, they see a void, and they’re going to fill the void and call their own shots.”

He Was as Drunk as... As an Astronaut

Say what? On at least two occassions NASA astronauts had to be warned their drunkeness constituted a safety risk to flights.

According to Aviation Week, a 12-page NASA paper soon to be released details two incidents when investigators investigators reported “ ‘heavy use of alcohol’ by astronauts” within 12 hours of flying.

No Whore Like an Old Whore

Oh he was so pure. He was just the man to cleanse Canada's parliament of the loose ways of the Liberals. Stevie was going to wash the place down with his very own Holy Water.

Remember when Harpo promised that his government - that would be Canada's New Government by the way - would end the practice of partisan appointments to federal boards and commissions? Guess what?

It's Harpo's turn at the trough now and he's going just as fast as he can to show us that he's a complete fraud, an outright liar. Huh?

Just as Adbusters outed Harpo on the environment, Democracy Watch has now outed him on his accountability promises. From the Toronto Star:

Since the beginning of the year, the Tories have made about 800 appointments, many of them with close ties to the party, and there is still no sign of an independent public appointments commission, said Duff Conacher, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, a group advocating government accountability and corporate responsibility.
"To lie to the voters, to mislead the voters during the last election on this issue of government accountability shows a very high level of hypocrisy and dishonesty," Conacher said.

It has been seven months since the Tories' much-vaunted Accountability Act was passed, with the appointments commission its centrepiece.

But critics suggest the commission will never happen because the Conservatives' chances of being re-elected seem to be fading.

The Accountability Act, drafted by the Tories in response to the Liberal sponsorship scandal, passed the Commons and Senate and received royal assent last December, but a separate cabinet order is required for many provisions to come into force. The wording is such that there is nothing forcing cabinet to establish the appointments commission.

Let's face it folks, Stephen Harper is an outright liar. What was it his mentor, the honourable Mulroney used to say? "No whore like an old whore," yeah that's it. Now, what about that global warming thing?

Schreiber Gets the Best of Mulroney

Brian Mulroney has been ordered to pay his fellow shyster, er- entrepreneur, Karlheinz Schreiber, $470,000. The judgment of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice effectively orders Mulroney to make restitution of three cash payments the former Tory PM received from his then stalwart buddy, a key figure in the Airbus Scandal.

The payments came in the form of three envelopes, each neatly stuffed with $100,000 in cash. Mulroney would meet Schreiber in a coffee shop and an envelope would be passed across the table. Three meetings, $300,000.

CBC got its hands on Schreiber's Swiss bank records. They showed the cash came from money Schreiber was paid by Airbus for the sale of jetliners to Air Canada, money Schreiber called "schmiergelder" or "grease money."

By Schreiber's account it was dirty money, paid mobster-style, to a genuinely dodgy character.

Mulroney sued the Chretien government over the Airbus scandal and, under oath, claimed he'd never had any dealings with Schreiber. That claim was instrumental in the Canadian government's decision to fold and pay Mulroney $2-million.

Only later, when the evidence of the payments came out, did Mulroney start scrambling. He then said the money was a "retainer" to represent Schreiber to establish an arms factory and a pasta business.

At first Schreiber denied this but, as his battle to avoid extradition to Germany collapsed, he seems to have figured he might as well get his money back using Mulroney's own bizarre story to secure a judgment.

Now Mulroney is asking the court to set aside the judgment. He's challenging its jurisdiction to make the order - a tactic that won't require him to get into the facts of what actually happened. That motion is being argued today.

Personally I'd like to see Mulroney wind up with this case re-opened so he could argue the facts on their merits. Maybe Harpo could postpone Schreiber's extradition so this saga could all play out in court. I'm sure Harper's newfound buddy, Mulroney, would be ever so grateful for a chance to clear his wonderful name.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Adbusters Outs Harper

The online version of Adbusters has stripped Stephen Harper of what it calls his "green veneer":

After failing to get any support for his ironically-titled Clean Air Act, Harper’s government announced a new climate change policy last April called “Turning the Corner” that was supposed to strike a balance between environmental and industry concerns. But the new strategy was a gift to corporations and gave them so many loopholes and exemptions from target caps that it will actually lead to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

Through “intensity-based targets,” corporations can increase their pollution as they increase their production. It will also give new companies three years to start meeting targets – widely seen as a free pass for the oil and gas companies operating in Alberta’s toxic tar sands, which are desperately trying to ramp up production to meet the United States’ insatiable need for oil. Under the new plan, companies can also meet 70 percent of their targets simply by paying into a fund, and those that don’t meet their targets can just buy their way out with carbon credits.

Harper’s attempt to portray himself as environmentally conscious is all the more insulting considering his track record. Since he was elected in 2006, Harper has cut 20 different federal programs meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, made secret deals with George Bush and American oil executives to bolster production of the Albertan tar sands (which already consume 600 million cubic feet of natural gas a day), and introduced the incredulous Clean Air Act, which doesn’t set hard caps on emissions until 2050.

Like many aspects of his appearance, Harper is trying to mask his persona as a right-wing radical and re-brand himself as a middle-of-the-road moderate in order to appeal to Canadian voters. While he has managed to calm some people’s fears by diluting his stance on the Iraq War and gay marriage, Harper’s environmental transformation is a façade. But Canada and the rest of the world have little time left to play with his disguises. With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning that billions of people around the world are going to face food and water shortages caused by flooding within 13 years, Harper’s “greening” is nothing more than a whitewash.

Obama Calls HIllary "Bush/Cheney Lite"

Ouch! That's gotta hurt. Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama has fired a broadside at Hillary Clinton:

“I’m not afraid of losing the PR war to dictators...I’m not going to hide behind a bunch of rhetoric. I don’t want a continuation with Bush-Cheney. I don’t want Bush-Cheney light. I want a fundamental change.”

Obama was referring to Hillary Clinton's statement that, like Bush/Cheney, she too would not talk to leaders from countries like Iran unless they first met certain conditions.

IDEX - Recharging the Middle East's Bloodlust

A lot of money is due to change hands this weekend in Dubai. It's the annual, International Defence Exhibition or IDEX, and it's just the place to stock up on goodies for your particular insurgency of choice.

Everything can be had from sniper rifles to state-of-the-art surveillance gear to the latest attack jets and there'll be plenty of buyers for just about all of it.

Saudi Arabia and Jordan are widely believed to be arming Iraq's Sunni insurgency this way and, while America is fond of complaining of Iranian ordinance finding its way into Shia hands, when was the last time you heard Bush/Cheney denounce their Saudi buddies for helping their Iraqis kill Americans?

IDEX - bringing together all the mayhem and suffering fit to buy and all of the oil money keen to buy it.

The Death of Easy Money?

The United States is the ultimate consumer society. Consumer spending has driven that country's economy as it has no other and the fuel for it has been easy money, that is to say very low interest rates. As described in the Washington Post, the peril of an economy built on prolonged, low interest is what happens when that inevitably ends.

Easy credit has been the economy's lifeblood in recent years. It gave people who previously couldn't afford homes a crack at the American dream. It fueled multibillion-dollar takeovers of some of corporate America's biggest names. It buoyed the stock market and propped up the prices of many other assets.

But now, the investors who a few months ago were willing to lend money to Wall Street at low interest rates, on loose terms, are balking as they worry about having to pay the price for lax lending standards.

The trouble started in one of the shakiest sectors of finance, home mortgages for people with bad credit, but it is spreading. As easy credit dries up, some huge corporate deals are being delayed and could unravel.
The question now is how far will the pain spread, and how many people will get hurt as it does.

"When people get scared, they tighten up all over," said A. Gary Shilling, president of the investment firm that bears his name. He said he expects housing prices to fall significantly further. "This kills consumer spending," he said of the credit crunch. "We think we'll be in a recession as a result by the end of the year. And that will spread globally because U.S. consumers still are the buyers of first and last resort for the excess goods and services produced around the world."

At the moment opinion is sharply divided on how the US will ride out the storm. Some are hopeful it will turn out to be a passing squall that leads to sunny skies again this fall. Others believe a recession looms.

The Best News In A Long Time

"I'm a big believer in polluter pays.

There will be an investigation into how this happened

... and how we can stop this from happening in the future."

Write that down somewhere you'll be able to find it because I think we'll need it before long.

The policy comes directly from the rabid mouth of Canada's EnvroMin John Baird. Bairdo (as in "Baird" + "Weirdo") was responding to the ruptured oil pipeline in Burnaby, B.C. earlier this week that resulted in the escape of thousands of litres of crude oil.

I, too, agree with the "polluter pays" principle. It's fair and it's just and, when done right, it can be really effective.

In Canada there hasn't been enough of this sort of thing. Take, for example, Big Oil. They've been running an enormous tab for a long time and maybe the moment has finally arrived for them to be presented with their bill.

Just a few days ago Big Oil was talking about the great benefits to be had from carbon capture and sequestration, something they followed with the suggestion that our government fund the programme. Hey Baird, why don't you take your "polluter pays" principle on the road. First stop - the Tar Sands.

The Gone Old Days

I'm reluctant to let this out but - oh well, the climate of our planet is changing and, in terms of our relativey frail life forms, the changes are powerful.

If it isn't the heat that gets you, it may be the rain. Just about every place on the planet is getting hotter. In colder areas that can be a mixed blessing. In normally hot regions, it's an outright curse.

Even once-mild Europe isn't spared. Heat waves have claimed thousands of lives in places like Paris and, further south, the Meditteranean shores are becoming seasonally unbearable. The eastern Med, in particular, is scorched and parched.

The same goes for the southeastern and southwestern regions of the US where what's expected to be a long-term drought has set in. The populations that have migrated to Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and the like are now having second thoughts - and not because they want to.

The rainfall these places need hasn't disappeared, it's merely moved on and concentrated in places as diverse as China, Texas and Britain. The populations of those areas aren't short of rain, they're floating in it. The curious thing is that all that rain often means no drinking water. Go figure. (if you don't understand, it's because floodwaters inundate municipal water and sewer systems, leaving drinking water contaminated and unfit).

Those who prefer it cold are going to be drawn closer to earth's poles. Some who need it cold - polar bears and the Inuit, for example, are going to have to find ways to adapt. The Inuit have been advised to get rid of their snowmobiles and go back to dog teams because dogs can recognize thin ice and, if your sled does go in, can sometimes pull you right back out. Now there's a comforting thought.

The Good Old Days are now the Gone Old Days. That's more than a bitter lament. It means that, in addition to rallying to the fight against global warming, we need to direct resources and efforts to finding the very best ways and means of adapting to what's already arrived and what will be coming in the near future.

In Canada we need to grasp how blessed we are compared to most of the planet, including our immediate neighbour. We need to appreciate these natural advantages and decide what we need to do to preserve, even defend them. Let's not delude ourselves: this is going to take time, effort, resources and an awful lot of goodwill and co-operation if we're to do this right. We can't obsess about getting back the Good Old Days. They are now, by any measure, the Gone Old Days.

World Economy Booming - for Some

Russia, India and China. Their rapid economic growth is expected to drive the world economy to a 5.2% growth this year, despite a lagging United States.

China's economy is expected to grow slightly faster than 11% while the US will be closer to 2%, provided it can contain the damage from its bursting housing bubble. Germany and Japan come in at 2.6% growth, slightly less than Britain.

The forecasts, produced by the International Monetary Fund, come with an inflation warning. The IMF says sustained, strong growth will be reflected in rising costs of energy, commodities and labour.

The IMF forecasts point to a major shifting in global economic power from West to East. It now appears to have reached a point where even a US recession will be a mainly local problem instead of a global catastrophe.

Al-Qaeda's Ace in the Hole - Bush

If you were in a war and you knew that, with a very small force you could tie down the lion's share of your enemy's force in one area, where would you deploy your main force? Well you would probably take the opportunity to use your greatest force where it could exploit your enemy's vulnerability. For al Qaeda today, that vulnerability is in south Asia - Pakistan and Afghanistan in particular.

For every soldier George Bush has tied down in Afghanistan he has three in Iraq, supposedly battling al-Qaeda. Three to one, that must say something.Unfotunately what it says is not encouraging.

When Bush talks of al-Qaeda it is inevitably to tie the terrorist group to his misadventure in Iraq. Drawing down US troops in Iraq would hand a victory to al-Qaeda, he claims, knowing that, with the help of his mouthpieces - the Ann Coulter/Fox News/Rush Limbaugh types - he can still persuade his base that he knows what he's doing.

Now George Bush is either lying or he's incredibly stupid - stupid the point of gross incompetence. Even as he was uttering this nonsense, his top anti-terrorism experts were appearing before Congress, in the process exposing Bush's self-serving, soldier-killing, homeland endangering deceit. From the Boston Globe:

In rare testimony before two House committees, Edward Gistaro, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, said that Al Qaeda terrorists operating in South Asia are better equipped to attack the United States than the network's followers in Iraq are.

Asked which arm of Al Qaeda concerned him the most, Gistaro told a joint session of the House armed services and intelligence panels that it was South Asia.

"The primary concern is in Al Qaeda in South Asia organizing its own plots against the United States," he said. Al Qaeda planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks from its bases in Afghanistan.

"We see increased efforts on the part of Al Qaeda to try and find, train, and deploy people who could get into this country," he testified.

Meanwhile, a top US general in Afghanistan told Pentagon reporters in a video teleconference that the number of Al Qaeda foot soldiers traveling to South Asia has increased up to 60 percent over the past year.

"It's increased probably 50 to 60 percent over what it was last year . . . and they come from multiple areas in the Middle East," said Army Major General David Rodriguez, commander of the 82d Airborne Division.

Iraq is bleeding America's military and sapping popular support in the US. Iraq is preventing the United States from turning to face its enemy.

Ever since Bush/Cheney invaded Afghanistan they have been playing directly into the hands of al-Qaeda. When they had nearly choked the very life out of this once ragtag criminal gang, they released their grip and let it recover. Then they invaded Iraq out of sheer whim, handing bin Laden a huge victory and permitting al-Qaeda to grow in numbers and expand in range from Europe to East Africa to West Asia. Unbelievable. Now that the size and capability of al-Qaeda has grown markedly, Bush refuses to meet its thrust. Unbelievable.

I'm beginning to wonder whether Bush's top officials even tell him the truth any longer or, through the filter of Dick Cheney's organization, tell their president only what he wants to hear or what Cheney wants him to hear?

Bush is now deep in his bunker where he can no longer see the light of day. He reminds me of another delusional leader on the losing end of an invasion of whim who ordered non-existant divisions to hold off a resurgent enemy.