Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cut Off

You can only spin this one so far and then reality comes crashing down. Here's the way the National Post gilds the lily:

Canadian air drops 'save lives', avoid risky Afghan roads

The spin follows:

Canada has begun making dramatic air drops from CC-130 Hercules aircraft to troops in hostile territory to spare the lives of convoy crews that would otherwise face a long and perilous land journey to carry out the same mission.

In order to keep the enemy guessing, the flight profiles and drop points always vary, as do the timings for such runs, which can also be conducted at night. Although Canada made a few such air drops to troops here last year, doing so regularly only became possible last month when several Canadian Hercules were based at Kandahar for the first time. Before that they were located at an airfield several hours away in the Middle East.

What's wrong with this picture? It's an admission that we can't even maintain enough security between our garrison and outposts to permit overland resupply. How in hell are we supposed to make the Afghan villagers believe they're secure from the Taliban when we need air drops to supply our own soldiers in the field?

If you don't keep your logistics routes open, you're cut off. You're yielding control over the territory between your garrison and your outposts to the enemy. What are we going to do if they start picking off the vulnerable, lumbering Hercules prop-transports?

This may mean one thing to an armed forces press officer and a willing dupe from CanWest and quite another to the insurgents on the ground where the convoys no longer run. The Taliban know quite well what it means. It's a game they've been playing against armies from the west for centuries.

We're not at the point of Khe Sanh or Dien Bien Phu, at least not yet. But we have surrendered control of our communications lines with our forces in the field. This may not be a defeat, yet, but it is a tactical reversal and there's no pretending otherwise. Remember, we were supposed to be securing Kandahar province. That's why we're there, eh?

Whatever Happened to Charisma?

Sure it sounds trivial. Charisma, originally a theological term denoting a "spiritual gift or grace giving a person a gift of prophesying or healing", now commonly meaning a magnetic and compelling personality.

History records some genuinely charismatic leaders - Roosevelt and Churchill, surely; John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Pierre Trudeau's charisma was palpable, even to his opponents. Then again I suppose you could say that most Germans found Hitler charismatic just as Italians were drawn to Mussolini.

Where are the charismatics today? They seem to be in short supply. There's certainly none in that cold, wooden plank we have for a prime minister, Stephen Harper. You pretty much have to come from the ranks of those who like their undies starched to find anything magnetic in Harpo. Stephane Dion? Well at least he's not cold but he's anything but magnetic either. Jack Layton? No, guys who look like siding salesmen aren't charismatic. Too sleazy.

Obama is heralded as charismatic and he probably is somewhat but not nearly enough to topple the completely anti-charismatic Hillary Clinton. Rudy Guiliani? He tries hard to connect but, let's face it, he's a cross-dressing, serial divorcee. Fred Thompson? Sort of but much too wrinkled and, again, he's not really connecting.

Americans think Ronald Reagan was charismatic but that's largely a delusion based on their refusal to accept what a murderous, lying thug he really was. They also found their current fuhrer charismatic as hell until he sent their desperate hopes and dreams swirling into the toilet of Iraq.

We all need a good shot of charisma every now and then and we're in a real "now" moment. We need an orator, a real firebrand, someone who can stand up on a stage and make us say "yeah, yeah". Haven't we had enough Harpers and Hillaries and even Dions? I've had my fill. We're at a crossroads, a confluence of serious problems that challenge our very civilization. It's time for a genuine leader, one with the spiritual gift of charisma. Someone we can really follow.

Gratuitious Threats Carry a Price

In today's LA Times, Matthew Brzezinski warns that George Bush's anti-missile system deployment to Russia's doorstep could have regrettable consequences. He looks at another time, back in te 50's, when Washington thought it was a good idea to use a sharp stick to poke at the Russian bear:

Under the stewardship of John Foster Dulles, his hawkish secretary of State, Eisenhower devised a new defense doctrine to counter the spreading "Red menace," which had recently claimed Eastern Europe and was infecting Asia.

To keep the Soviets sufficiently frightened and in check, the Air Force's Strategic Air Command, or SAC, began a systematic and sustained campaign of harassment and intimidation. Every day, U.S. planes took off from bases around the world and penetrated Soviet airspace, probing for weaknesses in Russian radar defenses. Huge exercises with ominous names like Operation Power House scrambled hundreds of nuclear-laden long-range bombers that charged across the Atlantic, headed for Moscow. At the last minute, they would turn around, but in some war games, squadrons of B-47 Stratojets would take off from Greenland, cross the North Pole and fly deep into Siberia in attack formation -- in broad daylight. "With any luck, we could have started World War III," the SAC commander, Gen. Curtis LeMay, famously declared.

The Russians were not amused. Had the Soviets tried the same stunt, Khrushchev indignantly responded, "it would have meant war."Throughout the campaign to demonstrate overwhelming American air superiority, the United States violated Soviet airspace more than 10,000 times. Our thermonuclear stockpile increased tenfold, while LeMay publicly speculated about the 60 million Soviet citizens targeted for annihilation under the Dulles doctrine of massive retaliation. The term was a bit of a misnomer because Soviet planes at the time did not have the range to reach U.S. soil and never once infringed on U.S. territory.

Unfortunately, the massive retaliation doctrine was too effective. "Soviet leaders may have become convinced that the U.S. actually has intentions of military aggression," the CIA warned in a 1955 report. And the intelligence agency was right. "We were very afraid, and saw the Americans clearly as the aggressors," recalled Khrushchev's son, Sergei, who now lives in Rhode Island. And so the Soviet Union started a crash program to build an ICBM.

Sputnik was the ICBM's public unveiling, Moscow's turn to demonstrate its air superiority. Ten times more powerful than any operational U.S. missile of the era, it instantly redressed and reversed the strategic imbalance and catapulted the Soviet Union into superpower status as America's technological equal.

The Eisenhower administration's own actions, which some historians now call reckless, inadvertently sped up the Soviets' quest for a missile. It's a historical lesson the current occupants of the White House should ponder.

Just An Idea - Stand'em Up Over Here

The familiar refrain is "when they stand up, we'll stand down" which means our troops will leave Afghanistan when the Afghan army is able to take their place. Fair enough. Why, then, don't we put our money where our cliched mouth is?

During WWII, Canada hosted the BCATP or British Commonwealth Air Training Plan where many thousands of young men from the Commonwealth and occupied Europe were brought to Canada to learn to become combat fliers. It was a fabulous success. Canada was away from the fighting and a great place to teach young men the trade of war.

Why not do the same thing for the Afghan army? Gear up a training programme that could induct, say, a thousand at a time. Bring recruits over here, properly train and equip them (NATO members who shun the fighting could at least pay for their equipment and training) and send them back, already "stood up" and able to begin securing their own country.

Three months of basic, three months of advanced training. 2,000 Afghans at any given time. Four thousand fully trained, properly equipped soldiers returned to Afghanistan every year. We'd more than replace our own people in the first year alone.

It may sound like a dumb idea but I think it beats hell out of treading water over there.

A Quarter Century of HIllary?

Just how much Hillary Clinton can America bear? Eight years as activist First Lady, eight more as Senator Clinton, and now the prospect of eight long years as President of the United States? Can America stand 24-unbroken years of Hillary in their faces? Can anyone? That's the premise of a Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times in which she really brought focus on the unease a lot of people feel about Hillary Clinton:

As Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, once told me: “She’s never going to get out of our faces. ... She’s like some hellish housewife who has seen something that she really, really wants and won’t stop nagging you about it until finally you say, fine, take it, be the damn president, just leave me alone.”

An earlier generation had the entwined political dynasties of the Roosevelts and the Kennedys. Now, as Nancy Benac of The Associated Press wrote on Friday, 116 million Americans — nearly 40 percent of the nation — “have never lived when there wasn’t a Bush or a Clinton in the White House.”

Without nepotism, Hillary would be running for the president of Vassar. But then, without nepotism, W. would be pumping gas in Midland — and not out of the ground.

I don't think dynasties serve any democracy well. Prime Minister Ben Mulroney? No - Mulroney, Trudeau, Bush, even Clinton - one is enough. This is especially true for America today, a country desperately in need of political rebirth. It wasn't just George w. Bush who created the mess that the US finds itself in today. Hillary Clinton's congress also has to shoulder its share of the blame.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Quiet, But Too Quiet?

It's been a busy year for earthquakes along the Pacific Rim and this month has been no exception. The map above shows major (6+ Richter) quakes for the last 30-days.

Living on Vancouver Island can make one a little more sensitive to reports about quakes that hit Japan or Indonesia or the two today that hit Guam. They seem to be happening everywhere along the Rim, but there's one stretch where there's been nothing. As you can see from the map that stretch is coastal British Columbia.

At the risk of tempting fate I'll ask "what gives?" I can't remember the last time I felt a quake here. Maybe we've just caught a break. I hope.

Tom Friedman's Overdue Mea Culpa

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman grates on a lot of people with his overblown sense of his own brilliance. That's why it was welcome to read Friedman finally admit he, and most of his fellow countrymen, went deeply off-balance about 9/11:

I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.
What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

It is not that I thought we had new enemies that day and now I don’t. Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.

Before 9/11, the world thought America’s slogan was: “Where anything is possible for anybody.” But that is not our global brand anymore. Our government has been exporting fear, not hope: “Give me your tired, your poor and your fingerprints.”

You may think Guantánamo Bay is a prison camp in Cuba for Al Qaeda terrorists. A lot of the world thinks it’s a place we send visitors who don’t give the right answers at immigration. I will not vote for any candidate who is not committed to dismantling Guantánamo Bay and replacing it with a free field hospital for poor Cubans. Guantánamo Bay is the anti-Statue of Liberty.

I’d love to see us salvage something decent in Iraq that might help tilt the Middle East onto a more progressive pathway. That was and is necessary to improve our security. But sometimes the necessary is impossible — and we just can’t keep chasing that rainbow this way.

Look at our infrastructure. It’s not just the bridge that fell in my hometown, Minneapolis. Fly from Zurich’s ultramodern airport to La Guardia’s dump. It is like flying from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. I still can’t get uninterrupted cellphone service between my home in Bethesda and my office in D.C. But I recently bought a pocket cellphone at the Beijing airport and immediately called my wife in Bethesda — crystal clear.

We can’t afford to keep being this stupid! We have got to get our groove back. We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy. Al Qaeda is about 9/11. We are about 9/12, we are about the Fourth of July — which is why I hope that anyone who runs on the 9/11 platform gets trounced.

Uncommon wisdom from a man whose shown far too little of it for the past six years.

Karzai Shaken - Again

It's the lead story on the Globe's web site: Afghan President Seeks Peace With Taliban After Suicide Bomb.

According to the G&M: A Taliban suicide bomber wearing an Afghan army uniform set off a huge explosion Saturday while trying to board a military bus in the capital, killing 30 people, most of them soldiers, officials said. Hours later, the Afghan president offered to meet personally with the Taliban leader for peace talks and give the militants a position in government.

Within hours? This is the same Karzai who reads Canadian Forces' speeches to our parliament and implores Canada to keep fighting lest the Taliban prevail in his country. He's lost his nerve and, it seems, his appetite for the fight against the insurgency. The lives of our soldiers shouldn't be just a bargaining chip for Karzai.

What Next?

This is Canada's latest attempt to respond to the ever-increasingly large improvised explosive devices used by the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. It's a mine detection vehicle from South Africa called the "Husky", not to be confused with a light armoured vehicle of the same name also operated by our army.

In the few years Canadian forces have been in Afghanistan, they've gone through several vehicle upgrades.

When we were tooling around the streets of Kabul in the early days, Canadian soldiers often travelled in these mini-jeeps known as the Itlis. If it looks like it might have been created by Volkswagen, it was. The unarmoured Itlis was built for the Canadian army by Bombardier. it quickly showed itself unsuitable for combat conditions in Kandahar.

The Itlis was soon replaced by the lightly armoured, Mercedes G wagon. At the time it was thought it would provide our troops with an adequate level of protection.

That didn't last long as the G-Wagon was found just too vulnerable to mines although this one did save the lives of its occupants.

Next up was the South African Nyala, a much sturdier vehicle designed specifically to deflect and survive mine blasts.

In response to the introduction of heavier armour, the insurgents responded with larger mines. This Nyala was taken out by one of those larger weapons. Fortunately, in this case, the crew survived. They weren't always that lucky.

Enter the Husky mine clearance system, again from South Africa. The Husky travels on balloon tires which, so the theory goes, create a much lower surface pressure that allow the vehicle to pass over mines. The Husky tows trailers behind it whose sole purpose seems to be to detonate the mines. A similar Husky system has a recovery vehicle that collects the destroyed trailers.

As far as these things go, I'm all for them. We owe it to our soldiers in Afghanistan to get them the very best, the very safest vehicles that we can lay our hands on.

What bothers me about these vehicles is that they reveal the dilemma of trying to fight a counterinsurgency campaign with an inadequate number of troops. It leaves our soldiers so vulnerable outside their bases that they have to travel in great, lumbering convoys of enormous, strange-looking vehicles.

What's the message from this? It's that we don't control the territory we operate through and that the insurgents have enough control that they can place ever-larger, ever more lethal explosive devices to attack us. We don't control the territory because we can't occupy it because we don't have nearly enough soldiers.

Remember, the Taliban are waging a political war, a war for the "hearts and minds" of the peasants. We're giving them carrots (at least when we're not bombing them into oblivion) while the Taliban are beating them with sticks. When we can't keep the Taliban out of their villages, it's a simple decision who they'll be siding with.

The very things that protect us undermine the confidence the villagers place in us. They're already afraid and in our own way we're telling them we are too.

The Disappearing Groundwater Chronicles

When it comes to groundwater it seems we just can't help ourselves. From the US to India, China and many other places, man has become so dependent on our underground reservoirs - aquifers - that we're pumping them dry. The real problem is we've grown enormous societies that are sustained by agriculture that relies heavily on that rapidly diminishing resource.

You've probably never heard of Shijiazhuang. It's a boomtown provincial capital in northern China, population 2-million and ballooning. As reported in today's New York Times, it's also a city running headlong into the wall of groundwater exhaustion:

Above ground, this city in the North China Plain is having a party. Economic growth topped 11 percent last year. Population is rising. A new upscale housing development is advertising waterfront property on lakes filled with pumped groundwater. Another half-built complex, the Arc de Royal, is rising above one of the lowest points in the city’s water table.

Hundreds of feet below ground, the primary water source for this provincial capital of more than two million people is steadily running dry. The underground water table is sinking about four feet a year. Municipal wells have already drained two-thirds of the local groundwater.

For three decades, water has been indispensable in sustaining the rollicking economic expansion that has made China a world power. Now, China’s galloping, often wasteful style of economic growth is pushing the country toward a water crisis. Water pollution is rampant nationwide, while water scarcity has worsened severely in north China — even as demand keeps rising everywhere.

China is scouring the world for oil, natural gas and minerals to keep its economic machine humming. But trade deals cannot solve water problems. Water usage in China has quintupled since 1949, and leaders will increasingly face tough political choices as cities, industry and farming compete for a finite and unbalanced water supply.

China and India are facing a particularly severe water crisis. Climate change has caused the Himalayan glaciers to retreat. Key rivers in both countries, essential for irrigation, are fed by the glacial runoff. Think of the Ganges and the Yellow River and the hundreds of millions of people whose food is grown with irrigation from those rivers.

As the supply of surface or rainwater diminishes, more pressure is placed on groundwater. Unfortunately, aquifers have a limited "recharge" rate if they recharge at all. Recharge is the trickle of surface water that reaches some aquifers. But the rate at which water is drawn from aquifers rarely has any connection with the recharge rate. Imagine you've got a fire truck pumping water out of your backyard swimming pool through a four inch hose while you pour water into your pool through your garden hose. It's pretty obvious that pool is going to be empty pretty quickly.

Critics of global warming theory like to point out that there's just as much water on earth today as there was a century ago, a millennium ago, even hundreds of thousands of years ago. They're absolutely right. It's an endless cycle of rain, evaporation, condensation, rain. The water's always somewhere in that cycle.

What's conveniently ignored in that deceptive boast is what climate change is doing to the cycle and how that impacts mankind. Climate change is altering rainfall patterns. Any farmer will tell you that too much water is just as bad as not enough. Too much rainfall early in the season can prevent the farmer from getting onto his fields to plant his crop. Too much rainfall late in the season can prevent the farmer getting onto his fields to harvest his crop. Insufficient rainfall during the growing season can mean there's little or no crop to harvest. The farmer needs rain, enough of it but not too much, at the right time of the year. If it arrives in unusable amounts at unusable times it can increase his dependence on groundwater and lead, in time, to groundwater exhaustion.

Around the world from Britain to Africa, Asia to America, people are being hit by floods and droughts. You can't read the papers without knowing that. But there's no reason for us to be smug here at home.

Consider this. Our bountiful prairie is a region that quite naturally experiences mega-droughts ranging from 60-years to a few centuries in duration. The past couple of centuries have been unusually cool and wet which has allowed us to settle that region and grow all that grain. Now imagine Alberta and Saskatchewan with almost no rainfall for six decades. Imagine a whole lot of empty.

This isn't the dark fantasy of some tree hugger. It's a reality fully understood by the man many consider Alberta's greatest premier, Peter Lougheed. He's very worried that other provinces, such as BC, could get into the business of selling freshwater, especially to the Americans. He wants that water reserved for his province, for Alberta, when the day comes that it will be needed. He wrote quite a lengthy opinion piece in the Globe & Mail on this a few years back that you can get from the paper's archives.

The perfect irony is that greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming that causes climate change that brings precipitation change that threatens the viability of particularly vulnerable places like Alberta. Go figure. Yet they can't suck water out of the Athabasca fast enough to use it to pump bitumen to the surface and then leave it contaminated. As far as Alberta, Harper and Big Oil are concerned, Alberta has water to burn.

No One Left to Lie To? Not Quite

When George w. Bush speaks, he speaks for America. That once meant something. People listened, average Joes and world leaders alike heard the message of the president of the most powerful country on earth and usually got that message. Shrub has changed that. Oh sure people still listen but they're increasingly dismissing the message. The world, it seems, has learned that taking this guy at face value can be a huge - and costly - mistake.

The Bush government spent the last two days trying to persuade the leaders of the major nations of the world to buy Washington's vision for tackling climate change. They listened, politely, but left angry at having wasted their time on more empty Bush rhetoric.

Even China and India who, together with the US, are poised to be the planet's top greenhouse gas emitters have rejected Bush's "voluntary" proposal. They accept the core principal of binding limits or greenhouse gas caps even though they're not yet willing to accept the European limits proposals.

Since Bush wasted two days pulling their legs, the attendees left angry and weren't pulling any punches about how they felt. From The Guardian:

A senior European diplomat attending the conference, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting confirmed European suspicions that it had been intended by Mr Bush as a spoiler for a major UN conference on climate change in Bali in December.

"It was a total charade and has been exposed as a charade," the diplomat said. "I have never heard a more humiliating speech by a major leader. He [Mr Bush] was trying to present himself as a leader while showing no sign of leadership. It was a total failure."

John Ashton, Britain's special envoy on climate change, who attended the conference, said: "It is striking here how isolated the US has become on this issue. There is no support among the industrialised countries for the proposition that we should proceed on the basis of voluntary commitments.

That's not to say that Bush feels entirely isolated on his hapless vision. It is, after all, embraced warmly by mini-Bush, our own furious leader, Harpo. Stevie knows when it comes to this country and climate change, it's a choice between Canada and his precious tar sands and on that score he's Bitumen Boy.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Define "Problem"

"By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem, and by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it" - George W. Bush

According to CNN, that's what Bush told those in attendance at his 2-day climate change conference in Washington. It sounds good, George knows that. It's also meaningless, George knows that too.

Bush isn't offering any specifics about the "problem" and, as for "setting this goal", he hasn't set anything. Now, anyone who has listened to this guy over the past seven years understands that what George says is pretty much meaningless. If he's not lying, he's spinning his message so thoroughly that he might just as well be lying. George w. Bush is a wanton liar. There I said it.

To make any sense of what this you have to shake off the soothing assurances and look at what he's really saying, and not saying. If it isn't there in black and white, indelible ink on paper, it probably isn't there at all. But, what else was he saying?

"It was said that we faced a choice between protecting the environment and producing enough energy. Today we know better. These challenges share a common solution: technology."

"We must lead the world to produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and we must do it in a way that does not undermine economic growth or prevent nations from delivering greater prosperity for their people."

Bush claims that his government's figures for 2006 show that that carbon dioxide emissions fell 1.3% while the economy grew 2.9%. CNN, however, points out that Bush has made this very claim in each year up to 2005 and, in each case, GHG emissions actually increased.

Just in case you're wondering, buried in all the claptrap was the solution - intensity based reductions. In a world already plagued by excessive GHG emissions, intensity-based reductions are ineffective, even destructive. However IBR is music to the ears of Big Oil, Bush and his clones like Harper.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Where It All Began

Magna Carta, 1215 AD
The Text (translated from Latin):
JOHN, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his officials and loyal subjects, Greeting.

KNOW THAT BEFORE GOD, for the health of our soul and those of our ancestors and heirs, to the honour of God, the exaltation of the holy Church, and the better ordering of our kingdom, at the advice of our reverend fathers Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, and cardinal of the holy Roman Church, Henry archbishop of Dublin, William bishop of London, Peter bishop of Winchester, Jocelin bishop of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh bishop of Lincoln, Walter Bishop of Worcester, William bishop of Coventry, Benedict bishop of Rochester, Master Pandulf subdeacon and member of the papal household, Brother Aymeric master of the knighthood of the Temple in England, William Marshal earl of Pembroke, William earl of Salisbury, William earl of Warren, William earl of Arundel, Alan de Galloway constable of Scotland, Warin Fitz Gerald, Peter Fitz Herbert, Hubert de Burgh seneschal of Poitou, Hugh de Neville, Matthew Fitz Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip Daubeny, Robert de Roppeley, John Marshal, John Fitz Hugh, and other loyal subjects:

+ (1) FIRST, THAT WE HAVE GRANTED TO GOD, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired. That we wish this so to be observed, appears from the fact that of our own free will, before the outbreak of the present dispute between us and our barons, we granted and confirmed by charter the freedom of the Church's elections - a right reckoned to be of the greatest necessity and importance to it - and caused this to be confirmed by Pope Innocent III. This freedom we shall observe ourselves, and desire to be observed in good faith by our heirs in perpetuity.

TO ALL FREE MEN OF OUR KINGDOM we have also granted, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs:

(2) If any earl, baron, or other person that holds lands directly of the Crown, for military service, shall die, and at his death his heir shall be of full age and owe a `relief', the heir shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancient scale of `relief'. That is to say, the heir or heirs of an earl shall pay £100 for the entire earl's barony, the heir or heirs of a knight l00s. at most for the entire knight's `fee', and any man that owes less shall pay less, in accordance with the ancient usage of `fees'

(3) But if the heir of such a person is under age and a ward, when he comes of age he shall have his inheritance without `relief' or fine.

(4) The guardian of the land of an heir who is under age shall take from it only reasonable revenues, customary dues, and feudal services. He shall do this without destruction or damage to men or property. If we have given the guardianship of the land to a sheriff, or to any person answerable to us for the revenues, and he commits destruction or damage, we will exact compensation from him, and the land shall be entrusted to two worthy and prudent men of the same `fee', who shall be answerable to us for the revenues, or to the person to whom we have assigned them. If we have given or sold to anyone the guardianship of such land, and he causes destruction or damage, he shall lose the guardianship of it, and it shall be handed over to two worthy and prudent men of the same `fee', who shall be similarly answerable to us.

(5) For so long as a guardian has guardianship of such land, he shall maintain the houses, parks, fish preserves, ponds, mills, and everything else pertaining to it, from the revenues of the land itself. When the heir comes of age, he shall restore the whole land to him, stocked with plough teams and such implements of husbandry as the season demands and the revenues from the land can reasonably bear.

(6) Heirs may be given in marriage, but not to someone of lower social standing. Before a marriage takes place, it shall be' made known to the heir's next-of-kin.

(7) At her husband's death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husband's house for forty days after his death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her.

(8) No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to remain without a husband. But she must give security that she will not marry without royal consent, if she holds her lands of the Crown, or without the consent of whatever other lord she may hold them of.

(9) Neither we nor our officials will seize any land or rent in payment of a debt, so long as the debtor has movable goods sufficient to discharge the debt. A debtor's sureties shall not be distrained upon so long as the debtor himself can discharge his debt. If, for lack of means, the debtor is unable to discharge his debt, his sureties shall be answerable for it. If they so desire, they may have the debtor's lands and rents until they have received satisfaction for the debt that they paid for him, unless the debtor can show that he has settled his obligations to them.

* (10) If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom he holds his lands. If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.

* (11) If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it. If he leaves children that are under age, their needs may also be provided for on a scale appropriate to the size of his holding of lands. The debt is to be paid out of the residue, reserving the service due to his feudal lords. Debts owed to persons other than Jews are to be dealt with similarly.

* (12) No `scutage' or `aid' may be levied in our kingdom without its general consent, unless it is for the ransom of our person, to make our eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry our eldest daughter. For these purposes ouly a reasonable `aid' may be levied. `Aids' from the city of London are to be treated similarly.

+ (13) The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water. We also will and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall enjoy all their liberties and free customs.

* (14) To obtain the general consent of the realm for the assessment of an `aid' - except in the three cases specified above - or a `scutage', we will cause the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons to be summoned individually by letter. To those who hold lands directly of us we will cause a general summons to be issued, through the sheriffs and other officials, to come together on a fixed day (of which at least forty days notice shall be given) and at a fixed place. In all letters of summons, the cause of the summons will be stated. When a summons has been issued, the business appointed for the day shall go forward in accordance with the resolution of those present, even if not all those who were summoned have appeared.
* (15) In future we will allow no one to levy an `aid' from his free men, except to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry his eldest daughter. For these purposes only a reasonable `aid' may be levied.

(16) No man shall be forced to perform more service for a knight's `fee', or other free holding of land, than is due from it.

(17) Ordinary lawsuits shall not follow the royal court around, but shall be held in a fixed place.

(18) Inquests of novel disseisin, mort d'ancestor, and darrein presentment shall be taken only in their proper county court. We ourselves, or in our absence abroad our chief justice, will send two justices to each county four times a year, and these justices, with four knights of the county elected by the county itself, shall hold the assizes in the county court, on the day and in the place where the court meets.

(19) If any assizes cannot be taken on the day of the county court, as many knights and freeholders shall afterwards remain behind, of those who have attended the court, as will suffice for the administration of justice, having regard to the volume of business to be done.

(20) For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a husbandman the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court. None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood.

(21) Earls and barons shall be fined only by their equals, and in proportion to the gravity of their offence.

(22) A fine imposed upon the lay property of a clerk in holy orders shall be assessed upon the same principles, without reference to the value of his ecclesiastical benefice.

(23) No town or person shall be forced to build bridges over rivers except those with an ancient obligation to do so.

(24) No sheriff, constable, coroners, or other royal officials are to hold lawsuits that should be held by the royal justices.

* (25) Every county, hundred, wapentake, and tithing shall remain at its ancient rent, without increase, except the royal demesne manors.

(26) If at the death of a man who holds a lay `fee' of the Crown, a sheriff or royal official produces royal letters patent of summons for a debt due to the Crown, it shall be lawful for them to seize and list movable goods found in the lay `fee' of the dead man to the value of the debt, as assessed by worthy men. Nothing shall be removed until the whole debt is paid, when the residue shall be given over to the executors to carry out the dead man s will. If no debt is due to the Crown, all the movable goods shall be regarded as the property of the dead man, except the reasonable shares of his wife and children.

* (27) If a free man dies intestate, his movable goods are to be distributed by his next-of-kin and friends, under the supervision of the Church. The rights of his debtors are to be preserved.

(28) No constable or other royal official shall take corn or other movable goods from any man without immediate payment, unless the seller voluntarily offers postponement of this.

(29) No constable may compel a knight to pay money for castle-guard if the knight is willing to undertake the guard in person, or with reasonable excuse to supply some other fit man to do it. A knight taken or sent on military service shall be excused from castle-guard for the period of this servlce.

(30) No sheriff, royal official, or other person shall take horses or carts for transport from any free man, without his consent.

(31) Neither we nor any royal official will take wood for our castle, or for any other purpose, without the consent of the owner.

(32) We will not keep the lands of people convicted of felony in our hand for longer than a year and a day, after which they shall be returned to the lords of the `fees' concerned.

(33) All fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea coast.

(34) The writ called precipe shall not in future be issued to anyone in respect of any holding of land, if a free man could thereby be deprived of the right of trial in his own lord's court.

(35) There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom. There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russett, and haberject, namely two ells within the selvedges. Weights are to be standardised similarly.

(36) In future nothing shall be paid or accepted for the issue of a writ of inquisition of life or limbs. It shall be given gratis, and not refused.

(37) If a man holds land of the Crown by `fee-farm', `socage', or `burgage', and also holds land of someone else for knight's service, we will not have guardianship of his heir, nor of the land that belongs to the other person's `fee', by virtue of the `fee-farm', `socage', or `burgage', unless the `fee-farm' owes knight's service. We will not have the guardianship of a man's heir, or of land that he holds of someone else, by reason of any small property that he may hold of the Crown for a service of knives, arrows, or the like.

(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.

+ (39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

+ (40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

(41) All merchants may enter or leave England unharmed and without fear, and may stay or travel within it, by land or water, for purposes of trade, free from all illegal exactions, in accordance with ancient and lawful customs. This, however, does not apply in time of war to merchants from a country that is at war with us. Any such merchants found in our country at the outbreak of war shall be detained without injury to their persons or property, until we or our chief justice have discovered how our own merchants are being treated in the country at war with us. If our own merchants are safe they shall be safe too.

* (42) In future it shall be lawful for any man to leave and return to our kingdom unharmed and without fear, by land or water, preserving his allegiance to us, except in time of war, for some short period, for the common benefit of the realm. People that have been imprisoned or outlawed in accordance with the law of the land, people from a country that is at war with us, and merchants - who shall be dealt with as stated above - are excepted from this provision.

(43) If a man holds lands of any `escheat' such as the `honour' of Wallingford, Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or of other `escheats' in our hand that are baronies, at his death his heir shall give us only the `relief' and service that he would have made to the baron, had the barony been in the baron's hand. We will hold the `escheat' in the same manner as the baron held it.
(44) People who live outside the forest need not in future appear before the royal justices of the forest in answer to general summonses, unless they are actually involved in proceedings or are sureties for someone who has been seized for a forest offence.

* (45) We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or other officials, only men that know the law of the realm and are minded to keep it well.

(46) All barons who have founded abbeys, and have charters of English kings or ancient tenure as evidence of this, may have guardianship of them when there is no abbot, as is their due.

(47) All forests that have been created in our reign shall at once be disafforested. River-banks that have been enclosed in our reign shall be treated similarly.

* (48) All evil customs relating to forests and warrens, foresters, warreners, sheriffs and their servants, or river-banks and their wardens, are at once to be investigated in every county by twelve sworn knights of the county, and within forty days of their enquiry the evil customs are to be abolished completely and irrevocably. But we, or our chief justice if we are not in England, are first to be informed.

* (49) We will at once return all hostages and charters delivered up to us by Englishmen as security for peace or for loyal service.

* (50) We will remove completely from their offices the kinsmen of Gerard de Athée, and in future they shall hold no offices in England. The people in question are Engelard de Cigogné', Peter, Guy, and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogné, Geoffrey de Martigny and his brothers, Philip Marc and his brothers, with Geoffrey his nephew, and all their followers.

* (51) As soon as peace is restored, we will remove from the kingdom all the foreign knights, bowmen, their attendants, and the mercenaries that have come to it, to its harm, with horses and arms.

* (52) To any man whom we have deprived or dispossessed of lands, castles, liberties, or rights, without the lawful judgement of his equals, we will at once restore these. In cases of dispute the matter shall be resolved by the judgement of the twenty-five barons referred to below in the clause for securing the peace (§ 61). In cases, however, where a man was deprived or dispossessed of something without the lawful judgement of his equals by our father King Henry or our brother King Richard, and it remains in our hands or is held by others under our warranty, we shall have respite for the period commonly allowed to Crusaders, unless a lawsuit had been begun, or an enquiry had been made at our order, before we took the Cross as a Crusader. On our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once render justice in full.

* (53) We shall have similar respite in rendering justice in connexion with forests that are to be disafforested, or to remain forests, when these were first a-orested by our father Henry or our brother Richard; with the guardianship of lands in another person's `fee', when we have hitherto had this by virtue of a `fee' held of us for knight's service by a third party; and with abbeys founded in another person's `fee', in which the lord of the `fee' claims to own a right. On our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once do full justice to complaints about these matters.

(54) No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband.

* (55) All fines that have been given to us unjustiy and against the law of the land, and all fines that we have exacted unjustly, shall be entirely remitted or the matter decided by a majority judgement of the twenty-five barons referred to below in the clause for securing the peace (§ 61) together with Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, if he can be present, and such others as he wishes to bring with him. If the archbishop cannot be present, proceedings shall continue without him, provided that if any of the twenty-five barons has been involved in a similar suit himself, his judgement shall be set aside, and someone else chosen and sworn in his place, as a substitute for the single occasion, by the rest of the twenty-five.

(56) If we have deprived or dispossessed any Welshmen of lands, liberties, or anything else in England or in Wales, without the lawful judgement of their equals, these are at once to be returned to them. A dispute on this point shall be determined in the Marches by the judgement of equals. English law shall apply to holdings of land in England, Welsh law to those in Wales, and the law of the Marches to those in the Marches. The Welsh shall treat us and ours in the same way.

* (57) In cases where a Welshman was deprived or dispossessed of anything, without the lawful judgement of his equals, by our father King Henry or our brother King Richard, and it remains in our hands or is held by others under our warranty, we shall have respite for the period commonly allowed to Crusaders, unless a lawsuit had been begun, or an enquiry had been made at our order, before we took the Cross as a Crusader. But on our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once do full justice according to the laws of Wales and the said regions.

* (58) We will at once return the son of Llywelyn, all Welsh hostages, and the charters delivered to us as security for the peace.

* (59) With regard to the return of the sisters and hostages of Alexander, king of Scotland, his liberties and his rights, we will treat him in the same way as our other barons of England, unless it appears from the charters that we hold from his father William, formerly king of Scotland, that he should be treated otherwise. This matter shall be resolved by the judgement of his equals in our court.

(60) All these customs and liberties that we have granted shall be observed in our kingdom in so far as concerns our own relations with our subjects. Let all men of our kingdom, whether clergy or laymen, observe them similarly in their relations with their own men.

* (61) SINCE WE HAVE GRANTED ALL THESE THINGS for God, for the better ordering of our kingdom, and to allay the discord that has arisen between us and our barons, and since we desire that they shall be enjoyed in their entirety, with lasting strength, for ever, we give and grant to the barons the following security:

The barons shall elect twenty-five of their number to keep, and cause to be observed with all their might, the peace and liberties granted and confirmed to them by this charter.

If we, our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man, or transgress any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is made known to four of the said twenty-five barons, they shall come to us - or in our absence from the kingdom to the chief justice - to declare it and claim immediate redress. If we, or in our absence abroad the chiefjustice, make no redress within forty days, reckoning from the day on which the offence was declared to us or to him, the four barons shall refer the matter to the rest of the twenty-five barons, who may distrain upon and assail us in every way possible, with the support of the whole community of the land, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, or anything else saving only our own person and those of the queen and our children, until they have secured such redress as they have determined upon. Having secured the redress, they may then resume their normal obedience to us.

Any man who so desires may take an oath to obey the commands of the twenty-five barons for the achievement of these ends, and to join with them in assailing us to the utmost of his power. We give public and free permission to take this oath to any man who so desires, and at no time will we prohibit any man from taking it. Indeed, we will compel any of our subjects who are unwilling to take it to swear it at our command.

If-one of the twenty-five barons dies or leaves the country, or is prevented in any other way from discharging his duties, the rest of them shall choose another baron in his place, at their discretion, who shall be duly sworn in as they were.

In the event of disagreement among the twenty-five barons on any matter referred to them for decision, the verdict of the majority present shall have the same validity as a unanimous verdict of the whole twenty-five, whether these were all present or some of those summoned were unwilling or unable to appear.

The twenty-five barons shall swear to obey all the above articles faithfully, and shall cause them to be obeyed by others to the best of their power.

We will not seek to procure from anyone, either by our own efforts or those of a third party, anything by which any part of these concessions or liberties might be revoked or diminished. Should such a thing be procured, it shall be null and void and we will at no time make use of it, either ourselves or through a third party.

* (62) We have remitted and pardoned fully to all men any ill-will, hurt, or grudges that have arisen between us and our subjects, whether clergy or laymen, since the beginning of the dispute. We have in addition remitted fully, and for our own part have also pardoned, to all clergy and laymen any offences committed as a result of the said dispute between Easter in the sixteenth year of our reign (i.e. 1215) and the restoration of peace.

In addition we have caused letters patent to be made for the barons, bearing witness to this security and to the concessions set out above, over the seals of Stephen archbishop of Canterbury, Henry archbishop of Dublin, the other bishops named above, and Master Pandulf.

* (63) IT IS ACCORDINGLY OUR WISH AND COMMAND that the English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fulness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever.

Both we and the barons have sworn that all this shall be observed in good faith and without deceit. Witness the abovementioned people and many others.

Given by our hand in the meadow that is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign (i.e. 1215: the new regnal year began on 28 May).

Right Wing Drivel

"Only Congress could conceive making families simultaneously eligible for SCHIP to help the poor and the alternative minimum tax to punish the rich."

That line came from uber-right wing mouthpiece Robert Novak's column in today's Washington Post.

He simply can't imagine anyone wanting to impose a minimum tax for the rich and provide healthcare insurance for kids who otherwise would have to do without.

It's a funny thing about all the opposition to even a whiff of universal health care in the states. It always provokes a furious outcry - from rich old white men, especially the really creepy kind like Novak. I'll bet that old blister would change his tune smartly if he was the one without health care.

How did it ever come to this?

Pushing Back

Peter Brookes, Times Online

The Hillary Ticking Time Bomb

It was never for public consumption but then it was leaked to the Washington Post, an in-house, Democratic party sponsored poll showing that both Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama would lose to Rudy Guiliani in 31- congressional swing districts.

The poll has Guiliani leading Clinton 49-39% in the swing districts. From the Telegraph:

Andy Arnold, a Democratic county chairman in Greenville, South Carolina - a key primary state - said: "I'd be a little bit dishonest if I didn't admit that in some parts of the country, and probably my own, having Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket will have some impact further down.

He added, however, that "whoever we nominate, the right-wing attack machine will make them into the devil by November 2008".

Frank Luntz, a leading Republican pollster, said: "This poll reveals what grassroots Democrats have been concerned about. Hillary is their choice ideologically but not necessarily politically and they're afraid she could lose.

She never admits she's wrong. There's a lack of candour and a harshness to her. She doesn't have any of the typical challenges of a female candidate but that is in itself a challenge.

"Rudy does better among independents than Hillary does and in the end the candidate that gets the majority of independents wins the election."

Lieberman Does It Again

Dick Cheney's bum buddy, indie-demo Senator Joe Lieberman, has done it again.

He nudged Cheney's chances of getting a war with Iran thanks to a resolution introduced by Lieberman and Republican Jon Kyl designating the Iranian military a "terrorist organization" responsible for killing US troops.

The resolution breezed through the senate 76-22. It was a toned down version of the original that was considered briefly yesterday. That one provided: "it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies."

To demonstrate the power of electoral politics, Hillary Clinton voted for the resolution while conservative Republican senators Lugar and Hagel voted against.

Global Warming a Myth? Tell That to Your Insurer

When it comes to global warming, John Morrison and Alex sink have first-hand knowledge.
Morrison is the state auditor of Montana. Sink is the chief financial officer of Florida. Both oversee state insurance departments and are members of the Climate Change Task Force of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Here are some excerpts from an opinion piece they wrote in today's Washington Post:

Montana and Florida are not the only states suffering huge insurance losses from natural disasters. Increasingly destructive weather -- including heat waves, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, hailstorms and drought -- accounted for 88 percent of all property losses paid by insurers from 1980 through 2005. Seven of the 10 most expensive catastrophes for the U.S. property and casualty industry happened between 2001 and 2005.

Ten years ago, Peter Levene, chairman of Lloyds of London, was skeptical about global warming theories, but no longer. He believes carbon emissions caused by human activity are warming the Earth and causing severe weather-related events. "At Lloyds, we feel the effects of extreme weather more than most," he said in a March speech. "We don't just live with risk -- we have to pick up the pieces afterwards." Lloyds predicts that the United States will be hit by a hurricane causing $100 billion worth of damage, more than double that of Katrina. Industry analysts estimate that such an event would bankrupt as many as 40 insurers.

Insurance companies make money by accurately assessing risk. For decades environmentalists have been sounding the alarm about global warming. Now major insurers are becoming engaged as they look after their own assets and those that they cover. Federal reluctance to commit to international agreements on climate change, or otherwise cap total carbon emissions, appears to be driven by influential businesses that fear the limitations will hurt their bottom lines. But the risk perceived by the insurance industry -- the world's largest economic sector -- may shift that political balance. At the least, it should tell us something.

Heading for the Hills

A leading Spanish wine maker is pulling up stakes and heading for the Pyrenees. The Torres family has been in the wine business for four generations in the Penedes region. They claim climate change is rendering their traditional vineyards too dry for production. From The Independent:

"We are moving into cooler areas of northern Catalonia, towards the Pyrenees," said the company's chairman, Miguel Torres.

The company said: "Climate change is unfortunately a reality not only established by scientists; we ourselves, who work with the fruit of the land, are aware of the problems."

The wine map of Europe is moving north, by about 20 to 25 miles every decade, Spanish experts reckon. Red wines from hot, dry regions such as La Mancha would contain more alcohol and less acid. Wine-makers also cited outbreaks of mould in Bordeaux and infections in southern Germany as warning signs. But they acknowledged southern England could become a serious producer.

Condi's Dead Giveaway

The much criticized US Climate Summit opened today with the very sort of remarks the critics expected.

The conference was opened by State Secretary Condi Rice who got her point across in saying that global warming could be combatted without having to "starve economies." The White House has already said that its initiative isn't about setting targets and certainly not about anything as meaningful as carbon caps. Instead it's a quest to explore reaching 1) an agreement on 2) a process to 3) find a solution to global warming. In other words its a stall to fend off anything approaching action for as long as humanly possible.

The David Suzuki Foundation called the U.S. process as "an empty charade." In attendance is Canada's enviromin John Baird who is undoubtedly eager to get the latest tips on confusing, undermining and dodging anything that might be a setback to Harper's march to Canadian energy superpowerdom.

This is a scam folks and the Harpies are in it up to their tar encrusted necks.

Is Myanmar's Junta Losing Its Grip?

As juntas go, they've had a good run. Myanmar's top generals have been running the place since 1962 thanks to iron fist rule.

The current, three-man military junta is led by 74-year old General Than Shwe. He's reputed to be superstitious and to consult astrologers. The regime is said to be so paranoid that they moved the capital from Rangoon deep into the jungle to a place called Naypyidaw, a 6-square mile enclave pictured above.

Any sign of dissent within the ranks would be a cause for alarm for the three-man military junta.

But their iron fist days may be numbered. Burmese exiles in Thailand are ecstatic about a letter, supposedly from military officers, supporting the pro-democracy protesters:

"On behalf of the armed forces, we declare our support for the non-violent action of the Buddhist monks and members of the public and their peaceful expression," it said.

"We are all encountering crisis in the economy and in society, political difficulties of various kinds of oppression. Those realities not only affect the public and Buddhist monks. We in the military are also affected."

There's been no proof the letter is legitimate but it is said the junta is worried about the reliability of its own military.

Military Navel Gazing

Our papers carried reports yesterday heralding the apparent decline of the Taliban in Kandahar province. They even had a local leader attesting that Taliban strength this year is substantially weaker than it was last year. Hooray, we're winning!

But are we winning? Perhaps if the insurgency was committed to making its stand - do or die - in Kandahar we might be. But there's no sign of that. In neighbouring provinces the Brits and Dutch have been in fierce battles with the Taliban and there are signs of major unrest building in the tribal regions along the Afghan/Pakistan border.

What if Kandahar just hasn't made its way to the top of the Taliban priority list? What if this is merely a temporary lull?

How do we know if we're really winning or at least making real progress? Maybe when the insurgents begin surrendering in droves we'll know. Maybe when their bases in Waziristan are wiped out we'll know. Maybe when Helmand and Urzugan are tamed we'll know. Maybe when we can stop bombing the snot out of the civilian population we'll know. Maybe when the Afghan army is able to field a competent, capable force we'll know. Maybe when corruption is purged from the Afghan police we'll know. Maybe when there's a viable, legitimate economy we'll know. Maybe, just maybe, when there's a legitimate, effective and honest central government in Kabul we'll know.

There'll be all sorts of signs of victory when, if that day comes. Until then it's all just navel gazing - casting bones and reading entrails.

Hello Ontario, What's Going On Back There?

I haven't been closely following coverage of your provincial election but I've read enough to know you've got a Tory named Tory running to oust the ruling Libs. I also know that this guy Tory appears obsessed with pulling a seemingly endless array of electoral party favours out of his backside to win.

Now I know your guy McGuinty is no firebrand but the pandering "something for everyone" stuff we read coming out daily from Tory Tory smacks of desperation.

What gives?

Telegraphing Harper's Low Blows

Speaking of low blows, this is about Stephen Harper and his guru, Tom Flanagan.

Travers has an interesting piece in today's Toronto Star about how Canada's own far right-wing wants to undermine our democracy:

In a new book and seemingly everywhere else, Flanagan, Harper's 2004 campaign chairman, lays bare cynicism that would make even Liberals blush. Distilled to its essence, the archconservative Calgary professor argues that rather than give Canadians the government they want, Conservatives must manipulate voters until they elect one they don't.
Remarkable for its sophistication and expediency, Flanagan's template gains credibility from two campaigns, one losing, one winning. But its immediacy is rooted in an October throne speech that may well end in the government engineering its own defeat as well as in a Tuesday report that the defence department crafted the speech Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai presented to Parliament a year ago.

Pushing the country into an election while blaming the opposition is a standard gambit that only needs to be seen for what it is to be fairly judged. But using non-partisan public institutions, particularly the military, for the political purpose of surreptitiously moulding national opinion is as slippery a slope as appointing a bureaucrat with Tory ties to lead the RCMP.

Both decisions would be worrying even if an inner circle Conservative wasn't making it so clear how far the party will go to gain unfettered power and how anxious it is to fully apply its ideology. But Flanagan is and that adds caveats to even the Prime Minister's most persuasive performances.

Harper in peak form remains the most palatable part of the Conservative cookie. But the dark half still leaves the same old bitter taste, one that would be unhealthy to acquire.

The object lesson seems to be, don't go into the water Jimmy, those are sharks circling at your feet.

Spector Dodges a Bullet

The LA Times photo above shows Phil Spector leaving the courtroom after a mistrial was called on his 5 1/2-month long murder trial.

For several days there have been signs the jury was firmly deadlocked. It even caused the judge to intervene in their deliberations by withdrawing an instruction he had given in his charge to the jurors.

The verdict - guilty, 10-2. Good but not good enough. The prosecution has announced it will refile the charges and start over.

"Money makes a difference. This comes down much more to money than fame," Loyola law professor Laurie Levenson said.

Unfortunately, Levenson is absolutely right. As a former litigator I know that, in far too many cases, a litigant gets as much justice as he/she/it can afford. As a lawyer, the better you are, the more you charge. The more you charge, the more upscale becomes your clientelle. There are, of course, exceptions - just not nearly enough exceptions.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Blast From the Past

"The people of England have been led in [Iraq] into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere and incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our ...record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster."

Does that ring any bells? It was written in August, 1920 by T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia.

This is reposted from 24 November last year.

Getting It Right, Finally

This was originally posted October 5, 2006.

Encouraging news out of the New York Times that the U.S. Army and Marines have figured out that what they're doing in Iraq and Afghanistan doesn't work. It's only taken what, five years, tens of thousands of civilian dead, a trillion dollars? They've blasted and bombed and rocketed and shelled and strafed with abandon. They've used technological wizardry the world has never before seen. It hasn't worked, just as it didn't work in Vietnam. It stopped working before the first tank rolled into Baghdad.

Looking for a new approach, at last, the U.S. military wisely went looking for old advice and they found it in the wisdom of Colonel T.E. Lawrence and other greats of guerrilla warfare. Based on those teachings the Army and Marines have prepared a new field manual based on the nine "representative paradoxes" of counterinsurgency warfare:

1. The more you protect your force, the less secure you are

If military forces stay locked up in compounds (garrisons), they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared and cede the initiative to insurgents.

2. The more force used, the less effective it is

Using substantial force increases the risk of collateral damage and mistakes, and increases the opportunity for insurgent propaganda

3. The more successful counterinsurgency is, the less force that can be used and the more risk that must be accepted

As the level of insurgent violence drops, the military must be used less with stricter rules of engagement, and the police forces used more

4. Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction

Often an insurgent carries out a terrorist act or guerrilla raid with the primary purpose of causing a reaction that can then be exploited

5. The best weapons for counterinsurgency do not shoot

Often dollars and ballots have more impact than bombs and bullets

6. The host nation's doing something tolerably is better than our doing it well

Long term success depends on viable indigenous leaders and institutions that can carry on wthout significant support

7. If a tactic works this week, it might not work next week; if it works in this province, it might not work in the next

Insurgents quickly adapt to successful counterinsurgency practices. The more effective the tactic, the sooner it becomes out of date

8. Tactical success guarantees nothing

Military actions of themselves cannot achieve success

9. Most of the important decisions are not made by generals

Successful counterinsurgency relies on the competence and judgment of soldiers at all levels.

Most of these pearls of wisdom can be found in my previous posts. That's not because I'm super smart. It's because they ought to be obvious. This isn't some grand experiment but fundamentals that have been tried and tested in various hot spots in various centuries by various armies, again and again and again.

Counterinsurgency warfare is labour-intensive. To defeat a guerrilla challenge, really huge numbers of soldiers are needed. You also need a viable government that's worth saving.

Contrast this with what we're doing in Afghanistan. We're using small numbers of soldiers that have to hunker down in garrisons. That throws Rule #1 right out the window. The garrison tactic has never worked. Not once, never and it's not going to work now. Garrisons are okay only if you already control the land and simply need to patrol it. If you don't control the land, you're merely abandoning the people and yielding the critical initiative to the bad guys.

Rule #6 is another problem plaguing "the mission" in Afghanistan. The Karzai government is not a viable institution. It is little more than a "legislative power vacuum" propped up by armed foreigners. The government and its bureaucracy are corrupt as are its police forces and army. Ineffectual and corrupt. These are not viable institutions. They don't serve the people and they alienate their people who are then lured toward the only other option, the Taliban.

Assuming the Americans have finally seen the light, it's about time Ottawa did as well. Doing too little, poorly, is worse than doing nothing at all. The political dilemma, however, trumps the military problem. It is political suicide to take the steps necessary in Afghanistan without popular support at home and the Canadian people are already firmly against this effort.

Stephen Harper talks a good game, but it's all talk.

Eating Soup with a Knife

Eating soup with a knife. That's how the legendary Colonel T.E. Lawrence (yes, "of Arabia") described the challenge facing conventional armies in fighting insurgents. Lawrence ought to have known. He led a highly successful Arab insurgency against the Turkish Ottomans who ruled the Middle East until the end of WWI.

Western nations have been struggling with insurgencies for the better part of two millenia. Roman emperor Hadrian crushed the 'Caledonians' of present day Scotland in a fixed battle perfectly suited to his Legions. When it was over, however, the survivors melted away into the hills and came back at the Romans with an insurgency. Eventually Hadrian threw in the towel and built a massive, stone wall from sea to sea that severed Scotland from Britain. You've heard of it, Hadrian's Wall.

Not every battle nor every conquest of a people led to an insurgency. Sometimes there was some political accommodation that smoothed things out. Sometimes the victor just put the losers to the sword, using unrestrained brutality to crush out any idea of insurgency. The first is the diplomatic solution, the second is the military solution.

Today we haven't got the stomach for putting entire peoples to the sword (we're supposed to be 'saving' them after all) and, without that option, we've had a tough time defeating insurgencies with military force. There have been some successes, or at least one: Malaya.

Post-WWII Malaya was beset by a Maoist-insurgency which was eventually defeated by the British. They had a couple of advantages, however. The insurgents were ethnic Chinese, not Malays. They were identifiable and lacked the support of the Malay majority. That left the British with the task of relocating half a million ethnic Chinese to secure camps which enabled them to sever the guerrillas' base of support. After that, British forces used their military superiority to drive the insurgents into the swamps where they pretty much ended their days. Game, set and match.

The Malayan counter-insurgency is an exception because rarely, if ever, are the same advantageous circumstances present. It's not fair to say the Brits got lucky but they did make the utmost of every advantage that fell their way.

Which brings us to Afghanistan:

You've got a bunch of Christian white people in a Muslim, South Asian country. That means we're the ones who stand out. We have an alien culture, an alien language, an alien religion, even alien weapons and equipment and we want to bring them a totally alien political concept, secular democracy.

We're there to prop up a civilian government that never really took hold, on anything remotely approaching a national scale, and which has already succumbed to corruption and weakness. The government hasn't delivered anything for its people and they are already turning their backs on it. Now they're facing the other direction, directly toward the insurgency.

We're up against an insurgency that is well-schooled in guerrilla warfare. Remember what they did to the Soviets or to the British a century before that? If you don't, you can guess. Most NATO members don't really have any experience in this stuff. We take our cues from the Americans and you might ask yourself when they last defeated an insurgency? Maybe it's the blind leading the blind.

Even we don't believe we're there for the ten or twenty years it can take to exhaust an insurgency. The guerrillas will be there forever.

We're trying to dominate a vast territory with piddling numbers of 'boots on the ground.' With all the disadvantages confronting us, we still want to do this on the cheap.

We're even doing things to lose the "hearts and minds" of the local populations. We're not providing them security which leaves them at the mercy of the Taliban. We can't give them security because we don't have nearly enough soldiers to realistically pacify (occupy) any significant amount of territory. Because we don't control the countryside we can't give the people essential services such as water and electricity. They are left to fend for themselves and they bloody well know it.

We go into their poppy fields and destroy their livelihood. Having taken the food out of their families' mouths, we don't give them some alternative means of survival, we just leave. That's all right, the Taliban will give them a helping hand.

What I've described here is just a glimpse at this awful mess. Sorry people, we're just not going to win this one. Support the troops, get'em home.

NDP Undermining Karzai's Integrity

That's the accusation leveled by Peter MacKay's mouthpiece, Dan Dugan. The worst thing is, if Dugan's right, the NDP didn't take on a very daunting challenge.

Documents obtained by the NDP under the Freedom of Information Act suggest that the Canadian military pretty much told Karzai what to say when he addressed Canada's parliament last September:

An internal military report, provided to the federal party under Access to Information, says members of the Canadian Forces strategic advisory team accompanied Mr. Karzai and his Afghan delegation to New York before his arrival in Ottawa last September for a historic address to a joint session of the House of Commons and the Senate.

It says that "at the request of president's office" the Canadian military team "prepared initial draft of president's address to Parliament Sept. 22."

The note goes on to say that: "It was noted that key statistics, messages and themes, as well as overall structure, were adopted by the president in his remarks to joint session."
NDP defence critic Dawn Black said the report is an example of how the Conservative government is trying to manipulate public opinion for the country's military involvement in Afghanistan.

"President Karzai's address to Parliament was an elaborately staged political stunt by this government to sell Canadians on the combat mission in Kandahar," said Ms. Black, who called Mr. Karzai a "front man" for the Conservative government.

Karzai a stooge for Harper? Well, the way things are going for him at home in Kabul, maybe this will give him a new career opportunity.

Morales Hits One Out of the Park

Bolivia's Indian peasant turned President, Evo Morales, put in an awesome appearance on the Daily Show last night. The interview isn't up yet but will probably be posted at within a few days. If you didn't see it, you should try to watch it on the web.

Quelle Surprise!

Stats Can has issued a report pointing out the obvious: Canada's greenhouse gas emissions increased by more than 18% between 1990 and 2002 and the majority of that was related, not to consumption by Canadians, by in the production of exports.

I'd love to see the stats for the last five years because I expect it would be worse and that largely due to the expansion of the environmentally devastating Athabasca Tar Sands.

Our newly-green prime minister, Harpo himself, talks the talk about greenhouse gases and climate change but puts the lie to his claims by supporting the five-fold increase in tar sands production to produce petroleum for the American market.

Taliban Dead by the Truckload

According to NATO accounts, the Brits in Helmand and the Dutch in Uruzgan province - make that the Afghan National Army - killed 165 Taliban insurgents in fire fights yesterday.

In each case it appears that our side put the boots to the Taliban when the guerrillas chose to attack in relatively conventional combat. The Taliban were said to have used small arms, rocket propelled grenades and mortars. Our side, of course, has all that stuff along with tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery, attack helicopters and jet strike fighters - so it's a matter of when they stand up, we knock them down.

What's not clear is just what the Taliban were up to. When the outcome of this sort of fighting is so predictable, why did they do it? The NATO reports claim in each firefight it was the Taliban insurgents who attacked. Unless they're simply insane - and I doubt that - there must've been something they hoped to achieve that would warrant the mauling they would receive from NATO firepower superiority. Who knows?

Just Great - Political Chaos in Kabul

Hamid Karzai reads impassioned speeches to Canadians written by our own, newly political, armed forces. Another young man is sacrificed. Now it turns out that a seismic event has hit Karzai's already wobbly and corrupt Kabul government.

The New York Times reports that the Karzai government is locked in an escalating power struggle with the warlords and mujahedeen in Afghanistan's legislature.

It is said to have begun in May when the lower house overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for the removal of the country's foreign minister, something Karzai has refused, calling the measure illegal.

Mr. Karzai’s opponents have promised to boycott Parliament unless he removes the minister, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta. In recent days, a group of more than 50 legislators, most of them members of a new opposition coalition, have threatened to quit altogether over the president’s intransigence.

“This is serious,” said Wadir Safi, a member of the faculty of law and political science at Kabul University. “It’s dangerous for the government and the nation.” The showdown, he said, is eroding whatever public confidence in the elected leadership remains.

Karzai has a particular vision for dealing with government, and it doesn’t involve a big role for the legislative branch,” said a Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

But the president has long been dogged by criticism of ineffectiveness and chronic indecision. Government corruption and poppy cultivation are rampant and public services remain a wreck; food prices are soaring, unemployment remains high and resurgent Taliban forces in the south are pressing toward this capital.

As public confidence in Mr. Karzai has evaporated, opposition has escalated sharply from within the government, led by regional power brokers who feel he has marginalized them.

The roots of this crisis go back to Karzai's decision not to block the warlords and criminal element from being elected to his government. The Afghan foreign minister has infuriated these types by attempting to derail their legislation granting themselves amnesty for their war crimes in the 30-year old civil war. In short, Karzai put a nest of vipers in his bed and now they're threatening to attack him.

Six years now and this is what we've got to show for our sacrifice. Great, just great.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Heart Sank

When I opened my web browser the first things I saw were the words "Canadian soldier" and the picture of a fine-looking young man in his beret and camo gear with a Canadian flag in the background. My heart sank because I knew the story could only be an announcement of this fellow's death. It was his funerary photo just like all the others.

Nathan Hornburg at 24-years old has been killed in Afghanistan. It seems he was struck by mortar shrapnel while exposed in trying to fix a thrown tread from a Leopard tank. The tank broke down, the insurgents watched and waited, Hornburg got out to repair the tread, the bad guys fired, he died.

According to the commander, General Guy Laroche, "The terrain was very rough and (tank treads falling off) is something that we see on a regular basis." They sure do because tanks aren't suited to running patrols across rough terrain. They're fighting machines, not patrol vehicles.

What were they doing when this happened? According to Laroche, it was a one-day sweep to improve security in Panjwai province. A sweep. It's what you do when you don't have enough soldiers or equipment to fight an insurgency effectively. You sweep through. The bad guys keep the initiative and their control of the territory. They decide when to fight and when to simply lay low until you're gone. If they see a vulnerability - a tank with a thrown track, for example - they take advantage of it.

Why are we squandering the lives of young men like Hornburg on this farce of a mission? Read Petraeus' counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24. You can get the whole thing in PDF format on the web, free. It prescribes a ratio of 20-25 counterinsurgents for every 1,000 of the civilian population. We would need anywhere between 15-25,000 combat troops on the ground to meet that ratio in Kandahar province. Instead we're handing the job to a 1,000-strong battle group.

Supporting the troops isn't setting them up to lose by saddling them with a fight they have neither the numbers nor the equipment to win. If you support "the mission", try supporting the troops. Demand that the government get off its sanctimonious, jingoistic arse; recruit, train and properly equip the small army that's needed for this job and then get on with it - or - support the troops and leave.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Suddenly Africa Matters?

If there's one corner of the world that the Pentagon has ignored, it has to be Africa. Not North Africa so much. Places like Libya and Egypt have had plenty of attention from America's military. A little further south though, in "deepest, darkest" (read: blackest) Africa, not so much.

Barely a decade ago the Pentagon dismissed Africa in a one-liner: “Ultimately we see very little traditional strategic interest in Africa.” What a difference a decade makes. Today the Pentagon has its very own branch, AFRICOM or Africa Command, that's now seeking to establish fully two dozen permanent bases throughout the continent. That's a heap of "strategic interest." So what happened to make the Pentagon change its outlook on Africa. China. China happened.

Africa has, let's call them for the sake of argument "resources." Natural resources and pretty reasonable quantities of them to boot. While America ignored Africa, taking its access to African resources for granted, China saw its opportunity to fill the vacuum. In it went.

A week after Chinese President Hu Jintao began a high-profile, eight-country African tour, during which he signed more than 50 cooperation agreements and pledged to double China’s assistance to Africa by 2009, Bush announced the creation of AFRICOM.

The Chinese moves have Bush's neo-con faithful doing it in their pants. The neo-con Heritage Foundation issued this warning: “The United States must be alert to the potential long-term disruption of American access to important raw materials and energy sources as these resources are ‘locked up’ by Chinese firms.”

The US projects that African petroleum could make up 25% of America's oil imports by 2015. That is unless China gets that oil that it too desperately wants locked up before then.

Now, as for AFRICOM, US officials have said it "..isn’t about chasing terrorists around Africa”; “AFRICOM isn’t going to be used to protect natural resources”. Strangely enough, they haven't actually said what AFRICOM is about. Go figure.