Sunday, May 31, 2009

One Man's Terrorist....

Harper says he'll unveil legislation this week that allows victims of sue terrorists in Canadian courts. Of course that doesn't mean much unless you first define "terrorist." And there's the problem.

When it comes to terrorists we in the West have often played both sides of the street. To do that, we simply label our terrorists as "freedom fighters." That's how Ronald Reagan was able to run money under the table to the Nicaraguan Contras, as bloodthirsty a bunch of terrorists as they come.

I figure Harper's gang will come out with a pretty blunt instrument that lets them decide which variety of shit stinks when you step in it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

1,000 People Died Yesterday from Climate Change. 1,000 More Will Die Today and Another Thousand Tomorrow.

A lot of us like to think of man-made climate change as a problem that we'll have to deal with later on this century. Because we live in the West (the lucky "least and last" affected) we've been able to ignore the reality that global warming is already killing 300,000 every year and severely impacting on another 360-million in less advantaged countries. Worse yet, the pace of death and devastation is speeding up quite rapidly.

The Global Humanitarian Forum (Geneva) has just released a 127-page report, "The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis" available, free, in PDF format here:

This is an excerpt from a summary:

Climate Change is here. It has a human face. This report details the silent crisis occurring around the world today as a result of a global climate change. It is a comprehensive account of the key impacts of climate change on human society. Long regarded as a distant, environmental or future problem, climate change is already today a major constraint on all human efforts. It has been creeping up on the world for years, doing its deadly work in the dark by aggravating a host of other major problems affection society, such as malnutrition, malaria and poverty. This report aims at breaking the silent suffering of millions. Its findings indicate that the impacts of climate change are each year responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths with hundreds of millions of lives affected. Climate change is a serious threat to close to three quarters of the world population. Half a billion people are at extreme risk. Worst affected are the world´s poorest groups, who lack any responsibility for causing climate change.

And we're sitting around singing the praises of bitumen as the key to Canada's prosperity and national unity for the 21st Century?

Why Are We Mocking Harper's Deficit?

The federal government's announced $50-billion deficit has a lot of Liberals positively giggling with delight.

I'm trying to understand that.

What possible joy is there to be found in a massive budget deficit? Do we derive some satisfaction in knowing that a future generation of Canadians is going to have to shoulder this debt? Do we believe that the government of the day shouldn't be pumping billions of dollars into the economy in stimulus spending? If so, why did the Liberal party vote for Harper's budget?

It's not like we didn't have that forced, 2-month vacation when the GG prorogued parliament to work out some alternative, recession-fighting budget proposal of our own. But when parliament did return, we didn't have any alternative to throw in Harper's face. We were left to support or defeat the Conservatives on Harper's budget and we did just that, we supported that budget.

And with the greatest fiscal crisis faced by Canadians in at least two generations, what was our new Leader doing? From what he wrote it seems he was taking the time to complete his latest book, a tract on his mother's family that may be of real interest to his fan club but probably won't do much to benefit the country in its moment of need.

So the Conservatives, with the complicity of the Liberals, managed to foist off onto the nation and the Canadian people a sham of a stimulus budget, devoid of purpose or vision but who could expect anything better from a government as persistently inept as Harper's? That's the thing. We had every reason to assume he wouldn't come up with any meaningful stimulus mechanisms in his budget and so we had every reason to put together a meaningful alternative, something clearly understandable that would appeal to worried Canadians, and then club Harper over the head with it on the budget vote.

The leadership of our party did not take that opportunity to genuinely help the country and so we were left in a box of our own making, forced to support a horrible budget because we had nothing on which to win an election.

So, running true to form, Flaherty and Harper once again underestimated the severity of the fiscal mess and the measure of the deficit we'll be enduring. Yawn. We still haven't come up with clear-headed alternatives to the Pinata budget even though Flaherty hasn't even dipped deep into the stimulus fund yet.

In case you're wondering why I'm adamantly opposed to the Pinata budget, I'll try to explain briefly. The budget is an instrument of rank cowardice. Harper was willing to borrow a lot of money but absolutely shunned responsibility for how that money would be spent. Instead he decided to simply dole it out in a haphazard fashion to any qualified recipient who could get an application in on time.

To be effective, stimulus spending must be strictly held to projects that represent new economic activity in the form of investments that will enrich the nation in decades to come to offset the burden taxpayers will then be carrying. Think FDR. Think national projects to build schools, highways, airports, dams. Pre-war stimulus spending that paid enormous returns during America's post-war boom.

Unfortunately that's not what we're getting out of the Harper/Ignatieff budget and I don't see anything to gloat about in that.

The Pictures You'll Never See

Now that president Obama has ditched plans to release any more Abu Ghraib pix, there's some speculation as to just what they showed that hasn't been seen already.

According to the British newspaper, The Telegraph, there's plenty including rape of both male and female prisoners.

Detail of the content emerged from Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

Allegations of rape and abuse were included in his 2004 report but the fact there were photographs was never revealed. He has now confirmed their existence in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

Maj Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, said he supported the President’s decision, adding: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency."

“I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan.

“The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”

Well, now that is out in the open, next question. Since these damning photographs have been viewed by everyone from Rumsfeld and Bush to members of Congress and, of course, senior US military personnel, just what in hell have they done about what they've seen?

How many of these animals have been arrested, charged and tried for anything? How many of their superiors have been held to account? General Taguba's description of what's in these photos is bad enough but everyone in authority who has seen those pictures and sat by doing nothing needs to be prosecuted as well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Klueless - From Kabul to Kandahar

I think our politicians have figured out that, when it comes to dirty little wars like Afghanistan, it's a losing proposition unless you win over there and at home. As far as Afghanistan and Canada are concerned, the Afghan war will be decided by the Afghan people over there and the Canadian people over here.

While Canadians are still roughly divided over the mission to Afghanistan, the pro-war side will likely go through some spasmodic changes when that war falls apart and they finally must confront what we really bought with our soldiers' lives and our treasure. At that point the pro-war, yellow ribbon car magnet crowd will do what they always do in such circumstances - they'll start pointing fingers and blaming the whole mess on convenient scapegoats.

Afghanistan has been political poison for every Canadian politician who touched it and it's only going to get increasingly toxic. Harper knows that and so, apparently, does Iggy. Both are looking across the room at the fire escape labelled 2011, wondering how they'll ever get through that to safety.

I'm sure that Paul Martin rues the day he was taken in by the Big Cod and backed Canada into an ugly mess in Kandahar.

I'll bet Stephane Dion regrets that he didn't honour his promise to force Harper to pull our soldiers out in 2009 as scheduled, an election issue he might just have won on, if not in 2007 then certainly today.

I'm pretty sure that Stephen Harper wishes he was getting the Kandahar millstone off his neck this year. As it is, he's got only about a year and a half to figure out how he can keep Canadian troops in Afghanistan in something other than a combat role, a task that the best alchemist would find daunting.

And public opinion for this colossal blunder isn't going to get any better anytime soon. Almost every day there is news out of Afghanistan of how our fortunes are dwindling while the insurgency's are steadily rising. Which brings me to today's offerings.

First up is Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, Ron Hoffman. This guy dropped the bombshell that the international community underestimated how hard it would be to get Afghanistan back on its feet. Hoffman added that there's now 'a sense of urgency' to come up with some tangible signs of progress and that the Afghan people are disappointed with the results of international intervention. Well, duh. Thanks for that Ron.

And then there's Soraya Sobhrang of A'Stan's human rights commission. Speaking by tele-link to the House of Commons special committee on A'Stan, Sobhrang warned, "We are going back to [something] like the Taliban situation in Afghanistan.” That's right, the good guys, our guys, are going back to their old ways which really weren't much different from the Taliban's anyway. From CBC News:

Ms. Sobhrang said the mood of people she has talked to in Kandahar province is growing bleak.

“Really now [there is] no security in Kandahar,” Ms. Sobhrang said.

“They [people] are losing their hope for the future … their future is looking very, very dark,” she said.

“This is very, very dangerous for a population when they lose their hope.”

Ms. Sobhrang noted that the Afghan supreme court is composed entirely of male judges and said her country's justice system doesn't “believe in women's rights.”

For instance, a woman who petitions a court for a divorce on the grounds of physical abuse is told to return to her husband. “They say you are a woman and you must go back [to your husband].”

And, folks, we don't have a clue how to turn this around. I think reality is finally setting in, including the reality that in this sort of war you don't get do-overs. Eight years actually means something in terms of invaluable time lost and opportunities squandered.

It's not just the Afghan people who see their foreign liberators as ineffectual, weak and unreliable. So does the incurably corrupt Afghan government and so does the increasingly bold, ever growing insurgency.

If I were Obama, I'd send every C-17 in my air force to Afghanistan and start shuttling Afghan recruits to a brand new, mega-base somewhere in Texas. I'd run those recruits through an intensive, three month training course at the end of which, I'd arm them, send them back and start processing the next batch.

I'd keep doing that until they had a properly trained, well-equipped army of, say 140,000, with leadership sufficiently competent to hold the Taliban at bay and, if the government didn't purge itself of corruption, stage a coup in Kabul. I'd do whatever it took to get that army trained, equipped and in the field within one year, tops. Then I'd get them all together for a nice farewell dinner, hand them the keys and say "see ya." Really, that's about as close to a good ending as anyone could hope for.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When Is a Fundamental Right Less Than Fundamental?

Apparently when 52% of a minority of the electorate who bother to turn out at a poll say so.

The same California court that just last May ruled that same sex marriage was a "fundamental right" clawed that back today holding that the slimmest majority on the Proposition 8 in a November referendum to ban same sex marriage trumped fundamental rights, the California consitution and even the American Bill of Rights.

So pathetically ridiculous was California's top court that it found that, while gays were no longer equal to straights on marriage rights, the 36,000 gays and lesbians who tied the knot before Prop 8 are still equal. Their marriages still stand to mock the Court for ever.

Makes you wonder what other fundamental rights in California are up for grabs at the whim of a minority of crank voters?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Eight Years On, We Still Can't Figure Out the War in Afghaninstan

We're doing it wrong. We've been doing it wrong for eight years now. It's what McClatchey Newspapers calls our "risk averse, shorthanded strategy" to combat the Taliban. No matter how you play those cards, it's a losing hand:

...Taliban fighters rule the day and the night in the Bermel district, using threats and atrocities to control the civilian population, Afghans in the valley told a visiting reporter in interviews over two weeks. Accompanied by Arab and Chechen advisers, they behead civilians or sever their hands to force their cooperation. One of the latest Taliban edicts is a ban on cutting trees, so that insurgents can hide and lay ambushes for foreign troops.

From a distance, the U.S. base in Margha, occupied by a platoon from the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Richardson, Alaska, is a monument to a risk-averse, shorthanded American strategy in Afghanistan.

...The small U.S. base can be defended against as many as a thousand insurgents at once, confident American soldiers said. That sums up their dilemma, however: The fortress protects American troops, but it does little to help win a guerrilla war that's now in its eighth year and about to enter another violent summer.

The faltering U.S. and NATO efforts in eastern Afghanistan have in effect surrendered the countryside — village after village — to insurgent bands, many of them criminal gangs but some of them with weaponry and the backing of al Qaida.

The American [and NATO] troops descend from their bastion only on occasion, and there's no one to protect Afghan civilians from Taliban fighters, who collect a "zakat," or religious tax, from many residents in Bermel.

Living apart from the citizens they're charged with protecting isn't the only challenge to American forces. Afghans complain about errant U.S. artillery fire, which causes civilian casualties, and the constant infiltration of guerrilla bands from Pakistan.

If the goal of counterinsurgency strategy is to persuade the local population that the U.S. and its Afghan fighting partners are protecting them, it isn't working in this district, which sits opposite the al Qaida haven of South Waziristan in Pakistan.

...A U.S. military intelligence officer working in the district said he was well aware of intimidation by Afghan security forces, in particular a local commander.

"When you (the United States) don't do counterinsurgency well, it is important to make others more afraid of you than the next guy can," the official said of the local warlord, whom American forces have come to rely on. The officer couldn't be named because he wasn't authorized to speak to a reporter.

"The other option when you don't do counterinsurgency well is to intimidate the population," he said. "But when it comes to that, you are really no better than the people you are trying to get rid of."

Read more here;

The Americans are touting their new commander, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, as being a guerrilla fighter who can make a real difference but David Petraeus was also a top counter-insurgency man and he didn't make a dent in the problems besetting Afghanistan. McChrystal will have an additional 17,500 troops but in a country the size of Afghanistan with a metastasizing insurgency, that's a drop in the bucket and many of the reinforcements in any case are scheduled to be assigned, not to seek out the Taliban, but to defend the capital, Kabul.

The insurgency holds the initiative. It has the US and NATO forces on the defensive, forced to fall back to protect the major cities, abandoning the countryside. If Obama wants to persuade the Taliban he's serious about thwarting their plans, he'd better send 175,000 additional combat soldiers, not 17,500.

I wonder if Barack Obama is beginning to feel a little like Lyndon B. Johnson.

Bush's Holy War

A book just released in France paints a picture of a divinely delusional George w. Bush hell bent on bringing the Old Testament prophesies to life in the Middle East. From AlterNet:

In 2003 while lobbying leaders to put together the Coalition of the Willing, President Bush spoke to France's President Jacques Chirac. Bush wove a story about how the Biblical creatures Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East and how they must be defeated.

In Genesis and Ezekiel Gog and Magog are forces of the Apocalypse who are prophesied to come out of the north and destroy Israel unless stopped. The Book of Revelation took up the Old Testament prophesy:

"And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them."

Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac:

"This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a New Age begins".

The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elyse Palace, baffled by Bush's words, sought advice from Thomas Romer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne. Four years later, Romer gave an account in the September 2007 issue of the university's review, Allez savoir.
The article apparently went unnoticed, although it was referred to in a French newspaper.

The story has now been confirmed by Chirac himself in a new book, published in France in March, by journalist Jean Claude Maurice. Chirac is said to have been stupefied and disturbed by Bush's invocation of Biblical prophesy to justify the war in Iraq and "wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs".

In the same year he spoke to Chirac, Bush had reportedly said to the Palestinian foreign minister that he was on "a mission from God" in launching the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was receiving commands from the Lord.

Bush apparently said something along the same lines to then prime minister Paul Martin.

It's really no wonder that Cheney, Rumsfeld and the neo-con clan became so recklessly adventurous. They realized they were truly dealing with the president in the tinfoil hat.

A Pleasant Surprise

I read a lot of online newspapers, something guaranteed to reward the reader with plenty of eye strain. That's why it was a delight this morning to discover the new website format introduced by the Globe & Mail. It's clean, crisp and remarkably easy to navigate.

To appreciate the change, open the Globe on one browser window and The National Toast in another. Go back and forth, scanning each page. The difference is obvious. I suppose CanWest doesn't have a lot of spare cash these days to update the Post's web site. Then again, format is the least of the problems of The National Toast.

Let's hope the new format is just the start of a makeover for The Globe which could do with a little editorial housecleaning while they're at it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Watch How You're Flinging that Dung, Steve

Stephen Harper has a lot of gall. It may be the only attribute remaining to sustain him.

I'm no fan of Michael Ignatieff although I do consider him preferable to the current Parliamentary Prelate. While I'm not inclined to exertion in defending Ignatieff from Harper's attack ads (some of which is fair comment) I do rise to confront this latest chapter in Stevie boy's orgy of hypocrisy.

Where to begin?

I think we should start with the claim that, while abroad, Mikey made some unflattering remarks about the homeland and its people. Quite frankly, I don't have enough interest in Mikey to check that out. What I do know is that, assuming the criticism is valid, this is a case of a very charred pot calling the kettle black.

Little Stevie didn't even bother to go abroad to bad-mouth Canada and demean its citizens. He didn't have to. The foreigners, the worst of the secretive American, uber-right cabal, the Council for National Policy, came to him in Montreal in June, 1997. This was Harper's shining moment, his chance to show his true colours and, boy, did he ever.

He told the assembly of arch-Republicans that our country was as low as they come. "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it. Canadians make no connection between the fact that they are a Northern European welfare state and the fact that we have very low economic growth, a standard of living substantially lower than yours, a massive brain drain of young professionals to your country, and double the unemployment rate of the United States.

In terms of the unemployed, ...don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance."

Harper went on to amuse his American friends by slagging Canada for such outrages as gay rights, gun control, universal health care and a gaggle of non-social conservative ideals. It's a riveting speech because it rivets Harper to his true values and his ugly vision for Canada.

Anyone who has slandered the Canadian people as Harper has should resist the urge to criticize anyone else for being un-Canadian or insufficiently patriotic.

And, as for Ignatieff's connections with the United States and the chance that he might just return there when his political career wanes, let's talk about Ari Fleischer, Torture Inc.'s own former mouthpiece. Just why is Harper using our tax dollars to line Fleischer's pockets to elevate Harper's public image in the United States? What else could it be except to test Steve's own post-political prospects south of the border?

So, I'm not saying that Michael (swoon) isn't deserving of a few hard shots. All I'm saying is that it hardly lies in the mouth of dirty dealing Steve Harper to be taking those shots. If there has ever been an all-American bootlicker, it's the guy at the top.

Frum Is Right

David Frum is waging a struggle to reclaim the Republican Party on his web site One of his articles is entitled "No Wonder People Hate Us." It's about how the lunatic fringe is destroying the Republican Party. The piece focuses on a right wing, open mouth radio host named Mark Levin who really does abuse anyone not of his own ilk.

Frum provided a transcript of an excerpt in which Levin horribly castigated a woman caller, questioning why her husband didn't just put a gun to his temple. Frum questioned what people like Levin must be doing to any decent Americans:

Imagine some commuter - a nonpolitical person, a family man or woman, a taxpayer and billpayer - who happens to flip the dial on the radio on the way home and hears that exchange. What would such a person think? Wouldn't it be something like, "I dont know what's wrong with that horrible man, but I do know this: whatever side he's on, any decent person would have to be on the opposite"?

I didn't know anything about Mark Levin but this controversy led me to seek him out on YouTube. Here's a clip of this guy tearing into his fellow right winger, Bill O'Reilly, that captures the state of right wing talk radio in the United States today:

I don't have any sympathy for Frum or his Republicans. If you choose to sleep with dogs, don't complain when you get fleas. The Republicans courted these people when that served their purposes just as they courted Christian fundamentalists. The Republicans gave them the necessary degree of credibility and support required for them to flourish. The Republicans provided the rotten fruit needed for this bacteria to grow. They cut their own throats. Now they're left with a party of churls and Quasimodos, a party of hacks and hucksters, names like Boehner, Imhofe and Palin. It was this whole strata of mud dumb bigots and fearstruck fantasists to which Karl Rove looked to cement his permanent Republican majority. Rove never grasped that the key to his success could also be the key to the indefinite collapse of his party and the abandonment of its grotesque movement.

The Republican Party deserves to be led into the desert by the likes of Levin and Savage, Hannity and Limbaugh. There's still a good bit of rotting left to do before they're ready to rebuild, before they can be restored to the company of decent people.

p.s. What's with O'Reilly? If you listened to that clip he sounded perfectly reasonable. Haven't we seen this before on prime time wrestling? The bad guy who needs to revive his tired brand and so instantly switches sides?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Who Gets Tossed From the Lifeboat Says Everything

It has happened in the past. The lifeboat is overloaded. Somebody has to get thrown overboard lest the boat capsize and everybody die. In school we read a case from the early 1800s where the skipper stood trial for just this and lost - not because he threw someone over the side but because he didn't toss the black porter first. California isn't about to make the same mistake.

California is a fiscally overloaded lifeboat in danger of being swamped by far too much debt. The state budget process is such a political football that Governator Arnie can't get consensus on a deficit deal that would save the state. Stuck with a $21-billion shortfall, something obviously has to give. Teachers, firefighters, even cops - sure their ranks will be cut but wait, what about the black porter up in the bow? Doesn't he go first?

In this lifeboat, the black porter is California's poor and the state's needy students and they're headed straight for Davey Jones' locker. According to the LA Times, California is about to indulge in a bit of budgetary Darwinism:

To balance the books, Schwarzenegger is eyeing the dismantling of the state's CalWorks program, which serves more than 500,000 poor families with children, as well as the elimination of Healthy Families, which provides medical coverage to 928,000 children and teens. Mothballing the two programs would save the state about $1.4 billion in the coming fiscal year, officials said.

If the proposals to slash the safety net come to pass, they would completely reshape the state's social service network, transforming California from one of the country's most generous states to one of the most tightfisted in aiding the poor.

Also potentially on the chopping block is CalGrants, a financial assistance program that offers cash grants to lower- and middle-income college students each year. The governor's proposal would eliminate the 77,000 new grants awarded each year at a cost of $180 million, but that saving would eventually grow to more than $900 million as students graduated and the program was phased out.

In so many ways California seems awfully progressive but its willingness, in tough times, to turn on the weakest and most vulnerable, especially those kids, puts all that in a much less flattering perspective. Eliminating health care for a million poor kids? I guess in California, poor is the new black.,0,4603538.story

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Memo to Self - No More Dirty Diapers in Grocery Bags!

The Canadian Plastics Industry Association is fighting back against reusable, cloth bags that are finally taking the place of plastic bags.

The CPIA conducted tests on 24 reusable bags and found in some of them mold, yeast, bacteria and even intestinal fecal bacteria. Association spokesperson Cathy Cirko said the fecal bacteria came from a bag someone had used to tote around dirty diapers. Well, duh!

So, lesson learned. Next time you catch the cashier trying to slip a dirty diaper in with your broccoli, tell her/him "No Thank You."

In fairness, however, I have had more than one cashier tell me horror stories of people who bring really gross reusables to the til. Hey, people. They can get dirty. They are washable.

Iraqi Bloodbath Ramping Up Again

Sectarian violence is returning to Iraq in a big way. 62-deaths from bombings in the past day. Three American soldiers killed. A dozen Iraqi policemen eliminated.

Blame Obama. After all, there's a lot of political hay to be made out of this and the Republican stable has been going without lately.

Yes, violence is returning with the drawdown of US forces but to blame it on that is facile. To do that is to ignore the real problems that beset the nation of Iraq that remain pretty much as they were when Saddam was overthrown.

There's an unresolved Arab versus Kurd problem. A Sunni versus Shia problem. There's even a rift between the nationalist Shiite movement of al Sadr and the pro-Iranian Shiite movement headed by Maliki. These chasms have a cumulative effect. Tensions on one front tend to magnify strains on the others. When the Arabs are divided, it offers the Kurds little incentive to forego their quasi autonomy. When Maliki's Shia can't close a deal with the Sunni or the Kurds, it gives Sadr's Shia opportunities to exploit. When Maliki shuns the Sunni and balks on the promises of reconciliation, it shuts down the Awakening Councils and sends their members back into the old Sunni resistance. And guess what? Al Qaeda in Iraq is staging a comeback and it has nothing to do with Barack Obama either.

What's Next, the English Ocean?

Look at the map. There's the southern part of Vancouver Island. Below it is Seattle and Washington state. To the right is Vancouver and the B.C. mainland. Now check out that narrow ribbon of blue that runs between those points. Does that look like a "sea" to you?

Retired Washington university prof Bert Webber is pushing to have the area roughly demarked by the white line renamed the Salish Sea. Why? Because he's retired and really doesn't have anything else to do.

The word Salish come from the name Coast Salish, the name anthropologists gave to the First Nations language group that resides in the area.

Webber first proposed the name in 1988, but the proposal was soundly rejected at the time. In recent years, the term has caught on with local First Nations leaders and marine biologists, who have started using it to describe the large area of inland waters south and east of Vancouver Island on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

Last year, a Vancouver Island First Nation leader suggested Salish Sea be used to replace the name of the Georgia Strait, which separates Vancouver Island from the South Coast of B.C.
Webber's expanded designation caught the interest of Chemainus elder George Harris, who said the new name reflects the borderless nature of the area's original First Nations.

"When we meet as the Coast Salish family, the things that tie us together and make us proud of who we are, are things like this," said Harris.

I guess when it comes to that old Spaniard, Senor Juan de Fuca, it's okay to call it a 'strait.' Or maybe that was because it is just that, a strait. Even Juan knew that.

(p.s. when you can see one side from the other side, chances are you're not looking over a sea)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Milking It To The End

We the people are picking up Mulroney's 2-million dollar tab for his performance at the Oliphant inquiry.

You would think for that kind of money he would have answered some questions or at least given some plausible explanations where so many remain missing.

The funding appears to be a perk afforded Privy Councillors, a status that BMPM will cherish to his last breath. I'd love to get a gander at Guy Pratte's accounts for representing that old BM.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if he would just give us back the original two million he took us for back when his only dealings with Schreiber were a get togethers for coffee (and envelopes stuffed with thousand dollar bills).

Brian - People With Glass Jaws Shouldn't Throw Wild Punches

If the Oliphant inquiry will accomplish anything, it will be to have provided a forum for Brian Mulroney to demolish the last vestige of his reputation. He promised he would lay it all out and would be vindicated. But in his six days on the stand it became increasingly obvious that he was concealing far more than he was revealing and that his uncorroborated accounts simply didn't add up, didn't make much sense.

BMPM should have been remembered for his environmentalism or his courageous stand against South African apartheid but he's put an end to all that. Now he'll go down in the books as a shifty character who was always hiding something and consorting with n'er do wells on shady, undocumented deals. He'll be the tragic figure who demeaned himself with implausible explanations that defied all credulity.

I can't help wondering how Brian Mulroney saw Brian Mulroney when this inquiry began for it was certainly that self-image that shaped his performance over the past week. He must have given his counsel, Guy Pratte, absolute fits. Every lawyer dreads the client who gets up on the stand and rambles on foolishly, pointing out his own vulnerabilities to all who hear him. I've seen that thing played out more than once. There's a certain shared consciousness that spreads to counsel for all parties and to the bench. As often as not it goes unmentioned but everyone, save perhaps for the witness, knows the undeniable reality of what has just happened. Pratte and Wolson and Oliphant have undoubtedly had a few of those moments already - Mulroney's implausible account of how he simply kept bundles of cash gathering dust in his home safe or some bank safety deposit box, his inability to show anything tangible to evidence the work he supposedly did for Shcreiber, the glaring inconsistencies in his saga of his tax reporting and voluntary disclosure. What he kept saying simply made no sense.

One point that really piqued Oliphant's interest was Mulroney's revelation of an article the Globe and Mail was about to print that exonnerated him, an article that was pulled at the last minute as just another part of the plot to destroy Brian Mulroney. That claim led Globe editor, Edward Greenspon to dash off a denunciation to inquiry counsel Wolson:

In his testimony today, Mr Mulroney made reference to a supposed fourth article in the November 2003 series authored by William Kaplan and suggested this article, on which he "was counting very heavily," was suppressed by the Globe. There was no such fourth article ever contemplated. The number of articles in the series was always three.

It may be that what Mr. Mulroney is referring to is information he offered me in an effort to induce The Globe and Mail not to publish Mr. Kaplan's third article revealing that Mr. Mulroney had accepted cash payments from Mr. Schreiber. When he found out that the Globe intended to publish Mr. Kaplan's story, Mr. Mulroney contacted me several times trying to appeal to me not to publish the story. In at least one of the conversations, Mr. Mulroney offered to trade me information about a story that he said was explosive and would be of greater interest to The Globe than Mr. Kaplan's story about the cash payments.

As though Brian Mulroney's dwindling credibility needed, or could withstand, another hit. So much for his claims that he's always been fothright about his dealings with Schreiber, gladly willing to answer any questions put to him.

It's too bad - for Mulroney - that he used his appearance to take swings at those he feels have betrayed or persecuted him, the current prime minister, Jean Chretien, Norman Spector, William Kaplan ...the list goes on. In doing this Mulroney revealed that the once great prime minister now stands alone, weak and vulnerable.

California's Fiscal Wildfire

California has four seasons - earthquakes, mudslides, droughts and wildfires and, right now, the state is facing a fiscal wildfire - a $21-billion deficit that state voters have rejected.

That leaves governor Schwarzenegger and his legislature to slash spending and the obvious targets are policing and education. Thousands of cops and teachers will be getting pink slips which, in reality, is only good news for criminals and truants.

California is beginning to become a bit like Waziristan - ungovernable. State budgets need a two-thirds vote to pass the legislature which is a formula for gridlock rather than compromise. If the legislature won't pass the budget, the governor's last resort is to call a 'special election' which is basically an invitation to voters to stop by and indicate if they want an increase in their tax bills. The 'nays' have a lot more incentive to show up at the polls. Only 19% turned out for yesterday's vote.

Faced with a deadlocked legislature, Arnie is going to have to start cutting. 5,000 state employees are going for starters. Funding to municipalities will be slashed meaning fewer firefighters and police officers. And tens of thousands of California teachers will likely be thrown out of work.

That's the sort of mischief that ten percent of the electorate can cause a government when direct democracy translates into mob rule under a dysfunctional legislature hatched by a deeply flawed constitution.

I wonder how long it will be before all the 'law and order' types who couldn't be bothered to vote yesterday start screaming about runaway crime on the streets?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Yippee, Now We're Arming the Taliban

Captured Taliban ammunition and automatic weapons appear to be from stocks supplied by the United States to Afghan government forces. Well, surprise, surprise. From the New York Times:

Arms and ordnance collected from dead insurgents hint at one possible reason: Of 30 rifle magazines recently taken from insurgents’ corpses, at least 17 contained cartridges, or rounds, identical to ammunition the United States had provided to Afghan government forces, according to an examination of ammunition markings by The New York Times and interviews with American officers and arms dealers.

The presence of this ammunition among the dead in the Korangal Valley, an area of often fierce fighting near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, strongly suggests that munitions procured by the Pentagon have leaked from Afghan forces for use against American troops.

With a government thoroughly infiltrated by warlords whose very history is of playing both sides of the street, is this any surprise? The insurgency is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Taliban. It's long morphed into a coalition of groups - Islamist, nationalist, criminal or those simply aggrieved and seeking revenge.

The United States has been criticized, as recently as February by the federal Government Accountability Office, for failing to account for thousands of rifles issued to Afghan security forces. Some of these weapons have been documented in insurgents’ hands, including weapons in a battle last year in which nine Americans died.

Jeffrey Oliphant's Herculean Chore

Stephen Harper as Eurystheus. Brian Mulroney as the sly King Augeas. Jeffrey Oliphant as Hercules, charged by Eurystheus to clean the stables befouled by Augeas' cattle.

Oliphant's task is Herculean. He has to listen to one of the most powerful prime ministers in Canadian history describe a course of shady dealings and then decide how much of what he hears can be believed. He has a lot of crap to shovel his way through. It's dirty and it smells.

Nobody can avoid noticing how furiously Mulroney, under examination by inquiry counsel, is spinning his evidence. Time after time when asked a direct, simple question, Mulroney uses it as an opportunity to slip into a repetitive churning over of facts and allegations that he claims exonerate him of all wrongdoing. It's positively tiresome. It's as though he's waving his arms at Oliphant and yelling, "no, don't look over there, look over here, over here."

I think Mulroney has tripped himself up over his account of how he treated the cash, or at least as much of it as he admits having received from Schreiber.

If there's one thing that fledgling lawyers have drummed into their pointy little heads, it's the concept of trusts and retainers. Clients are normally required to give counsel money in the form of retainers, essentially security against fees and expenses to be incurred. Lawyers have to treat those retainers according to very specific rules. Those rules govern how the money is received, how it is held and how it is eventually disbursed and accounted for to the client.

Mulroney couldn't give a straight answer about how he received, how he held or how he disbursed the Schreiber money. His tax lawyer told the Canadian Revenue Agency in his 'voluntary disclosure' that the money was earned by Mulroney in 1993, 1994 and 1995. However that's not what Mulroney told Oliphant.

Mulroney's version is that the retainer was an ongoing matter until 1998, the last year he did any work for Schreiber, apparently on some pasta project. It was only when Schreiber was charged in Germany with tax evasion that Mulroney ended the retainer at which point he took his payment, i.e. all the money. Mulroney insisted that, prior to that point, he didn't touch the money because it wasn't his.

The inquiry counsel, Richard Wolson, asked a telling question. Why, if Mulroney believed he hadn't earned the income until 1999, didn't he just declare it as income in that year instead of retaining a senior tax lawyer to tell the tax authorities that it was undeclared income from 1993 to 1995? Mulroney almost suggested that his tax lawyer simply made up the timing of the income in his voluntary disclosure.

This is a glaring inconsistency that Oliphant is going to have to resolve. He's going to have to make some interesting findings on questions of credibility.

In the greater scheme of things, how Mulroney dealt with the taxes on his Schreiber money may appear inconsequential but this is a case full of undocumented agreements, dead witnesses, false statements, inconsistencies and conflicting claims. To sort through that Oliphant is going to have to read tea leaves, the indirect evidence. You have to weigh how witnesses performed under questioning. Where they forthright and candid or were they evasive and incredible? You look at what is clear from whatever hard evidence you do have, what is unclear or inconsistent and what is missing that ought to be there. That is what Mr. Wolson has been doing, putting together a picture piece by piece. He doesn't have any real smoking gun here. This is going to come down to questions of credibility and, as far as I can tell, on that score Mulroney has done himself no favours.

Why Won't Harper Fix Chalk River?

Maybe he's just plain happier devoting his limited talents to attack ads.

The Chalk River nuclear installation is down again. Heavy water leaks. Let's see, the Chalk River facility has been beset by massive problems for two years. That's all been on Harper's watch. It's still screwed up. He fired Keene when he needed a scapegoat but those only come in ones and there is no ducking the scandal this time. Steve has to wear this one.

Atomic Energy Canada, or more correctly, Steve's Atomic Energy Canada has shut down the reactor so it can take a month to figure out what to do. In the meantime that reactor won't be producing isotopes which will leave radiology in a bad way in central and eastern Canada.

Steve's own beloved Alberta, however, apparently knows better than to trust the Harper government to supply isotopes. It gets its supply from Europe. Oh, I guess that explains why Harper could care less.

Spector Rats Out Mulroney

Memo to Brian: Don't mock people who know where you've buried the bodies.

In his opening appearance at the Oliphant inquiry, Brian Mulroney laid into a number of those he considers disloyal including Stephen Harper and even Mulroney's former chief of staff, Norman Spector. This guy doesn't have many bridges left that he can afford to douse them all in gasoline.

Now Mulroney has a headache. Spector has gone to Canadian Press to tell them that his former boss isn't being truthful with the inquiry. From the Toronto Star:

Mulroney has acknowledged that he accepted at least $225,000 from Schreiber to promote the later "reincarnation" of Bear Head after he left office in 1993.

But during four days of testimony last week at the inquiry headed by Justice Jeffrey Oliphant, Mulroney asserted that he had ditched the original proposal after Spector informed him in late 1990 that it would cost taxpayers too much.

Mulroney pointed to that decision, in his first day on the stand, to rebut any suggestion he had been unduly influenced by Schreiber in personal meetings held to discuss the project.

"What we've learned about Mulroney is that he's very slippery with words and evasive with his testimony," Spector told The Canadian Press. "He didn't cancel the project in any incarnation. He never cancelled it."

Oh Brian, Brian, Brian. You really must learn to pick your fights.

Mad From Thirst

Thirst - conjures up scenes of lost souls crawling across deserts or adrift on the ocean in lifeboats. It always produces an intense feeling of human vulnerability.

What we are going to have to start thinking of is thirst on a national, even regional scale, thirst that besets hundreds of millions of people. That's beginning right now, in India and China. The Reuters news agency reports that India may soon be forced to buy freshwater for some of its people. For some time now residents of some major Indian cities have been dependent on privately operated water trucks, their municipal water systems hopelessly overwhelmed. Now it's the really poor people in the countryside that are awaiting the sporadic arrival of the water trucks:

The situation is worse in India's next door neighbour and emerging superpower rival, China. Like India, China faces a general water shortage that's only going to continue to worsen as the Himalayan glaciers recede. But China treats its already limited surface water as an industrial waste disposal system, rendering enormous amounts of what remains unsafe for human consumption, some of it unfit even for irrigation.

Faced with an immediate problem, China is resorting to a massive, 'go for broke' solution that may not work and risks severe ecological blowback in the future. The report from today's Guardian delivers a sense of silent desperation, even recklessness, on the part of China's government:

What emerges from these stories is that neither country really has a viable, long-term response to its growing freshwater crisis. India seems bogged down in bandaid measures. Yet Mubai seems the least worrisome at the moment. For all we see China as a totalitarian state, it is remarkable how feeble is Beijing's control over its own provinces, their governments and industries. There's a really eerie element of institutional anarchy suggesting that China has all but lost control over its industrial revolution.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cheney's Tortured, Twisted, Evil Mind

Thanks to McClatchey Newspapers, Dick Cheney will never be able to escape the fact that, under his command, terrorism suspects were tortured to gin up evidence of a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

Here's what that Dick told the Rocky Mountain News back in 2004:

"The (al Qaida-Iraq) links go back. We know for example from interrogating detainees in Guantanamo that al Qaida sent individuals to Baghdad to be trained in C.W. and B.W. technology, chemical and biological weapons technology. These are all matters that are there for anybody who wants to look at it."

Of course, that's what torture does. It gets people to say anything they think you want to hear so that you'll stop torturing them. If you want them to confirm a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq, just keep demanding they reveal the existence of such a link while you continue torturing them. It won't take long for them to realize what you want them to say and they'll say it.

This bastard is sick beyond belief. I'm sure Satan is starting to get impatient waiting for his rotten heart to explode.

Kalifornia Krunchtime

Even the Governator can't save California.

The world's seventh largest economy is teetering on the edge of financial collapse. It's the price to be paid for getting a little too carried away with illusions of democracy. California's constitution requires two-thirds majorities to pass budgets or to increase taxes. The natural result in a fiercely partisan legislature is gridlock with budgets not getting passes and taxes not raised to meet the state's basic needs.

Despite all their dire problems, Californians don't like turning out to vote. That leaves most elections decided by older, established white folks who (this is California after all) tend to be either far right or far left. That, in turn, translates into very little middle ground in the state's legislature or, put another way, a huge no-man's land between the trenches on either side.

And then there's the sorry business of binding referenda. It isn't hard to get a particular proposition on the ballot for the next election and the results are binding on the legislature. Dumb, dumb and dumber. It resulted in the controversial Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in California. In Louisiana, a state known for its barrel-bottom educational standards, voters were given the opportunity to choose tax cuts or education funding. Guess which option won?

In other words, direct democracy in the form of binding plebiscites breeds dysfunction. California is facing real problems in the very near future. If it can't reform its governance, it's toast.

Let Us Know When You Find Jimmy Hoffa

American authorities have started what will be a six-year project to dredge New York's Hudson River. From 1947 until 1977, General Electric dumped - wait for it - 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from its capacitor manufacturing plants.

The contaminated sludge will be loaded on rail cars and shipped to - where else? - Texas, the environmental cesspit of the United States.

The Slur That Now Leads the Republicans

David Frum appears to be losing his bid to reclaim his beloved Republican Party for intelligent people or at least keep it from sinking to the very bottom of the Slimbaugh cesspool.

A half-century ago, many conservatives followed another leader who accused the president of the day of treason. The leader was Robert Welch and the president was Dwight Eisenhower, whom Welch termed a "conscious and dedicated agent of the communist conspiracy." We all remember that Bill Buckley defied and opposed Welch. Today we admire Bill for doing it. We forget that Bill's actions nearly wrecked National Review, as Welch's followers canceled their subscriptions and accused Buckley himself of adhering to the conspiracy. That seems funny in retrospect, but it was not funny at the time.

The writers at NR have not forgotten this history. And yet that has not prevented us all from reliving it. I fear that the costs of indulging paranoid talk in the conservative world will be far greater than ever they were in the 1960s. Back then, sensible Republicans could ignore Robert Welch. But Limbaugh is omnipresent - and now our former vice president has told us he is to be preferred as a party leader to Colin Powell. Powell - the man who could have had our party presidential nomination for the asking in 1996! The man that Cheney's administration sent to Congress and the United Nations to make the case against Iraq in 2003, because that administration knew that Powell commanded more respect and deference than any other administration member, not excepting the president himself.

The blogger Matt Yglesias made a telling point the other day. The assertion that Limbaugh leads the conservative movement began as a slur, an attack point. It is the weakness of our Republican elected leaders - and the indulgence of those who should be our conservative intellectual leaders - that has elevated the slur into plausible reality.

It's too bad the Republicans chose to make the hicks, bigots, fundies and rednecks their path to power. Now they're stuck with them and, worse, it's not just the camel's nose under the tent anymore. It's the whole damned camel. Hey guys, learn to live with it and, when you get a moment, grab a shovel and clean up that mess in the corner.

Standing In The Lions' Den

Standing in that most Catholic of American universities, Notre Dame, Barack Obama didn't hesitate to address his nation's bitter divide on abortion.

"No matter how much we may want to fudge it – indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory – the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable," said Obama as he accepted an honorary law degree.

...Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually – it has both moral and spiritual dimensions'," he said. He continued: "Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature."

Obama's comments reminded me of Pierre Trudeau's words during an interview at the time he began the trek to reproductive freedom by decriminalizing abortion. That was 40-years ago. He said at the time that he knew Canadian society was sharply divided on the issue and irreconcilable. He said he also knew that his government's initiative would please neither side and so, in the circumstances, it was probably the best that could be achieved in that society.

There's something about genuine leaders and real courage. A lot of the time you leave a lot of people angry, for a while.

We're Not Leaving Afghanistan - Peter MacKay. Then Again, We Never Were

Erstwhile DefMin Peter MacKay snuck into Kandahar apparently to tell the troops that there'll be plenty for them to do when Canada's combat mission there ends in 2011.

Memo to Pete: stop bullshitting everybody over there and at home.

So long as we have troops in Afghanistan, we don't get to decide when their combat mission will end. That's because the Taliban holds the iniative. We won't have the offensive combat mission but that's not exactly been a roaring success these past eight years anyway. But don't worry about that, Pete, the Taliban are on the offensive. They bring their war to us.

Most of Canada's casualties over the past couple of years haven't been from gunfights but roadside bombs, improvised explosive devices. Now, unless Pete is promising that, post 2011, our soldiers won't be driving down those same deadly roads, he's a lying bastard. Unless Pete can assure Canadian soldiers that they won't have to go anywhere in Afghanistan without being armed to the teeth, he's a lying bastard. Unless Pete can show up in Afghanistan announced instead of having to skulk in and skulk out, he's a lying bastard.

You see combat typically has two dimensions. One is offensive, the other defensive. We started this business years ago on the offensive. Gradually the insurgency has turned that around so that most of the time they're on the offensive. They hold the initiative, decide when and where to give battle or deny it. They have enough freedom of movement to stage highly complex attacks on major cities including Kabul, Kandahar and Khost. They have enough freedom of movement that they can get to the approaches of our garrisons to plant and conceal high-explosive 'improvised' mines.

Whether you're on the offensive or on the defensive, you're involved in a combat mission. The only difference is which side is calling the shots.
The day Canadian forces' combat mission in Afghanistan ends, is the day the last one of them flies out.

Arms Race Update - Pakistan Expanding Nuclear Arsenal

You would think Pakistan would have better uses for the billions in military aid it has received from the United States than to ramp up its ability to wage a war of mutual annihilation on India. Apparently that's not the way Pakistan sees it. From The New York Times:

Adm. Mike Mullen the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal in a one-word answer to a question on Thursday in the midst of lengthy Senate testimony. Sitting beside Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, he was asked whether he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.

“Yes,” he said quickly, adding nothing, clearly cognizant of Pakistan’s sensitivity to any discussion about the country’s nuclear strategy or security.

Inside the Obama administration, some officials say, Pakistan’s drive to spend heavily on new nuclear arms has been a source of growing concern, because the country is producing more nuclear material at a time when Washington is increasingly focused on trying to assure the security of an arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons so that they will never fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents.

Admiral Mullen's terse admission reflects one of the most intractable problems in this region, one that largely plays out beneath NATO's nose in Afghanistan where our supposed ally, Hamid Karzai, constantly courts support from India. Fareed Zakaria recently noted that India is Afghanistan's main aid donor.

India wants to expand its presence in Afghanistan for reasons legitimate and illegitimate. It does have a pressing interest in the TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India) pipeline project that could give India access to Caspian Basin oil and gas. But it also allows India to give Pakistan fits over fearing an Indian-dominated Afghanistan boxing it in.

What never seems to get mentioned in the TAPI discussions is how India would secure its pipeline access against interruption by Pakistan. The pipelines would have to pass through Pakistan to reach India meaning Islamabad could turn off the taps for any number of strategic purposes which would cause enormous havoc to the Indian economy.

It's hard not to see Pakistan's drive to acquire more nukes except in the context of a perceived sense of increasing tensions or, worse, a belief in inevitable war with India. Pakistan is all too aware of India's massive drive to rearm and its overall qualitative and quantitative superiority over its Muslim neighbour. It's little comfort to Pakistan to know that India wants a more effective military to try to offset China's rearmament efforts because Islamabad realizes all that new Indian hardware can be used against Pakistan as easily as China.

The West has to solve this problem of growing Indian influence in Afghanistan. The more we allow containment paranoia to spread through Pakistan, the more we nudge Pakistan into the arms of China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. If we think we've got problems now...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

All the Fun, Without the Pain

For the past 54 consecutive years, the Euros have gotten together one night every year to utterly shred their dignity. It's called the Eurovision Song Contest which is an astonishing tribute to mankind's ability to write really awful songs to be performed by even worse musicians.

Fortunately this virulent Euro pox doesn't make it across the Atlantic and if you've ever seen it you'll know exactly what I mean.

But wait, there's more (there's always more). Thanks to The Guardian's Heidi Stephens you can relive all this year's excitement by browsing through her live blog from last night. She really does convey all the horror without you ever having to look at the gore. Enjoy:

Friday, May 15, 2009

$300,000 Is Not Peripheral To A Poor Man

Jeffrey Oliphant's hardest job may be to put sensible meanings to Brian Mulroney's words.

Brian Mulroney cannot accept the normal interpretation of words so he's invented his own. Take his description of his relationship with Schreiber as "peripheral."

By all accounts, Brian Mulroney was not a wealthy man while he was prime minister. We have that from his aide, Norman Spector. When we do have a wealthy prime minister, a Paul Martin or a Pierre Trudeau, we know about their wealth and where it came from.

Do you remember how Mila Mulroney carried on when it was time for them to vacate 24 Sussex Drive? She even wanted the National Capital Commission to pay her for the wallpaper in the place! Finally the NCC cut her a cheque for $150,000 for furnishings the Mulroneys decided to leave behind at 24 Sussex Drive and Harrington Lake but the cheque was returned after a controversy erupted over just who had paid for those furnishings in the first place.

So a man hands Mulroney envelopes stuffed with thousand dollar bills, a hundred grand a pop, three times, and to Mulroney this was "peripheral"? Now it might have been peripheral to a man who was actually vastly wealthy, someone who could leave his public service job, buy a $1.7-million dollar home and toss in a further million dollars on renos. But Brian Mulroney wasn't a wealthy man, was he? Was he?

Posterity = Prosperity

I have long argued that the genetic flaw in Western society, particularly North American society, the missing gene that pretty much dooms us all, is the absense of posterity in our planning.

A couple of months back I took this look at posterity:

Posterity doesn't fit into our economic model of production and consumption because it creates a fetter on both. We have lost our understanding of the importance of posterity to our society, to our country. We no longer plan today for generations to come far in the future. We no longer look much beyond the next electoral cycle.

Protecting posterity is an act of collective consciousness and will. It is acknowledging that we're entitled to our fair share and no more. We can't have it all without depriving future generations of their fair share.

To try to understand the idea of "fair share" imagine if our great, great, great grandparents had followed our path.

Imagine if our ancestors had two things - the ability to consume everything they could get their hands on and a blind indifference to the day when it was our turn to populate this country. Imagine if two or three generations had gone on a rapacious binge gobbling up the world's resources; going into serious deficit on renewables (emptying the oceans, logging off the forests, transforming farmland into desert) and fouling the environment. Then consider how their depredations might impact on your life today. I think that's beyond the imagination of all but the best science fiction writers but that's of no real matter. It's enough in any event to make the case for posterity and the concept of "fair share."

I'm revisiting the subject of posterity today because of an excellent article in The New York Times exploring why Norway, every teabagger's evil empire, is doing so darned well while the rest of the Western world reels under global meltdown:

The global financial crisis has brought low the economies of just about every country on earth. But not Norway.

With a quirky contrariness as deeply etched in the national character as the fjords carved into its rugged landscape, Norway has thrived by going its own way. When others splurged, it saved. When others sought to limit the role of government, Norway strengthened its cradle-to-grave welfare state.

And in the midst of the worst global downturn since the Depression, Norway’s economy grew last year by just under 3 percent. The government enjoys a budget surplus of 11 percent and its ledger is entirely free of debt.

Norway is a relatively small country with a largely homogeneous population of 4.6 million and the advantages of being a major oil exporter. It counted $68 billion in oil revenue last year as prices soared to record levels. Even though prices have sharply declined, the government is not particularly worried. That is because Norway avoided the usual trap that plagues many energy-rich countries.

Instead of spending its riches lavishly, it passed legislation ensuring that oil revenue went straight into its sovereign wealth fund, state money that is used to make investments around the world. Now its sovereign wealth fund is close to being the largest in the world, despite losing 23 percent last year because of investments that declined.

“The U.S. and the U.K. have no sense of guilt,” said Anders Aslund, an expert on Scandinavia at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “But in Norway, there is instead a sense of virtue. If you are given a lot, you have a responsibility.”

Eirik Wekre, an economist who writes thrillers in his spare time, describes Norwegians’ feelings about debt this way: “We cannot spend this money now; it would be stealing from future generations.”

It's hard not to contrast Norway's approach to its oil wealth to that of the Conservative governments of Alberta. The Klein/Stelmach machine is still glued to the fantasy that growth will lift their province out of its problems. And it's not just Alberta. The rest of us would do well to give some serious consideration to this same object lesson. Whether we live in British Columbia or Ontario or New Brunswick, we all need to grasp the idea that posterity is the lifeblood of our nation's future.

Posterity isn't about preserving grand edifices for future generations. It's all about preserving a world for those future generations.

Brian's Little Bags of Cash

Brian Mulroney did his best to act perplexed that Karlheinz Schreiber gave him envelopes stuffed with cash. Cash of all things! Thousand dollar bills no less. Mulroney seemed downright vexed at having to deal in grimy paper currency although he did point out it was valid, legal tender - perhaps simply wanting to use the word 'legal' in conjunction with his loot.

Mulroney gave the impressing he really didn't know what to do with cash so he just stuffed it in his safe at home or in a safety deposit box.

And yet, by some accounts, cash was the Mulroneys very favourite variety of capital. Norman Spector wrote of making a bank run once a month to fetch a supply of cash for Mila.

"Mulroney was not a rich man. Party funds were being drawn, and one of our staff was assigned to pore through personal expenses to determine if some might be reimbursed. Every month I cashed a cheque at a local bank and remitted the funds to Mila," Spector wrote.

Then there was the former prime minister's chef who once claimed he ran a regular shuttle picking up envelopes stuffed with cash from Fred Doucet and delivering them to Mrs. Mulroney - although he later denied every saying such a thing.

Schreiber picked up the 'not a rich man' theme in his evidence when he claimed he was approached by Doucet to give money to the boss because he was hard up.

And then there's the return to Montreal. The oh so not rich Mulroney began his return to private life by purchasing a posh home for $1.7-million. You don't find a lot of poor people who can manage that little trick. Better yet, before they moved into their 'fixer upper' they put around a million dollars into renovations. That's a lot of new toilets and counter tops.

The kicker though, according to Stevie Cameron, is that most of the cost of the renos was - paid in cash.

It strikes me that if this last point can be proven, somebody's got some 'splainin to do, somebody who was oh so not rich. Then again, Cameron seems to have gotten a couple of things wrong before.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Don't Blame Me, I Didn't Even Know the Guy

Now there's something a family can be proud of. One of my distant ancestors led the pharmaceutical research team at AG Bayer in Germany in the 19th century. He was credited with two breakthroughs. One was Aspirin. The other was Heroin. It was actually one of his employees, Felix Hofman who figured out how to stabilize ASA in tablet form but Heinrich raked in the bucks. As for heroin, they believed it was far less addictive than morphine,'heroic' even. Guess they got that one wrong.

Even Russia is Talking War - Resource Wars

While our leaders fantasize about Arctic nature parks, the rest of the world is either engaging in or getting ready for what they know is coming - resource wars. These aren't wars fought to expand empires or to spread ideologies. They're wars to seize or defend resources.

A Kremlin report released today warns that Russia foresees wars on its borders in the future over control of energy resources. From Reuters:

"In a competition for resources, problems that involve the use of military force cannot be excluded that would destroy the balance of forces close to the borders of the Russian Federation and her allies," said the document, which maps out Russia's security strategy until 2020.

"The attention of international politics in the long-term perspective will be concentrated on the acquisition of energy resources," the paper said.

It said regions where such a competition for resources could arise included the Middle East, the Barents Sea, the Arctic, the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. Russia also sees increased competition for food, fresh water and land.

The strategy document was approved by President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday and published on Wednesday by the Russian Security Council, which includes Russia's top politicians and intelligence chiefs and is chaired by Medvedev.

Gee, what a novel idea! It sounds remarkably like the assessments that have been coming out of the Pentagon and British Ministry of Defence. It seems consistent with the accelerating militarization underway throughout the Middle East, South Asia and Far East.

We know that Russia is already building a specific military force to bolster its resource ambitions in the Arctic not to mention a new generation of surface and submersible nuclear power plants and a fleet of ice breaker-super tankers. And we're sitting around spouting nonsense about Arctic nature parks? Incredible.

True Patriot Love. That sounds delightful. But what about the other part, We Stand on Guard for Thee?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Not Canadian Forces' Best Day

The Canadian Forces have a problem they'd very much like to just go away.

It all surrounds complaints by Canadian soldiers of having to stand by, helplessly, as their Afghan counterparts sodomized young boys. When the story broke it caused a furore, leading the Canadian Forces to launch an internal investigation into how our military police handled the complaints. Just fine, says the report:

"It was determined that the initial allegations concerning such incidents contained serious discrepancies, could not be corroborated, were not reported to the chain of command and ultimately were not substantiated," said a statement released Tuesday by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.

The investigation concluded that no Canadian Forces personnel committed "any service or criminal offences in relation to the alleged sexual abuse of Afghan male children."

NDP defence critic Jack Harris said the findings are nonsense:

"It seems there is a total washing of the hands. To our knowledge, it was reported to the chain of command," said Harris, whose party first raised the abuse allegations in Parliament.

"We've got people on the record saying that not only did they witness this abuse but they reported it, and yet this investigation result says there was nothing reported to the chain of command. Something is wrong with this picture."

What's seemingly not being disputed (for good and ample reason) is that Afghan security forces, the guys on our side, have a fondness for little boy bum. They do. It's part of the whole warlord culture. In fact it was this practice that was a key to the Taliban coming to power. The Talibs didn't approve of pedophilia or sodomy and forcefully intervened to rescue a young boy from the clutches of a warlord. Afghan villagers thought it was pretty nice to be able to take their sons with them to market without having to fear some thug grabbing them for his sexual gratification.

Taliban gone/sodomy back. This is from The New York Times, February 21, 2002:

"Though the puritanical Taliban tried hard to erase pedophilia from male-dominated Pashtun culture, now that the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is gone, some people here are indulging in it once again.

"During the Taliban, being with a friend was difficult, but now it is easy again," said Ahmed Fareed, a 19-year-old man with a white shawl covering his face except for a dark shock of hair and piercing kohl-lined eyes. Mr. Fareed should know. A shopkeeper took him as a lover when he was just 12, he said.

An interest in relationships with young boys among warlords and their militia commanders played a part in the Taliban's rise in Afghanistan. In 1994, the Taliban, then a small army of idealistic students of the Koran, were called to rescue a boy over whom two commanders had fought. They freed the boy and the people responded with gratitude and support. "At that time boys couldn't come to the market because the commanders would come and take away any that they liked," said Amin Ullah, a money changer, gesturing to his two teenage sons hunched over wads of afghani bank notes at Kandahar's currency bazaar.

For some reason we'd rather not discuss the fact that the ally we're supposedly propping up has an open penchant for pedophilia, forcible boy rape. Maybe that's our problem over there; our soldiers are only allowed to shoot in one direction.

Man Bites Dog - Mulroney Takes a Bite Out of Harper

Oh this is pleasant - a former, highly successful Tory prime minister giving a boot straight to the crotch of his much less successful Conservative successor.

Calling out L'il Stevie Harper, Mulroney chortled, "You can't form a government without seats in Quebec and if you do you can't govern in this country. And you shouldn't govern." Ouch, feel the burn! Take that, you snot nosed punk.

But Muldoon wasn't finished. This is, after all, the Mulroney-Oliphant inquiry. Lyin' Brian wasted no time labelling Harper a doofus for his pre-recession GST cuts, calling them "bad economic policy."

"There wouldn't be an economist in the finance department or the Bank of Canada that would say that was a smart thing to do. It cuts $12 billion out of your revenue ... it hurts your exports."

No reaction yet from our Furious Leader. There are reports that his staff were seen to flee to the safety of the hallways to the sound of chairs being kicked around the prime minister's office and a team from Sears showed up later to shampoo Mr. Harper's carpets.

Pity, they were such good friends.

Did Mulroney Just Admit Committing Perjury?

The man who set the gold standard for Conservative integrity, Brian Mulroney, says he concealed his dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber, " avoid the same kinds of deceitful and false purveying of information that had led to the original Airbus matter in the first place."

Say what? Under oath you gave counsel a false account of your dealings with Schreiber to avoid ...deceitful and false purveying of information? What kind of self-serving delusion is that?

In order to further avoid deceitful and false purveying of information, Mulroney said there are two Schreibers: the upright businessman he dealt with back then and the scumbag who has supposedly caused him such grief today. In other words, Mulroney took cash-stuffed envelopes from a really great guy and it's all Schreiber's fault for, well, for spilling the beans.

Why Are We Flying Air Death?

Most humanitarian relief efforts and even major peacekeeping operations rely heavily on air cargo for the supplies needed to keep going. In other words they have to hire private contractors with cargo planes to keep their lifelines open. Now it turns out that most of those contractors work both sides of the street - supplying peacekeepers and NGOs while also ignoring arms embargoes to deliver weapons to any murderous sod with the cash to pay for them.

Evidence that arms dealers have comprehensively penetrated the world market in aid, peacekeeping and stability operations is disclosed in a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri). At least 90% of international air cargo carriers named in UN security council and other arms trafficking-related reports have also supplied UN agencies, EU and Nato governments, and non-government organisations, as well as private contractors in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, it says.

The report, Air Transport and Destabilising Commodity Flows, shows how air cargo carriers involved in humanitarian aid and peacekeeping operations have also transported a range of other "conflict-sensitive" goods such as cocaine, diamonds and precious minerals.

It cites as an example how UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan continued to use aircraft operated by Badr Airlines even after the UN security council said the company should be banned for allegedly breaking arms embargos. Unicef used Juba Air Cargo, also based in Sudan, even though the UN said it had documented evidence showing the company violated an arms embargo, the Sipri report says.

It says DynCorp, a large US private military company which supplies the US army, contracted Aerolift, a company described in a UN sanctions committee report as illicitly supplying arms to al-Shabab, the Islamist group in Somalia.

The report also shows how individuals involved in organised international criminal networks have penetrated legal government-to-government trade in arms.

Was Ist Das? Anybody Smell a Rat?

The 'official' Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi. has touched a nerve by proclaiming that his boss, Joe Ratzinger, was never a member of the Hitler Youth. I guess Father Lombardi hasn't had time to thumb through Pope Bennie's autobiography where he notes, quite plainly, that he was enrolled in the Hitler Youth, but he sort of went AWOL from the HY after he got out of the seminary.

I guess Father Lombardi hasn't seen this picture either.
I'm not saying that Joe was an ardent Nazi. The only way we'd have known that was if Germany had won the war. When that scrap didn't turn out too well for the Fatherland, Germany was instantly full of innocents like Joe who'd never really supported Hitler.

Memories of Tet '68

Another major Taliban attack on an Afghan city today, this time the provincial capital Khost.

The insurgents swarmed the city in a multi-pronged attack comprising foot soldiers and a few suicide bombers. The attack opened with the explosion of a suicide car bomb outside the Governor's compound.

The full extent of the operation isn't yet clear but there was one telling episode. Once the gunfire started, the Americans responded by sending a 'quick reaction force' to the battle. The Taliban were ready for them. They had actually prepared an ambush force that, according to reports, caught the Americans by surprise.

The ambush element reveals this as more than one big, hit and run raid. This was a carefully planned military operation. That sort of thing takes time to plan, organize and even rehearse. It takes some doing to muster and deploy these forces undetected and then infiltrate them into a city in American-controlled territory. The attackers would need a lot of local assistance, probably even some collaboration from within the government.

The actual damage inflicted won't be all that great. They are, after all, limited to small arms and a few suicide bombs, hardly the stuff needed to inflict staggering losses on the defenders or the government infrastructure. But that's not what the insurgents are trying to achieve. Their objective is to demonstrate to the Afghan public that they can attack, at will, in an orchestrated fashion - overrunning a city - and the Afghan government, even with American protection, is helpless to prevent it. They're out to undermine the public's confidence in the ability of their government to protect itself and, by implication, the public either.