Sunday, June 28, 2009

Arnie - California's Real Life "Terminator"

Arnold Schwarzenegger's legacy as California governor may be written by events to unfold in the coming months. The Governator is determined to reform California's hapless political system and is willing to take the state down trying.

It's Arnie versus the California legislature in a game of high-stakes, Russian roulette. The latest budget leaves the state facing a $24-billion deficit, money that is nowhere to be found. When the government failed to get the necessary super-majority required to pass the budget, it was left to voters to say whether the government could borrow the shortfall. All it took was a ridiculously small percentage of the electorate, a bare majority of the 19% turnout, to say "no." As a result, California's government runs out of cash next month.

Legislators are looking to issuing IOUs rather than permit the state to default on its bills but the governor isn't buying it. Schwarzenegger says he'll veto any measure that fails to close the state's deficit. From the LA Times:

In doing so, Schwarzenegger has sent the message that he would rather allow the state to begin shutting down than let lawmakers push its troubles off for months by closing only part of the shortfall. The latter prospect could swallow up the rest of his governorship.

"Whatever needs to be done," Schwarzenegger told reporters outside his Capitol office Friday when asked why he would be willing to delay payments to needy Californians. "I know that there is a history in this building of always being late with the budget, to drag it out and to kick that can down the alley. . . . I don't think we have this luxury this time."

The governor readily admits that he sees the crisis as a chance to make big changes to government -- to "reform the system," he said Friday -- with proposals he has struggled to advance in the past.

Among them: reorganizing state bureaucracy, eliminating patronage boards and curbing fraud in social services that Democrats have traditionally protected. The governor also would like to move past the budget crisis to reach a deal on California's water problems that has so far eluded him.

...if his strategy fails, he could be blamed for unnecessarily subjecting state residents to misery.

"I don't believe the governor wants his legacy to be that he had the opportunity to avoid IOUs for Californians and that he failed to take it because he wanted to play a game of chicken," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said last week.

...Gary Jacobson, a professor of political science at UC San Diego, said Schwarzenegger has put himself at risk of antagonizing the public by holding out for some of these ideas while forcing deep cuts and forswearing new taxes that could alleviate some of the pain.

"When it hits people how much damage this budget has done, they are going to say, 'So what that he got some of these things through? Look at what he has done to us in the meantime. State parks are closed. Classrooms are huge. People are being thrown out of the hospital. Medical clinics are shutting down,' " Jacobson said.

"When all this hits," he added, "it is going to be hard to imagine people will look on him favorably because he got some of the structural reforms he wanted."

In fact, the structural changes California desperately needs are constitutional. In a tightly politicized legislature it can be impossible to get the 2/3rds majority approval required to pass a budget. The safety valve for that was to have been a plebiscite called a "special election" to let the public decide whether to allow a tax increase. It's a situation guaranteed to raise more turnout from the "no" camp which is how 10% of the electorate was able to bring their state to the edge of catastrophe.

First Ed, Next Farrah, Then Jackson, Now... It's Bye Billy

The most annoying man in television infomercials is no more. Billy Mays, dead at 50.

Water - Civilization's Trojan Horse

With a rapidly dwindling number of exceptions, nations around the world are consuming water resources they cannot replenish. It's the H2O equivalent of drinking their "seed corn."

Look at it this way. How did the earth's population swell from 2-billion in the aftermath of WWII to the 6.7-billion we number today? The simple answer is by over-exploiting our freshwater resources for everything from crop irrigation to industrial production to basic human consumption.

How can someone over-exploit water? Easy. It's as simple as emptying a bank vault. Bank customers periodically place small amounts of jewelry, stocks and bonds in their safety deposit boxes. It trickles in but after a while there's a lot of wealth amassed in the vault. Then some villain figures a way to blast into that vault and empty those safety deposit boxes and - voila - an empty vault.

Now water isn't just wealth, it's life itself. But a substantial amount of freshwater has, over millenia, trickled into subterranean vaults we call aquifers. From the dawn of civilization man has learned to draw water from the ground by digging wells. A well, a rope, a bucket and you have a public water system. In some cases wells ran dry but in most they didn't because there was enough groundwater seeping down from rainfall to replenish or "recharge" the supply.

In the post-WWII era we've learned to produce a lot of a great many things including an awful lot more of ourselves. All of that growth depended on an abundant supply of water - for sanitation and basic hygiene, for nourishment and hydration, for public safety and to make the stuff we all want to buy. To meet the challenges of mass famine from overpopulation we developed the "green revolution" - new techniques to maximize agricultural production. But there was never enough surface water, enough precipitation, to keep the engine of civilization running so we began tapping groundwater resources on a mega-industrial scale.

Even parts of the United States are running out of water. Take a look at what's happened to the once-mighty Colorado River to get an idea. But the looming problems are even more dire in other parts of the world, especially in the emerging economic superpowers of China and India.

I recently came across an article on the NPR website examining how India's "green revolution" has turned into a national, Trojan Horse:

Farmers in the state of Punjab abandoned traditional farming methods in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the national program called the "Green Revolution," backed by advisers from the U.S. and other countries.

Indian farmers started growing crops the American way — with chemicals, high-yield seeds and irrigation.

Since then, India has gone from importing grain like a beggar, to often exporting it.

But studies show the Green Revolution is heading for collapse.

When India's government launched the Green Revolution more than 40 years ago, it pressured farmers to grow only high-yield wheat, rice and cotton instead of their traditional mix of crops.

The new miracle seeds could produce far bigger yields than farmers had ever seen, but they came with a catch: The thirsty crops needed much more water than natural rainfall could provide, so farmers had to dig wells and irrigate with groundwater.

The system worked well for years, but government studies show that farmers have pumped so much groundwater to irrigate their crops that the water table is dropping dramatically, as much as 3 feet every year.

...Another side effect of the groundwater crisis is evident at the edge of the fields — thin straggly rows of wheat and a whitish powder scattered across the soil.

The white substance is salt residue. Drilling deep wells to find fresh water often taps brackish underground pools, and the salty water poisons the crops.

"The salt causes root injuries," Palwinder says. "The root cannot take the nutrients from the soil."

...In the village of Chotia Khurd, farmers agree that the Green Revolution used to work miracles for many of them. But now, it's like financial quicksand.

Studies show that their intensive farming methods, which government policies subsidize, are destroying the soil. The high-yield crops gobble up nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, iron and manganese, making the soil anemic.

The farmers say they must use three times as much fertilizer as they used to, to produce the same amount of crops — yet another drain on their finances.

...Some leading officials in the farming industry wonder when this house of cards might collapse.

"The state and farmers are now faced with a crisis," warns a report by the Punjab State Farmers Commission.

India's population is growing faster than any country on Earth, and domestic food production is vital.

But the commission's director, G.S. Kalkat, says Punjab's farmers are committing ecological and economic "suicide."

If he is correct, suicide is coming through national policies that reward farmers for the very practices that destroy the environment and trap them in debt.

Unfortunately, India's groundwater crisis and the associated soil exhaustion and salination are but one part of what that country is facing. India's other freshwater source, the Himalayan glaciers, are in headlong retreat. Essential agricultural rivers, like the mighty Ganges, are at risk of being transformed into seasonal rivers, full only during the Monsoons when they're not needed for irrigation.

Draining groundwater is like defying gravity. You are bound to fall to earth and your landing can be very, very unpleasant. Over just a few generations you have created a society you simply do not have the essential resources to sustain. When food production fails it triggers a whole set of social reactions and dynamics that can be quite ugly and destabilizing and, sometimes, even impossible to control.

The thing to bear in mind is that much of the world is facing similar problems to those building in India. China is in the same boat. Pakistan is in the same boat. Much of Africa and the Middle East (including Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian territories) are in similar peril. Most of the world's global security "hot spots" are facing severe and abrupt freshwater shortfalls.

What is the answer? I don't know and nobody else seems to know either. One potentially ominous solution being floated is to treat water as a commodity of commerce. This is being pitched as an "only way out" solution that in fact means handing over mankind's single most precious asset, literally giving it away, to "for profit" corporations which we're supposed to blindly trust to be both honest and benevolent in distributing the resource fairly and at a fair price. Maybe we could give the water to Halliburton and they could sub-contract the distribution to Blackwater.

But what does this mean to Canada? It means a great deal, more than most could imagine. Social upheaval and political instability throughout East and South Asia, the Middle East, vast swathes of Africa, parts of Latin and most of Central America, will inevitably impact Canada and the rest of the Western world.

The only political party in our country capable of addressing these problems is the Liberal Party of Canada but, sadly, the LPC has lost its way. The next two decades will redefine our world - politically, socially, economically and, unfortunately, militarily. These are challenges of a genuinely existential scope. We need to be exploring these issues now, preparing our nation and our people to meet them. Why, then, are we instead so preoccupied on whether to criticize Harper for spending too much or too little on stimulus and recovery projects or absorbed on how to call an election or prevent Harper from calling one? Harper is a man of low vision. Why do we have to set our sights to meet his?

Some more engaged than I in Liberal politics contend that the current, multi-party parliamentary reality all but rules out majority government. If they're right and that is the case then we have an enormous problem because preparing ourselves and adapting our Canada to the changes that are coming will require strong government leadership. You can't look ahead if you're always looking over your shoulder. If we can't get a majority we had damned well better work on forging a strong, meaningful coalition.

There is ample precedent for coalition governments functioning quite well in times of national difficulty. What is required is a general acknowledgement of unavoidable challenges of a significance dwarfing partisan political interests. What we need is a Liberal leader capable of creating that consensus and, unfortunately, that's not the guy we have right now. That's not to say that the New Democrats have anything better in Layton, they don't. That guy is hyper-partisan.

Somehow Liberals need to find a leader who can reach out to New Democrats, the rank and file, and lead them to understand the need for a genuine coalition, one based on good faith, cooperation instead of capitulation and an acceptance that the times we're entering upon leave a limited scope for partisanship.

We need to come to this epiphany relatively soon. Events around the world are overtaking us. We can't control them but we can prepare for them. Unfortunately there's a shelf life for each of our options for adaptation and remediation. The best options have already expired and are now lost to us. The next best options are steadily being foreclosed. The only way to get the best options remaining to us is to act now. It's tragic that our leaders have no grasp of that.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Monbiot - America's "Breakthrough" Climate Bill Is Greenwash

Although heralded in the mainstream media as a genuine breakthrough for America in tackling climate change and energy consumption, The Guardian's enviro-critic, George Monbiot, sees America's new climate change bill as a lot of form and very little substance:

It would be laughable anywhere else. But, so everyone says, the Waxman-Markey bill which is likely to be passed in Congress today or tomorrow, is the best we can expect – from America.

The cuts it proposes are
much lower than those being pursued in the UK or in most other developed nations. Like the UK's climate change act (pdf) the US bill calls for an 80% cut by 2050, but in this case the baseline is 2005, not 1990. Between 1990 and 2005, US carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels rose from 5.8 to 7bn tonnes.

The cut proposed by 2020 is just 17%, which means that most of the reduction will take place towards the end of the period. What this means is much greater
cumulative emissions, which is the only measure that counts. Worse still, it is riddled with so many loopholes and concessions that the bill's measures might not offset the emissions from the paper it's printed on. You can judge the effectiveness of a US bill by its length: the shorter it is, the more potent it will be. This one is some 1,200 pages long, which is what happens when lobbyists have been at work.

There are mind-boggling concessions to the biofuels industry, including a promise not to investigate its wider environmental impacts. There's a provision to allow industry to use 2bn tonnes of carbon offsets a year, which include highly unstable carbon sinks like crop residues left in the soil (another concession won by the powerful farm lobby). These offsets are so generous that if all of them are used, US industry will have to make no carbon cuts at all until 2026.

In one respect the bill actually waters down current legislation, by preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal-burning power stations. If the new coal plants planned in the US are built, it's hard to see how even the feeble targets in this bill can be met, let alone any targets proposed by the science.

But Monbiot also notes, ruefully, that the very subject of climate change has now become so thoroughly propagandized by the far right that any progress at all is a true accomplishment:

Thanks to the lobbying work of the coal and oil companies, and the vast army of thinktanks, PR consultants and astroturfers they have sponsored, thanks too to the domination of the airwaves by loony right shock jocks, the debate over issues like this has become so mad that any progress at all is little short of a miracle. The ranking Republican on the House energy and commerce committee is Joe Barton, the man who in 2005 launched a congressional investigation of three US scientists whose work reveals the historical pattern of climate change. Like those of many of his peers, his political career is kept on life support by the fossil fuel and electricity companies. He returns the favour by vociferously denying that manmade climate change exists.

A combination of corporate money and an unregulated corporate media keeps America in the dark ages. This bill is the best we're going to get for now because the corruption of public life in the United States has not been addressed. Whether he is seeking environmental reforms, health reforms or any other improvement in the life of the American people, this is Obama's real challenge.

US Supreme Court - Strip Searching Schoolkids Illegal

In an unexpected decision, the United States Supreme Court has ruled, 8-1, that the strip search of then 13-year old eighth grader, Savana Redding, by school officials looking for drugs was unconstitutional.

During argument, the eight male judges appeared to be highly skeptical about the degree of suffering this sort of search could cause a young girl. That skepticism somehow evaporated before the judgment was written.

The decision wasn't quite unanimous. Noted USSC lawn ornament, the ever-mute Clarence Thomas, showed yet again how abysmally out of touch with reality he truly is by ruling to dismiss Redding's appeal.

Redding was a grade school honour student. Another kid, caught with drugs, blamed it on Redding. School officials, with no cause beyond the one kid's story, ordered the young girl into a room where she was forced to disrobe. Redding's mother was not notified in advance.

The young girl was so traumatized that she dropped out of school. She has since returned and will enter college this fall. When she sued (thanks to the ACLU), the school board, backed up by the National School Boards Association, put up a furious defence.

In his dissenting judgment, the reliably doctrinaire Thomas complained that the 8-vote majority ruling, "grants judges sweeping authority to second-guess the measures that these officials take to maintain discipline in their schools and ensure the health and safety of the students in their charge." I don't know why this guy even bothers showing up for hearings. When it comes to his vote, and the legal reasoning behind it, surely he can just phone it in.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Politics of Food

How would you feel if your own government placed you in competition with foreigners for foodstocks grown in your own country? How would you feel about it if your country was already facing food shortages?

These questions aren't hypothetical in some parts of the world. These scenarios are happening today and it's a problem that's rapidly worsening.

At first it was east Africa where China and some Middle Eastern states began appropriating top grade farmland to grow crops for their people at home. Offer a couple of hundred million in foreign aid, build a dam or a bridge or a new presidential palace and suddenly small farmers are being cleared from their holdings to make way for your brand new agri-business.

Now, according to the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs office, the same syndrome has reached Southeast Asia.

Sam Pov, a rice farmer in Cambodia’s western Battambang Province, is very worried that his land will be taken over by a foreign investor.

"I've heard the rumours about [Kuwait and Qatar]. I heard they might get our land because they need food," he said.

"The commune leaders haven't talked to us yet, and I don't think they will if the time comes. This is a good time for them to get paid and get huge benefits."

Last year, delegations from oil-rich Kuwait and Qatar visited the impoverished nation, eyeing leases on land to export food back home - a move that could leave many Cambodians without enough food, say activists and NGOs.

Kuwait has reportedly offered US$546 million to the Southeast Asian nation in loans for dams and roads, while Qatar will invest $200 million in agriculture.

The International Food Policy Research Institute reports that land grabbing is becoming extensive in Asia:

CAMBODIA: Land being leased by Kuwait for rice (in negotiations) 100,000ha rubber plantation secured by Vietnam

LAOS: 100,000ha rubber plantation secured by Vietnam

PHILIPPINES: 10,000ha for agro-fishery secured by Bahrain 100,000ha for Qatar 1.24 million hectares for an unknown company in China (on hold)

INDONESIA: 500,000ha, a $4.3 billion rice investment, secured by Bin Laden Group of Saudi Arabia (on hold)

CHINA: 10 poultry farms worth $300 million and pig farms for $250-300 million purchased by Goldman Sachs of USA

Goldman Sachs buying up poultry and pig farms in China? There's a troubling message in that. The world is running out of food, something that's being accelerated by climate change and a global freshwater crisis. We're about to play a game of international musical chairs in which wealthier nations exploit poorer nations to lay claim to foodstocks those poorer nations often cannot really afford to sell without harming their own people.

Goldman Sachs knows that we're on the edge of an era where we'll be gaming the international food market as never before and the little guy, the guy who can't afford to get into the game, is going to take it in the neck.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Hezbollah Loses in Lebanon

The radical Shiite Hezbollah organization has suffered an unexpected drubbing in the Lebanese elections. Just a week ago, Hezbollah was considered the favourite to take enough seats to form and lead a coalition government.

The Western-backed coalition took 68-seats in the 128-seat parliament while the Hezbollah coalition won 57-seats. Both sides have said they want a national unity government but the Hezbollah leadership has yet to speak out on the election results.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Is Europe Fed Up With Israel Too?

Israeli goodwill may be running on empty. From Reuters:

A day after President Barack Obama told Israel its key ally would no longer tolerate building settlements in the West Bank, the European Union was considering using its trade clout to bolster U.S. pressure, diplomats said.

The EU is the Jewish state's biggest trading partner and one option it may have is to crack down on fruit, vegetables, olive oil and other farm produce grown by Israeli settlers on occupied Palestinian land.

Some European governments have long suspected such products are entering the EU at low import tariffs reserved for output labeled as coming from Israel proper.

It was the latest sign of the depth of the dispute between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and its closest allies.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hit back hard at comments by a senior Israeli negotiator who said Obama's predecessor George W. Bush privately agreed to expansion of settlements. That was not U.S. policy, she insisted.

A senior Israeli diplomat said Israel was still trying to figure out how seriously to take the threats: "The question in our minds is: How much staying power does Obama have?"

Obama's landmark address to the Muslim and Arab world in Cairo on Thursday dominated Israeli media.

Much attention was paid to his declaration that all further settlement building was not "legitimate" in American eyes and his call for a Palestinian state -- both elements that Netanyahu has not wished to accept.

So U.S. and EU diplomats are discussing "pressure points" that could be used to persuade the prime minister, who risks seeing his coalition break down if he makes concessions. Envoys may meet on Wednesday to coordinate a response, diplomats said.

The comment from the Israeli diplomat speaks volumes. To the Knesset, it's a question of how much staying power Obama really has. In other words, Israel is prepared to move only as far as it's forced to and no further regardless of its promises and assurances. Fair enough. If the only thing that's going to work are strongarm tactics then let's drop the illusions and treat Israel as it demands.

Faint Hope Ignatieff Will Stand Up to Harper

We like to mock the sad state of journalism in the U.S. but what's going on here shows it's not an American thing, it's a disease of the rightwing media.

The headline in the Edmonton Sun speaks for itself: "Killers Face Real Time." The Calgary Herald put it as "Killers May Lose Right to Early Parole."

Real Time ...Right to Early Parole? Fifteen years is real time, a lot more than many convicted killers wind up serving in the U.S. And there is no "right" to early parole. That's sheer, rightwing agitprop. What they're referring to, of course, is the Criminal Code provision allowing convicted murderers to apply for parole after serving at least fifteen years of their life sentences in prison. It's called the "faint hope clause" for a reason.

I've met a few murderers when I toured a couple of prisons. Some of them were the stereotypical "hard core" criminals, the sort with long criminal records. There were a few, however, who had no other criminal history at all. These were pretty much run of the mill, law abiding citizens until something happened and just that once they snapped. Prison officials told me these types tend to be model prisoners who pose virtually no risk of ever offending again.

Our society has seen fit to acquit women who've killed abusive husbands even if, at the time of the killing, their lives were not in immediate danger. There are plenty of others who fall just the other side of that line and are convicted. It's this group for which the faint hope clause was enacted, inmates who, if released, pose no realistic threat to the public.

Harper wants to pretend this group doesn't exist. Abolishing faint hope is a red meat issue for Harper and it's also yet another way to make Iggy his bitch. Ignatieff who already threw all principle to the winds in backing Harper's mandatory minimum sentences on drug offences is hardly going to let the fate of a few convicted killers determine his electoral manoeuvering.

Harper's D-Day Photo Op - Or How to Disrespect Our War Dead

All death in war is bad, especially civilian death. But it's just as bad when people try to imbue that carnage with exaggerated meaning or unfounded grandeur. And when it comes to that sort of thing, Stephen Harper is one of the worst.

Strolling through a Normandy graveyard on the anniversary of 65th anniversary of D-Day, Steve stood up on his hind legs and opined, "It is hard to believe that on such a peaceful and serene day that 65 years ago this very day this was probably the site of the biggest military engagement in world history."

There is a point where rank ignorance betrays a utter indifference and that's plain as day in Steve's ridiculous remark.

In terms of the 20th Century Hall of Carnage, D-Day was actually a pretty modest slaughter. In total, the Allies landed 156,000 troops, 21,400 of them on Juno beach. Our side suffered around 10,000 casualties, 2,500 killed in action. On Juno beach we had 340-killed, 574 wounded and 47 taken prisoner. (In the Dieppe disaster, by contrast, 1,027 were killed and 2,340 captured)

In the entire Battle of Normandy total casualties ran to about 425,000 which included 37,000 dead for the Allied side.

Bad as that awful loss was and is it was pretty modest compared to the Battle of Leningrad where the Sovs lost about a million soldiers killed in action or Stalingrad which claimed the lives of 1.1-million Russians and about 800,000 Germans or the the 653,000 Soviet dead at the Battle of Moscow or the 616,000 Soviet fatalities at the Battle of Kiev or the 486,000 at the 1st Battle of Smolensk or any of the other 40-worst battles of the 20th Century.

Steve, if you want to show respect for our war dead, real respect, then treat them with respect. Take just a few minutes to learn what really happened. There's bravery and heroism galore in the actual accounts. Don't try to make the significance of their sacrifice something that simply exists only in your mind. What you did, Steve, does not honour them. It simply shows this, for you, is another photo op - one for which you couldn't be bothered to learn what these brave men actually did - for their country and for freedom.
(photo - my Dad's regiment, the Queen's Own Rifles, landing on Juno)

Friday, June 05, 2009

Barack, What Are You Thinking?

The New York Times has broken an account of a hairbrained idea hatched by the Obama administration to deal with the 9/11 accused held at Guantanimo - simply let them plead guilty and then execute them. It's being touted as something of a "win/win" situation. Memo to Barack - this is one game where win/win doesn't work.

The provision could permit military prosecutors to avoid airing the details of brutal interrogation techniques. It could also allow the five detainees who have been charged with the Sept. 11 attacks to achieve their stated goal of pleading guilty to gain what they have called martyrdom.

Just imagine how this will go down with already radicalized Islamists. They'll know you allowed the detainees to go quietly to their executions, guilt unproven, as martyrs BECAUSE you didn't want the world to find out what you had done to them while in captivity. It makes the detainees total martyrs, immortalizing them among Islamic extremists, AND makes the United States seem afraid of being exposed.

Can it be that these five detainees have been so ill-treated, so abused that no Western notion of justice would allow them to be convicted on the strength of their confessions? Could it be that the detainees have been treated so inhumanely that execution might now be out of the question?

The problem is that, if Obama doesn't put the 9/11 conspirators on trial, he puts America itself on trial.

Why Can't Ignatieff Close the Deal With Canadian Voters?

When you do the math, it simply doesn't add up.

Stephen Harper. We don't like the guy and we like him less now than ever.

Quebec. Harper has positively gored his Conservatives in la belle province.

The recession. Harper has screwed that up six ways to Sunday. He's screwed us up. He's screwed up Canada. He was hopelessly screwing this up long before anybody recognized the recession was happening in the United States.

The scandals. Harper is up to his knees (at least) in them. He's broken most of the White Knight promises on which he eeked into office. Arrogance and secrecy where he promised accountability and transparency. A flurry of failed and abandoned litigation. Then there's listeria, Chalk River, Cadman, income trusts, the list goes on.

So why, oh why, is the newly-minted Liberal leader not sitting on a solid, 10-15 point lead in public opinion? It's not that the NDP is nipping at Ignatieff's heels.

Could it be that Ignatieff is simply too far right for center-left Liberal supporters? Has he tried to position that party too closely to the Conservatives for his and the LPC's own good? Is there something about the guy that Canadians just don't like? Could it be that Dion left deeper scars on the Liberal brand than anyone imagined?

I'll admit I don't know what's to blame for the Liberal malaise but I do know that being positioned to possibly win a minority with everything Harper has done for the Liberal Party shows that Liberals don't have much to celebrate.

Dear Mrs. Watson (#2) - Get Yourself a Lawyer

That's Mrs. Watson #1 lying on her back, quite dead, on a seabed off Australia. Christina Watson had been married all of eleven days when hubby, Gabe, killed her.
Mr. Watson, a veteran diver, took Mrs. Watson, a novice on a tourist dive trip. Evidence at his sentencing hearing (he pleaded guilty to manslaughter) was that he turned off the valve on her tank, waited for her to suffocate, turned the valve back on and bolted for the surface. The photo captures the dive leader racing to help the already deceased Mrs. Watson.
The Australian judge gave Mr. Watson a four year sentence that could be suspended after just 12-months imprisonment.
In the six years since his wife's murder, the bereaved Mr. Watson managed to remarry to a woman described to closely resemble the first wife. What must she have been thinking?

Does This Sound Familiar?

It was a genuinely ugly part of America's civil rights movement - the unwelcome integration of once exclusively-white neighbourhoods and organizations. There was even a phrase for it - "there goes the neighbourhood." It took several years but gradually it became unremarkable to see a black man swinging a golf club on courses where, a generation earlier, he might have been limited to merely carrying clubs.

I know from experience that a lot of the segregationists weren't truly bad, they were profoundly fearful. The genuinely bad core simply used fear to motivate a much larger following. (Fear is the ultimate tool of scoundrels and miscreants - think Cheney, think Harper).

All of these memories came flooding back today thanks to an article published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz under the headline, "We're Not Racist, We Just Don't Want Arabs," about Jewish residents of Galilee terrified at the prospect of Arab integration in the wake of the ruling by Israel's High Court that upheld the right of an Israeli Arab couple, to buy a house in the exclusively Jewish community notwithstanding the local admissions committee's objection.

Since then, some residents of Jewish communal settlements in the Galilee fear that the region's substantial Arab population might seek to buy property in their communities, where the standard of living is far higher, causing Jews to move out. In some areas of the Galilee this has already taken place: Portions of the once-exclusively Jewish town of Upper Nazareth are now populated by newcomers from the nearby Arab city of Nazareth.

"I agree that there is a problem, but whether this is the right way to deal with it, I am not sure," Zetler said yesterday. "Experience will tell. But there is a problem in the Galilee and people are challenging the political right of [Jewish] communities."

Perhaps nowhere in the Middle East has Obama's Cairo speech had more impact than in Israel. There are some, apparently a minority, who see it as a betrayal of America's historical loyalty to Israel. Plenty of others, however, see it as a welcome wake up call to Netanyahu:

Obama left no room for doubt: The United States supports Israel, yet the era of trickery, promises, and the gradual annexation in Judea and Samaria is over. The time has come for action; the time has come for moving towards a resolution of the Palestinian problem… Barack Obama's speech was meant to make it clear to Netanyahu who the master of the house is.

I suspect that Obama hopes to succeed by leaving Palestinian authorities in no doubt that he's their last, best hope for statehood in the foreseeable future. He's offering them the closest thing to a fair deal they may ever see but only if they're willing to reach out for it. After sixty years - three generations - of misery, a little hope can become contagious.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Tories Politicizing Canada's Courts

What constitutes a terrorist or a state sponsor of terrorism? I don't know, maybe acts of terrorism? Maybe not. Maybe you're only a terrorist or a state sponsor of terrorism if the Conservative government isn't willing to look the other way.

As I expected, the Tories have introduced legislation allowing victims of terrorism to use the Canadian judicial system to sue supporters of terrorism but only so long as those terrorists are on Ottawa's list of terrorists.

A terrorist or a nation that supports terrorists is off the hook unless Ottawa puts them on its list. So, in other words, you can drive people from their historical lands, steal their water, destroy their homes and orchards, even treat them to a dandy barrage of white phosphorous shells and it's perfectly okay unless some Conservative jackass says otherwise.

Public Thought Minister, Tubby Van Loan, says proven shill, Governor General Jean, will make the determination of who is and isn't a terrorist according to what she's told by her master, Steve Harper. Mr. Loan said it's not up to him to decide whether the United States, Israel or India might make it on the list. I suppose Pakistan is free and clear too.

Here's a thought. Why not simply define "terrorism" and "acts of terrorism" and "state sponsors of terrorism" and let the courts receive evidence and decide who is and isn't a terrorist? Oh, wait a minute. Never mind, I get it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Could Hezbollah Win in Lebanon?

In less than a week Lebanon may have a new government, a coalition led by the Shiite group Hezbollah. Asia Times Online reports that Hezbollah is the odds-on favourite to win the June 7 election.

Hezbollah has said that, if it forms the next government of Lebanon, it will seek closer and direct military ties with Iran, something that is understandably giving Israel fits.

The Lebanese newspaper, The Daily Star, reports of both political and military tensions in Lebanon in advance of the election.

The paper also published a curious comment by US General David Petraeus claiming that Hezbollah will have no reason to exist, "if the Palestinian cause is resolved. Reaching an agreement over a peace process in the Middle East will eliminate several groups' justifications for existence."

Oh wait, so all we have to do is get in place a two-state solution the Israelis and Palestinians will accept and all our problems will be over? Whew, what a relief that is.

Meanwhile, Spiegel Online is reporting that the United Nations special tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri has concluded it was Hezbollah, not Syria, that was responsible. The report is not going down well with the Lebanese who probably fear the consequences, even another civil war.,1518,626412,00.

Okay, One Last Time. Dick Cheney Lies, It's What He Does.

Eight years on, the only remarkable thing about Dick Cheney lying through his teeth is that anyone should find it remarkable.

Dick Cheney is a - deep breath here - con artist, deceiver, dissembler, dissimulator, equivocator, fabler, fabricator, fabulist, false witness, falsifier, fibber, maligner, misleader, phony, prevaricator, swindler and trickster. The man has a pathalogical aversion to truth which is, to him, as sunlight to a vampire.

To the delight of FOX News and every right-wing moron who hasn't paid attention to reality since Bush stole the 2000 election, Cheney has been revisiting safe ground (American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Institute, FOX, etc.) to work his charms on the readily deluded, claiming that torture isn't torture and, in any case, it works.

In his address to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy organization in Washington, Cheney said that the techniques the Bush administration approved, including waterboarding — simulated drowning that's considered a form of torture — forced nakedness and sleep deprivation, were "legal" and produced information that "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people."
He quoted the Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, as saying that the information gave U.S. officials a "deeper understanding of the al Qaida organization that was attacking this country."

In a statement April 21, however, Blair said the information "was valuable in some instances" but that "there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is that these techniques hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

A top-secret 2004 CIA inspector general's investigation found no conclusive proof that information gained from aggressive interrogations helped thwart any "specific imminent attacks," according to one of four top-secret Bush-era memos that the Justice Department released last month.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told Vanity Fair magazine in December that he didn't think that the techniques disrupted any attacks.

If you have the stomach for further tales of this diseased, old miscreant, read more here:

Obama's Photo Flip-Flop Explained

McClatchey Newspapers reports that it was Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki who twisted Barack Obama's arm to get him not to release further atrocity photos from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki warned that Iraq would erupt into violence and that Iraqis would demand that U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq a year earlier than planned, two U.S. military officers, a senior defense official and a State Department official have told McClatchy.

...Maliki warned that releasing the photos would lead to more violence that could delay the scheduled U.S. withdrawal from cities by June 30 and that Iraqis wouldn't make a distinction between old and new photos. The public outrage and increase in violence could lead Iraqis to demand a referendum on the security agreement and refuse to permit U.S. forces to stay until the end of 2011.

Maliki said, "Baghdad will burn" if the photos are released, said a second U.S. military official.

RCMP Commish Elliott Apologizes. Really?

It took almost two years, a bystander's video of a killing, a judicial inquiry and a senate committee hearing but, finally, RCMP Commissioner Bill Elliott has apologized for the death of Robert Dziekanski at the hands of four officers at Vancouver airport in October, 2007.

"We are very sorry for Mr. Dziekanski's death, and are committed to learning as much as possible from this terrible event," he told the upper chamber's committee on defence and national security.

"We must continuously strive to learn and to improve."

Somehow an apology from Elliott seems a little late, rings a bit hollow. I suspect Elliott has figured out the mauling his RCMP is about to receive from inquiry commissioner, Justice Tom Braidwood, and he sees a vision of blood on the floor, some of it perhaps his own.

In terms of damage control it's hard to imagine that the RCMP, from the Commissioner's office on down, could have made a worse mess of it. Knowing they had seriously misled the public with their account of the killing and doing nothing to correct their falsehoods until their hand was forced at the inquiry speaks of a culture of arrogance, indifference to the Canadian public and an utter lack of remorse at having taken this man's life. The close look at these officers provided by the inquiry has been anything but confidence building.

No, I think Elliott's apology should be chucked where it belongs - in the circular file.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Hey Steve, Some Terrorists to Sue - Finally!

Steve Harper is going to open Canadian courts to enable victims of terrorism to sue for compensation. I wonder what he thinks of these terrorists. From AFP:

Jewish settlers rampaged in the West Bank on Monday, wounding four Palestinians, as they vented fury that Israel may answer US calls and dismantle outposts in the territory, officials said.

Jewish extremists blocked roads, hurled rocks at drivers, burned fields, cut down olive trees and opened fire towards Palestinians who tried to chase the trespassers from their fields in the northern West Bank, witnesses said.

West of the city of Nablus, an area home to some of the most hardline settlers in the occupied territory, dozens of masked extremists blocked a road in the early hours and hurled rocks at Palestinian drivers who stopped their vehicles to move the obstructions, they said.

"They attacked when the minibus (carrying 17 Palestinian workers on their way to work in Israel) stopped. The man next to the driver was seriously wounded," said Zakaria Sada, an activist with the Rabbis for Human Rights organisation.

Near the settlement of Yizhar -- one of the most radical in the West Bank -- heavy smoke billowed into the air as settlers set fire to Palestinian fields.

When a group of Palestinians threw stones trying to chase them off the land, about 20 settlers armed with guns jumped out from hiding places and opened fire in the direction of the Palestinians and journalists, an AFP correspondent said.

Three army patrol vehicles at a nearby junction stood by and did not intervene to stop the violence, but prevented a Palestinian fire-engine from reaching the field.

That sure sounds like terrorism and I'll bet those farmers whose fields were torched could probably do with a dollop of compensation too. Maybe Steve can tell us where they can sign up to launch their court cases.