Sunday, February 14, 2010

Never Underestimate the Power of the Padlocked Mind

The state government of Utah has overwhelmingly condemned climate science as "alarmist" and disputed any scientific theory of global warming. According to The Guardian, the Utah legislature so readily embraces the inbred that it counts among its ranks the likes of a representative who links climate science to abortion:

...the representative Mike Noel said environmentalists were part of a vast conspiracy to destroy the American way of life and control world population through forced sterilisation and abortion
By the time the final version of the bill came to a vote, cooler heats apparently prevailed. The bill dropped the word "conspiracy", and described climate science as "questionable" rather than "flawed".

However, it insisted – against all evidence – that the hockey stick graph of changing temperatures was discredited. It also called on the federal government's Environmental Protection Agency to order an immediate halt in its moves to regulate greenhouse gas emissions "until a full and independent investigation of climate data and global warming science can be substantiated".

As Noel explained: "Sometimes ... we need to have the courage to do nothing."

I can snicker and guffaw about cretins like state representative Noel but those of you 40 and under had better listen up. People just like this guy could create all sorts of problems for you in another couple of decades. If you want to write off this guy and those like him as harmless buffoons, you may regret it.

Yes, global warming, is a "theory" in the sense that gravity and evolution are likewise just theories. If you want a really fascinating yet far less conclusive theory, there aren't many better than the concept of time. Several years ago I heard an interview on CBC Radio with a US Navy commander who was the head of the atomic clock at the Naval Observatory (from whence we all get our time today). This guy said he had to accept "time" as barely more than a theory. He just knew too much about it. Global warming, however, is far more certain than the theory of time and far closer to gravity and evolution. We have to be hardcore stupid to dismiss all this science as "theory."

BTW: If you want a powerful and compelling response to the far right's "Climategate" scam, read this: Read that and you may just come away with a new perspective on living in the same world with these denialists.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Forget Civil Discourse -

David Gergen hit the nail on the head some time ago when he noted that, in today's Right, Richard Nixon would be seen as a Leftie. In several respects Nixon was far more successful than his successor, Ronnie Reagan, even though Reagan never got the opportunity to slaughter as many foreign civilians as RMN. But modern Republicanism has drifted so far to the extreme or lunatic right that the several progressive measures Nixon took would be angrily, furiously denounced.

We have our own little neo-Republican movement here in Canada. In fact it's been the government for the past four years. It doesn't look all that much like its American Idol but, rest assured, that's only because it understands the obvious - that it would be turfed out on its pulpy backside if it pushed its social conservative agenda while still a minority.

One of the first rules of war is that you have to realize when you come under attack. If you don't know you're being attacked then you're not going to fight back and you're pretty much easy meat. The American working public, the wage earners, have been on the losing side in a class war that has been conducted against them since the Reagan era. These three decades have seen the undoing of America's Social Compact. Governments - federal, state, local - have been starved into bankruptcy; workers' payroll tax contributions intended to fund their Social Security have been stolen, misappropriated by the very government that now portrays the contributors as greedy bums; basic infrastructure that always was the lifeblood of America's economy has fallen into ruin; despite impressive increases in productivity, wages have either stagnated or fallen; the nation has switched from a production economy to a consumption economy dependent on a succession of bubbles to craft the illusion of prosperity; and their nation has witnessed a massive transfer of wealth from the blue and white collar classes to the very wealthiest. On each and every one of these battlefields, the wage-earning public has been slaughtered.

The Christian Right has made hay while the Republican sun shines and their latest stunt, the Manhattan Declaration, reveals how easily they transform the religion of love into a cult of hate. From AlterNet:

Religious right leaders are making a concerted push to gain thousands of new signatures for their "Manhattan Declaration," a manifesto released late last year by about 150 conservative Christian leaders. The document, signed by such religious-right heavy-hitters as Focus on the Family eminence James Dobson and Prison Fellowship Ministries leader Chuck Colson, compares pro-choice advocates to eugenicists (and implicitly to Nazis) and equates same-sex marriage with polygamy and a gateway to legalized incest. Its authors promise to defy any law that does not comport with their religious beliefs. Joining the religious right's Protestant leaders as signatories to the declaration are four Roman Catholic bishops, including those presiding over the powerful archdioceses of New York and Washington, DC.

Supporters of legal access to abortion and supporters of physician-assisted suicide are described in the 4,700-word manifesto as "those who today assert a right to kill the unborn, aged and disabled." The declaration goes on to link reproductive rights and death-with-dignity advocates with the early-20th-century eugenicists whose notions fueled the murderous Nazi ideology of genetic purity. From the declaration:

...Eugenic notions such as the doctrine of lebensunwertes Leben ("life unworthy of life") were first advanced in the 1920s by intellectuals in the elite salons of America and Europe. Long buried in ignominy after the horrors of the mid-20th century, they have returned from the grave. The only difference is that now the doctrines of the eugenicists are dressed up in the language of "liberty," "autonomy," and "choice."

In other words, the declaration suggests the only difference between Nazi master-race theorists and today's pro-choice and death-with-dignity advocates is rhetorical.

Similar respect is accorded to same-sex couples and those who support them. The declaration never mentions same-sex relationships without pairing them with polyamorous relationships or incest, a fact reflected in the headline of an Associated Press
story (as it appears on Edge, an LGBT Web site) about the declaration: "Evangelicals, Catholics: Gay Marriage Paves the Way to Incest." That, along with the well-documented anti-gay histories of many signers, makes it hard to take seriously the document's assertion that it is "love (not ‘animus') and prudent concern for the common good (not ‘prejudice')" that is motivating the signers' pledge to resist and defy laws that recognize civil marriage equality.

Isn't it time we saw these people for what they are, a genuine threat to our way of life? They're not just odious radicals. They have genuine, mainstream credibility associated with an equally odious and radical mainstream political movement.

My view of these types has hardened considerably over the past few years. I no longer see them as an obnoxious annoyance. Now I see them as a genuine threat, one that must be combatted - openly and vigorously - if we are not to see that same malignancy of intolerance metastasize in our Canada. The American people may have lost their class war but there's no reason we have to do the same.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

CTV Up In Smoke

I'm betting it was a grease fire or maybe a spark in the storeroom where the make-up artists store Lloyd Robertson's supply of mortician's wax but, either way, a fire last night gutted CTV's Ottawa newsroom. Gone forever is the network's collection of commemorative Mike Duffy pizza boxes.

The Conservative Television Network bureau will stay in business, initiating an emergency plan to relocate to the ByWard Market. However prime minister Stephen Harper surprised nobody when he contacted network officials suggesting that CTV cut out the middle man and move its correspondents straight into the PMO.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Limits of Western Military Power

Afghanistan is witnessing a most curious war. A war best fought quickly that has, instead, dragged on for more than eight years and could easily linger on for decades to come. A war in which we made ourselves dependent on allies who ought to have been, in normal circumstances, our logical enemies and who will, if and when it suits their interest, turn on us without the slightest qualm. A war in which we foolishly, make that stupidly, substituted firepower for manpower and, in the process, betrayed and alienated the civilian population. A war whose outcome will be decided mainly by events beyond the defined battlefield where our efforts are focused.

Now, we're told, American and ISAF forces are mustering for a massive battle to retake Marjah, said to be the last Taliban village stronghold in Helmand province. Western forces have been advertising this attack for better than a week now. They claim all the publicity is a form of psychological warfare intended to intimidate the Taliban into laying down their weapons or fleeing.

If this sounds like a curious way to defeat the Taliban, that's because it is. Then again, it seems the victory that US General Stan McChrystal is hoping to win isn't really in the village of Marjah but on Main Street, USA.

This business about intimidating the Taliban into laying down their arms is nonsense, utter garbage. When, in the course of our eight years of fighting the Taliban, have they ever laid down their arms? If they're cornered they'll fight to the death but surrender doesn't seem to be in their playbook.

Remember Operation Medusa, when Canadian and ISAF forces trapped the Taliban in Panjwai district? Remember how our generals crowed about the Taliban fighters having but two options - surrender or die? Do you remember how the Taliban showed us their own option by exfiltrating in the middle of the night, totally undetected and unmolested, straight through our iron cordon, with their weapons, to make good their escape, regroup and fight another day?

That leaves us with Option B, forcing the Taliban to flee. Now that is in their playbook. That's what they do when confronted with overwhelming force and total fire superiority. They melt away to regroup and fight again. They have to do that. They don't have any tanks or artillery or jet fighters or attack helicopters. They don't even have our numbers. But that doesn't matter to the war they're fighting. Because the element of time is on their side, not ours, escaping still gives them the tactical victory. In the war the Taliban are fighting, to simply survive is to win.

It is a sign of a war in which logic has been stood on its head that, when our forces finally do roll into Marjah and take over the place, we'll be told that's a great victory - for us. If nothing else, our side will have cleared out the Taliban, or so we'll be told. Just like we cleared the Taliban out of Panjwai during Operation Medusa until some time later when we've moved on they simply moved back in. That's because, despite the supposed "surge" of 30,000 additional troops, Western forces in Afghanistan remain less than half the strength prescribed by the American military's own counterinsurgency doctrine. That leaves them unable to effectively secure territory which is the only way to drive out the Taliban. Well, the American people were easily duped into believing that the Iraq "surge" pacified that country so for General McChrystal it's a reasonably safe bet they'll swallow the Afghan surge to boot.

Sort of Like the Titanic - Without the Ice

We all learn something new every day. There was a time that was a good thing. Times change.

Yesterday I learned of "Arctic cyclones." I'd always thought of cyclones or hurricanes as warm-temperature events, fronts moving out of the tropics sort of things. Turns out we're now getting them up in the Arctic too.

The results of a 2008 mega-study of Arctic ice were released in Winnipeg yesterday. A team ofr 370 scientists from around the world spent 2008 up in the Arctic taking a close look at conditions and that led to a report about the "Circumpolar Flaw Lead System."

Speaking to a symposium yesterday, professor David Barber didn't pull any punches. The Arctic ecosystem, he said, is worse than we'd thought and is in fact under threat of collapse. We've known for years that Arctic sea ice is becoming a seasonal thing and is receding but we never really grasped just what that meant to the ecosystem. It does everything from releasing toxic contaminants into the sea to generating cyclones that further hasten the break up of sea ice to drawing the jet stream - and warming air - steadily further north. Marine life is being impacted by the toxins and the disappearance of the ice cap. Orca, once held at bay by the ice, are now spreading into the Arctic to prey on the once protected creatures. Lovely, just lovely.

Oh well, with a government headed by a petty tyrant with a stooge like Prentice for EnviroMin I'm sure we have nothing to worry about.

Friday, February 05, 2010

When Pelicans Come Begging

I'm getting bloody tired of climate change denialists, particuarly those shit for brains Tar Sanders. It's here, it's happening and, with the mountains of science that just keep growing, it's effectively proven. Sure there have been a couple of glitches and gaffes along the way but that's like pointing to two suspect trees in a forest. You've got two trees, the rest of us have the entire forest so, for the denialists, it's "put up or shut up" time. You've got an entire multi-trillion dollar fossil fuel industry backing you up so start producing some convincing research to disprove the global warming theory. When the best you can do is claim this is a hoax perpetrated by a global conspiracy of middle-class science geeks, then it's time you shut the hell up.

Want to see the ravages of climate change? Come out to Beautiful British Columbia. Take a leisurely drive through our expansive mountain valleys and marvel at the endless stands of forests with their rust-coloured foliage. Aren't they supposed to be green? Well, only if they're living. Once they've been killed off by the pine beetle they turn that rust colour. What's that got to do with climate change? Everything. Cold winters - the sort we used to have, always - kill off the pine beetle infestations, allowing the trees to live and, well, be green. We don't get those winters much any more and so the pine beetles spread and multiply and kill the forests. The only good part about this is that they've now crossed the mountains into Alberta, the last place on the planet where the inhabitants have any right to bitch about climate change.

Earlier this week we heard about Canada's wolverine and how their numbers are plummeting, again the suspected culprit being global warming. But this isn't about wolverine or pine forests or massive stocks of salmon that simply vanish without a trace or invasive species migrating into our coastal waters. This is about the jolly pelican (jolly, that is, unless you have to walk the same dock they use as their latrine).

The Pacific brown pelican is a magnificent bird. They're something to see when they fly in perfect formation, skimming the ocean surface in search of food. I've watched them plunge, headfirst, like giant hailstones into a placid boat harbour, feasting on a school of small fish. They've co-existed with humans on a live and let live basis. They don't seem to mind us at all when we're at a moderate distance.

Something is going on with the brown pelican. A lot of them have stopped migrating and even those that still do are showing signs of starvation. From the Los Angeles Times:

All along the Oregon coast over the last month, hundreds of brown pelicans have turned up dead, starving or begging for food.As many as 3,000 of the gangly seabirds failed to make their annual fall migration to California, many instead winding up at Oregon's rehabilitation centers.

Those that did head south, leaving the Pacific Northwest winter behind, were battered by California's recent storms. Shelters in San Pedro and the San Francisco Bay Area are also full of emaciated pelicans.

Researchers, at a loss to explain the casualties, are looking at unusual ocean currents and the depletion of fish stocks -- as well as warmer temperatures, toxic runoff and algae blooms -- as possible causes.Meanwhile, pelicans are sitting listlessly on beaches and scavenging outside restaurants and canneries.

...This is the second straight year that a large number of pelicans have remained in Oregon rather than trek to the warmer, quieter waters of California and Baja. From 1918 to 2002, the Audubon Society tallied fewer than 100 pelicans in Oregon every winter. Then the number shot up to 554 birds. In 2008, 3,647 stayed.

Three to four thousand pelicans doesn't sound like all that many but nature tends to give us huge numbers of small birds and only small numbers of really big birds.

I'm starting to think the Pacific coast ecosystem has become North America's miners' canary. Change seems to be overtaking the speed at which flora and fauna can evolve to adapt. Of course that's the real danger of global warming isn't it - not so much change itself but the speed at which change is occurring. We can't outrun it and there's your problem. With the exception of some very nasty things like viruses and noxious weeds, we haven't evolved the ability to evolve quickly or at least not quickly enough to stay a safe distance ahead of ourselves.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Don't Take Canadian Democracy for Granted

Some notable Americans are waking up to the fact that their nation's vaunted democracy is in serious and immediate peril. Canadians would do well to heed their alarm.

Corruption has become endemic in the United States, particularly within America's "bought and paid for" Congress. Whether it's Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Insurance, Big Pharma, Big Agra, corporatism has ruthlessly and relentlessly subverted American democracy. When Republican House leader John Boehner blissfully strolls the floor of the House of Representatives distributing envelopes bearing "contributions" from the tobacco industry just moments before a vote critical to Big Tobacco - and gets away with it - the writing is on the wall and it is indeed as plain as day.

When a nation runs two wars, both fought with a corporate (mercenary) presence hitherto unseen in the West and all funded with foreign borrowings and at the very same time funds tax cuts for the very rich, also paid for with foreign borrowings, this is not a government of the people, by the people, for the people. This is a government beholden to a few very powerful interest groups, the servant of an oligarchy.

Even the US Supreme Court is in on this democracy death dance. It's uber-right wing majority decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission recognizing corporations as "persons" under the First Amendment was far more anti-democratic than most people, particularly Americans, can grasp. There should have been mobs running the streets of Washington with pitchforks and torches but there was barely a whimper of protest. Indeed, after the 48-hour news cycle, the case has been all but forgotten.

Corporations can't vote but that doesn't matter much if they can use their financial muscle to swing elections their way. From here on in, reformers or even those simply trying to restore American democracy, will be swept out to sea by a tsunami of corporate influence peddling. With a voting public conditioned to always look at the "shiny thing", to believe in spectacle and rank delusion, to be driven by fear, anger and hatred powerful enough even to overwhelm self-interest, reality doesn't stand a chance.

In a nation as divided and confused as the United States the forces of corporatism don't have to win over the American people, merely a modest segment of them sufficient to swing elections. Once they've reached that modest goal, a corrupt legislature and a radicalized, ideological judiciary will do the rest. Robert Reich, UC Berkley professor, labour secretary under Clinton and author of several books including "Supercapitalism" has an interesting post entitled "Our Incredible Shrinking Democracy." Even more compelling is Chris Hedges new book, "Empire of Illusion, the End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle."

I received Empire for Christmas and immediately set to devouring its small, 215-pages. Like Hedges' earlier works, "War" and "American Fascists", it's a diminutive book, something of a lovechild between a tome and a pamphlet. Like all of his works, it's jam packed with insight.

Empire is organized into five chapters: "The Illusion of Literacy; the Illusion of Love; the Illusion of Wisdom; the Illusion of Happiness; and the Illusion of America." On this skeleton he hangs the meat and offal of delusion, distraction and deceit that have become the standard fare of the American people and their ultimate undoing. Here are a few passages excerpted from Hedges' final chapter, "The Illusion of America."

"The words 'consent of the governed' have become an empty phrase. Our textbooks on political science and economics are obsolete. Our nation has been hijacked by oligarchs, corporations, and a narrow, selfish, political, and economic elite, a small and privileged group that governs, and often steals, on behalf of moneyed interests. This elite, in the name of patriotism and democracy, in the name of all the values that were once part of the American system and defined the Protestant work ethic, has systematically destroyed our manufacturing sector, looted the treasury, corrupted our democracy, and trashed the financial system. During this plundering we remained passive, mesmerized by the enticing shadows on the wall, assured our tickets to success, prosperity, and happiness were waiting around the corner.

...The government, stripped of any real sovereignty, provides little more than technical expertise for elites and corporations that lack moral restraints and a concept of the common good. America has become a facade. It has become the greatest illusion in a culture of illusions. It represents a power and a democratic ethic it does not possess.

...The decline of American empire began long before the current economic meltdown or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It began when we shifted, in the words of the historian Charles Maier, from an 'empire of production' to an 'empire of consumption.'...We started borrowing to maintain a lifestyle we could no longer afford..

...[Columbia University professor, Seymour] Mellman coined the term 'permanent war economy' to describe the American economy. Since the end of the Second World War, the federal government has spent more than half its tax dollars on past, current, and future military operations. It is the largest single sustaining activity of the government.

Hedges quotes Einstein explaining why he was a socialist: "Private capital tends to become concentrated in a few hands partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. ...The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. ...Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed inmost cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.'"

Hedges points out that the alarm has been ringing since the era of FDR: "...Our political and economic decline took place because of a corporate drive for massive deregulation, the repeal of antitrust laws, and the country's radical transformation from a manufacturing economy to an economy of consumption. Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized this danger. He sent a message to congress on April 29, 1938. [in which] he wrote: '...the first truth is that the liberty of democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism - ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way to sustain an acceptable standard of living.'"

Canada is plainly not in the same boat as the United States. Our parliamentary democracy appears at least somewhat more resiliant than America's congressional system. For the moment at least we have some safeguards on corporate inducements and electoral meddling although they too could be dismantled quite simply on the floor of the House of Commons. Yet there are reasons for concern and these need to be addressed forcefully and rather quickly.

Harper came to power on promises of transparency and accountability and then wasted no time sacking both. We must carefully scrutinize how that happened, how that continues and what needs doing to put an end to it in all future Canadian governments. That has to end for it is a direct threat to our democracy.

Successive governments have sat by and allowed the wealth gap between rich and poor to turn cavernous. They have allowed our manufacturing base to atrophy. They have fed us nonsense about the "new economy" and outright lies about the information age even as they have failed to fund the educational system that sort of transformation requires. They fiercely cling to Industrial Revolution-era capitalism where growth is the elixir to solve all problems even as we have propelled ourselves into a world that already operates well beyond its carrying capacity. They too freely wield the power to wage wars they are powerless to end much less win.

Worst of all, they capitalize on the enormity of their failures by blaming everything on "big government" when the problem isn't size but quality. We're living with the consequences not of big government but of bad governance and those consequences are poised to grow much larger and much more dangerous very, very soon.

My fellow Liberals squander their resources and efforts on the diversion of partisanship, sniping at the Harper regime to little effect, when they ought to be focusing instead on the core failures of their own party, its lack of vision and lapsed courage. They would rather waste time we cannot afford to wait while Harper stumbles and weakens instead of making their own party stronger and more directed to the serious problems besetting our nation. They too cling to the disastrous fantasy of Canada as a petro-superpower at a time when the future of our species and our ecosystem hinge on decarbonizing our economies and our societies. Perhaps afraid of angering the Wild Rose/Big Oil cabal, we don't even press for a renewal of our manufacturing sector on alternative energy generation. That we leave to the Chinese who are now the world leader in wind turbine development and production and are positioned to also dominate the solar energy sector.

We need to recall that government, Parliament is the place of the people. It is there to serve us and our fellow Canadians first and foremost. Parliament also exists to assist industry and commerce but not in their own right, only as best befits the interests, short and long-term, of the Canadian people. Parliament doesn't exist to accommodate industry and commerce as our fellow constituents.

Like the Americans, Canadians are being harmed by a corporatized mass media that operates in thrall to the emerging oligarchs. The media, as any other institution in Canada, owes its troth to the people for, without that faithfulness, it is transformed into a instrument of manipulation. We see this in rank partisan propagandists rewarded with senate appointments. That was Canada's John Boehner moment. We urgently need to dismember the media cartel, strip newspapers of their television stations and radio frequencies, severely restrict both concentration and cross-ownership in all forms. We need to remember that the frequencies of our television and radio networks are public property, merely licensed out for a term of years to the networks. We need to hold them accountable to the public, recognizing that they have abused the remarkable freedoms we have given them.

I believe the times that are upon us and the challenges Canadians will have to meet during the 21st Century require our own "New Deal." We have to break the bonds that lash us to Industrial Revolution capitalism and move to a new, more responsive form of capitalism that is subordinate to the interests of our citizens. For the Liberal Party, now being steered to the centre-right by Ignatieff, this necessitates a move back to the centre/centre-left. The Liberal Party has to serve Canada again, not the interests of its own ruling elite. That is the only path back to not only power but genuinely good governance of the kind our country and our people so badly need.

We need to do this now if only because we may be unable to do it in twenty or thirty years from now. Our world is undergoing a grand transformation - economic, political, military and environmental - to which we're going to have to respond and adapt. These are challenges not of our choosing and no longer under our control. How well we respond to them, how ably we adapt, will depend in great measure on the strength of our governance, the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed. This is no time to take our democracy for granted. It is no time to tolerate that which subverts it.