Friday, April 30, 2010

Krugman Explains the Euro Crisis

In today's New York Times, Nobel economist and Princeton professor Paul Krugman succinctly sums up the economic nightmare hitting Greece and how it ripples through the Euro:

...During the years of easy money, wages and prices in the crisis countries rose much faster than in the rest of Europe. Now that the money is no longer rolling in, those countries need to get costs back in line.

But that’s a much harder thing to do now than it was when each European nation had its own currency. Back then, costs could be brought in line by adjusting exchange rates — e.g., Greece could cut its wages relative to German wages simply by reducing the value of the drachma in terms of Deutsche marks. Now that Greece and Germany share the same currency, however, the only way to reduce Greek relative costs is through some combination of German inflation and Greek deflation. And since Germany won’t accept inflation, deflation it is.
The problem is that deflation — falling wages and prices — is always and everywhere a deeply painful process. It invariably involves a prolonged slump with high unemployment. And it also aggravates debt problems, both public and private, because incomes fall while the debt burden doesn’t.

Hence the crisis. Greece’s fiscal woes would be serious but probably manageable if the Greek economy’s prospects for the next few years looked even moderately favorable. But they don’t. Earlier this week, when it downgraded Greek debt, Standard & Poor’s suggested that the euro value of Greek G.D.P. may not return to its 2008 level until 2017, meaning that Greece has no hope of growing out of its troubles.

All this is exactly what the euro-skeptics feared. Giving up the ability to adjust exchange rates, they warned, would invite future crises. And it has.

...what are the lessons for the rest of us?

The deficit hawks are already trying to appropriate the European crisis, presenting it as an object lesson in the evils of government red ink. What the crisis really demonstrates, however, is the dangers of putting yourself in a policy straitjacket. When they joined the euro, the governments of Greece, Portugal and Spain denied themselves the ability to do some bad things, like printing too much money; but they also denied themselves the ability to respond flexibly to events.

And when crisis strikes, governments need to be able to act. That’s what the architects of the euro forgot — and the rest of us need to remember.

Let this be a lesson to those who advocate monetary union between Canada and the United States. To adopt a common currency, that is to say the greenback, would be an enormous policy straightjacket for Canada. Enough. No way.

Up Yer Nose Buddy

Got a little too much of that "tough guy" thing going on? No problem, spray some of this up your nose.

There's now a nasal spray said to make men more "in tune" with others' feelings. From BBC News:

[German and British researchers] found that inhaling the "cuddle hormone" oxytocin made men just as empathetic as women.

The study in 48 volunteers also showed that the spray boosted the ability to learn from positive feedback.

...In the first part of the study, half the men received a nose spray containing oxytocin and half were given a dummy spray.

They were then shown photos of emotionally charged situations including a crying child, a girl hugging her cat, and a grieving man, and were asked questions about the depth of feeling they had towards the subjects.

Those who had the hormone spray had markedly higher levels of empathy - of a similar magnitude to those only usually seen in women who are naturally more sensitive to the feelings of others.

So stick that up yer nose - ya big sissy.

The Madness of the "Ownership Society"

George w. Bush's mad dream was what he called the "ownership society" in which every man and woman possible would own their own home - or two. It became a fetish that turned into reality engorged on cheap money and limitless debt. Toward the end of America's real estate binge, two out of three new mortgages written in California were "interest only."

It wasn't only America that went mad with the illusion of imagined wealth. Greece, Portugal, Iceland, even Ireland fell into the trap. For a while everybody imagined themselves to be rich and, until reality set in, lived the grand dream. Now that dream has turned into a nightmare. BBC News says that the inevitable sag has left Ireland with one house in five standing empty and no buyers on the horizon:

David McWilliams is the man who coined the phrase "ghost estate" when he wrote about the first signs of a disastrous over-build in Ireland back in 2006.

Now, it is a concept the whole country is depressingly familiar with. Most Irish people have one on their doorstep - an ugly reminder, says the economist and broadcaster, of wounded national pride.

"Emotionally, we have all taken a battering," he says. "Like every infectious virus, the housing boom got into our pores. You could feel it.

"You'd go to the pub and people would be talking about what house they'd bought. And now a lot of people, myself included, think 'God, we were conned'."

...But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Only a few years ago, developers feeding money into local government coffers were getting free rein to build row upon row of five-bedroom detached houses on the green outskirts of towns nobody had even thought of commuting from before.

Banks were throwing money at members of the public who saw these houses either as an escape to a better lifestyle or an investment route to riches.

Builders from eastern Europe were working overtime to create homes, the value of which was sometimes three times what it is now.

...Ciaran Cuffe is the Green Party minister of state in charge of the audit [of empty and incomplete housing]. "It's one heck of a challenge", he says, "because we have the legacy of many years of poor planning, and an economy that was overheated, paid far too much attention to construction and was more interested in the quantity than the quality of homes".
He says Ireland's perceived wealth was part of the problem.

"I think there was a view that demand would continue indefinitely at a time when we had very high levels of immigration.

"People thought the housing was needed not only for the people of Ireland but also for others that had come here, and that this golden goose would continue to lay golden eggs for ever."

"I certainly think demolition could be part of the solution in cases where we have housing estates that are unoccupied, that are miles away from where people want to live and that were badly built in the first place."

And indeed, many of Ireland's ghost estates are in the unlikeliest, most isolated places.
It is strange, looking down vast rows of immaculate new-builds, taking in their optimistically-planted front gardens and peering through curtain-less windows into unwanted granite-topped fitted kitchens, to comprehend the fact that they might never be occupied.

Perhaps generations to come will look back on this, the first decade of the 21st century, as the time the West took leave of its senses.

Afghan Detainees - Who's Fooling Whom?

There was a good interview on CBC Radio yesterday with Liberal senator Colin Kenny. In his years in the senate, Kenny has had extensive involvment in military matters that included access to top secret documents on all manner of military and security issues.

Kenny dismissed Harper's "national security" excuse for hiding detainee documents as utterly bogus. As he pointed out the documents are at least a year or two old by now. The Afghans know who we detained, who we turned over and what happened to them. The Taliban also know who we detained, who we turned over and everything that happened to them. The only people who don't know who we detained, who we turned over and what happened to them are the Canadian people and their elected representatives.

I haven't always agreed with Kenny in the past but he's dead right on this. I get a bit nervous when people like Harper falsely invoke "national security" to cover their asses. People don't throw up smokescreens unless they've something to hide or they need a ruse. So just what is Harper working so furiously to keep from getting out?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tories 31.9%, Liberals 26.6%, Karzai 24%

I thought I'd add a little perspective to the latest Canadian polling numbers.

The Liberals are just a tad shy of three points ahead of Hamid Karzai. A Pentagon report to Congress claims that, in strategic population centres, Hamid Karzai enjoys the support of just 24% of the population.

Let's say that Hamid Karzai represents the benchmark for hopelessly corrupt, dishonest and ineffectual political leadership.

Maybe it's time you Libs did some serious soul searching about why you're wallowing so badly in the polls, the hearts and minds of the Canadian people.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

World Overshoot Day and Other Trivia

I've decided to repost this item from October 9, 2006. Why repost it? Because I just discovered that in the three years following, World Overshoot Day fell from October 9th to September 25th. When are we going to wake up to our accelerating and voracious overconsumption of our planet's renewable resources? I urge you to read this post and reflect on what we're doing and what that will mean for mankind in the very near future. - MoS

October 9, 2006

Today is Thanksgiving here in Canada, Columbus Day in the U.S. For everyone on the planet it's also World Overshoot Day. That is the day each year on which mankind has consumed the earth's total renewable resources for the entire year.

Here's how Global Footprint Network describes World Overshoot Day:

"Overshoot has been called ‘the biggest issue you’ve never heard of.’ Yet despite its lack of publicity, its causes and effects are as simple as they are significant.In any given year, if trees are cut down faster than they grow back, then forests become smaller than the year before. If more fish are caught each year than spawn, there will be fewer fish in the sea. The consequences of our accumulating ecological debt also include global climate change, species extinction, insecure energy supplies, water shortages, and crop failure.

"As humanity’s consumption of resources increases, World Overshoot Day creeps earlier on the calendar. Humanity’s first Overshoot Day was December 19, 1987. By 1995 it had jumped back a month to 21 November. Today, with Overshoot Day on October 9, humanity's Ecological Footprint is almost thirty per cent larger than the planet’s biocapacity this year. In other words, it now takes more than one year and three months for the Earth to regenerate what we use in a single year.

"What is Overshoot?

"Today, humanity uses about 30% more in one year than nature can regenerate in that same year. This is called “overshoot”. An ecological overshoot of 30% means that it takes one year and about three months for the Earth to regenerate what is being used by people in one year, creating an
ecological deficit.

"We currently maintain this overshoot by liquidating the planet’s natural resources. For example we can cut trees faster than they re-grow, and catch fish at a rate faster than they repopulate. While this can be done for a short while, overshoot ultimately leads to the depletion of resources on which our economy depends.

"Overshoot is like ecological overspending. Just as any business that does not keep financial books will go bankrupt over time, we must document whether we’re living within our ecological budget or running an ecological deficit that will eventually deplete our renewable assets."

World Overshoot Day may not be something to be thankful for but it's sure something we could do well to start thinking about.

GFN also assesses nations to determine whether they run an environmental deficit or are in an environmental credit position. Here Canadians can thump their chests. Because we have such a large country and a relatively small population, we're in the plus column. Here's the map:

In this map, green is "good", red is "less than good" - oh, okay, it's bad. It's no coincidence that the green areas tend to be the underpopulated regions of the planet while the red parts represent the most densely populated areas. Our apologies to Alasaka - you're really green but you don't get a break because you belong with the guys in the south.

Let's Remember What the Afghan Document Fight is Really About

Yes there's an issue of Harper's secrecy fetish. Yes there's an issue of the supremacy of the House of Commons. Yes there's a question of contempt of Parliament. There are all those issues and they're all important but let's not overlook what's really in issue here.

The fundamental question concerns Canada's role in the treatment and apparent torture of suspects, Afghan nationals our forces detained and subsequently handed over to that country's brutal national security service.

The fundamental question arises out of a morass of contradictory and irreconcilable statements made by political leaders, military leaders, diplomats and others. Some say we acquiesced in the torture of our detainees by their security services. Others say we deliberately handed some over to the Afghan thugs so they would be tortured to elicit intelligence. Whether we indifferently handed them over or deliberately handed them over is a fine point and has real significance but, either way, our leaders may be complicit in torture and that's a war crime.

The fundamental question is whether our military or political leaders committed war crimes. Along the way this fight has acquired an unsavory partisan political dimension - both sides at various times and in various ways trying to wring advantage out of it. We on the opposition side need to be principled and disciplined enough to stay on issue, focused on the fundamental question. The Canadian public will quickly enough resent us if we don't. On these things you're suspect enough as it is without fueling unnecessary cynicism.

It's important, absolutely critical, that we ascertain whether we in fact committed war crimes or whether our leaders did that in our name. If it happened but we fail to unmask it, how on earth are we ever to stop it, to change course?

They say if you sleep with dogs you get up with fleas. In this case we're the eager-to-please junior partner to the senior partner that gave the world Abu Ghraib and Guantanimo. When you look up to someone like that you may come to emulate their behaviour. You may even pick up their bad habits.

Our senior partner has a well-deserved and deeply sullied reputation as a torturer. That doesn't mean that we have to accept their standard or their ways whether in the political or the military arena. To the contrary, by virtue of knowing what they have done, the extent and course of their depravity, it is incumbent on us to ensure that our honour is intact. When credible allegations are presented that our honour has been stained by our own leaders it is our duty to get to the bottom of them. And that is what this document battle is all about. If we lose focus on our purpose we don't stand a chance of succeeding. If we fail, our country, our military and our parliament will be the poorer for it.

"Burn Baby Burn" It's the New "Drill Baby Drill"

In the name of environmental protection, America is about to set fire to the Gulf of Mexico. In an effort to stop a rapidly spreading oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon rig sinking from reaching the wetlands of the Gulf states crews are preparing to set fire to the slick that's now growing by 42,000 gallons of oil a day leaking from the seabed.

How long will the fire be burning? It could keep going until BP is able to drill a relief well to ease pressure at the leak site. They're hoping to get that done in just - three months!

The slick is now just 20-miles away from the mouth of the Mississippi river.

Florida Balks at Offshore Drilling - Gordon Campbell, Are You Listening?

Florida's Republican administration has had sharp second-thoughts about proposals for oil rigs off its shores. The spreading and intractable oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico has made disbelievers out of what had been staunch believers. From McClatchey:

The oil spill spreading across the Gulf of Mexico is sending ripples through Florida and national politics, giving Gov. Charlie Crist a reason to withdraw his support for offshore drilling.

After a 90-minute plane flight Tuesday above the spill, which was spreading in an 80-by-42-mile blob, Crist said, "Clearly it could be devastating to Florida if something like that were to occur. It's the last thing in the world I would want to see happen in our beautiful state.''

He said there is no question now that lawmakers should give up on the idea of drilling off Florida's coast this year and in coming years. He had said previously that he would support drilling if it were far enough from shore, safe enough and clean enough. He said the spill is proof that that is not possible.

"Clearly that one isn't far enough, and that's about 50 to 60 miles out. It's clearly not clean enough after we saw what we saw today -- that's horrific -- and it certainly isn't safe enough. It's the opposite of safe,'' Crist said.

Earlier in the day the Florida Legislature's main advocate of drilling, incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Orlando, said the disaster had him asking questions.

"It causes me to want to examine what happened and how it could have been prevented, and we need to figure that out before we make any further decisions,'' said Cannon, who has proposed allowing rigs as close as three miles off Florida's beaches.

I wonder if BC's faux-liberal premier and veteran drunk driver Gordon Campbell is watching and learning. He too has become a recent proponent of offshore drilling in British Columbia's pristine coastal waters, another hack politician willing to roll the dice and gamble BC's ecology for the promise of seabed fossil fuel wealth.

Did Semrau Even Commit a Crime? I Can't See It.

Canadian army captain Robert Semrau is now standing trial for the alleged murder of a mortally wounded Afghan insurgent.

To convict Semrau the court needs clear proof. Facts are to be proven, not assumed. And this case is riddled with gaping holes.

How did this Afghan die? Did Semrau even shoot the man? If he did shoot the insurgent, were his rounds the cause of death?

We know there was a man. We know the man was severely, probably mortally wounded. We know that those present saw Semrau alone with the man and that they then heard two gunshots. And that, in the final analysis, is about all we know.

I'm pretty sure Semrau shot the man. Common sense tells me as much. But common sense is a different creature entirely from proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Nobody has proven that Semrau actually shot the deceased.

I suppose if Semrau shot the man the severely wounded insurgent could have died from those shots but I have no means of knowing that one way or the other. He did already have mortal wounds and who can say whether he died from those?

No one seems to have any evidence of just when this man died. One witness suggests the man was already dead before Semrau fired his weapon. How do we know that Semrau, knowingly or unwittingly, didn't fire into a corpse?

For the life of me I can't see how justice could be served by convicting Robert Semrau. The case simply is not made out.

What this trial reveals is the blurry line between lawful killing and battlefield murder. We had a lot of both on the battlefields of Europe during WWII. My late father, a combat infantry officer, told me of how sometimes prisoners were taken and sometimes they might be shot out of revenge for some atrocity or because guarding prisoners just wasn't feasible at the particular moment. Yet we knew enough then only to prosecute the particularly egregious killings. Otherwise we would have needed half the army to sit in judgment on the other half. And we didn't prosecute them and we welcomed them home as heroes that we venerate to this day.

At Least One McCain Rejects Facism

Arizona Senator John McCain would do well to get some integrity lessons from his daughter, Meghan.

The senior McCain, fighting for his political survival, has endorsed his home state's utterly fascist immigration law. The younger McCain, by contrast, knows right from wrong. From CBS News:

In a column published at The Daily Beast, Meghan McCain, who often tries to position herself a spokesperson of sorts for young Republicans, called the new law "seriously flawed" and "essentially a license to pull someone over for being Hispanic."

The new law compels police officers to question a person about his or her immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that person may be in the country illegally. It would also make it a crime under state law to be there illegally. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed it into law on Friday, but some Arizona lawmakers are vowing to fight the measure.

"I believe it gives the state police a license to discriminate, and also, in many ways, violates the civil rights of Arizona residents," Meghan McCain wrote in her column, entitled "Hate the Law, Not Arizonans." "Simply put, I think it is a bad law that is missing the bigger picture of what is really going on with illegal immigration."

John McCain, who faces a tough Republican primary challenge this year, has called the measure a "good tool" for law enforcement. He acknowledged this weekend that there are some questions about whether the new measure can stand up to legal scrutiny, the Arizona Daily Star reports, but he added that lawmakers "acted out of frustration because the federal government didn't do its job."

A Less-Than-Happy Meal in Santa Clara County

In California's Santa Clara county, an ordinance has been passed prohibiting restaurants from giving away free toys in high calorie meals.

"This ordinance prevents restaurants from preying on children's love of toys," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, who proposed the ban. "It is unfair to get people hooked on eating high-sugar, high-fat foods early in life."

Though the law affects only a dozen restaurants in unincorporated Santa Clara County, officials there want to "send a message out to the rest of the country," and foresee similar rules in other counties and states, said Supervisor Liz Kniss.

Read more:

The Reality of Private Water is Upon Us

It's crunch time. Private companies are poised to make a breakthrough in privatizing fresh water supplies in Asia, Africa, even the United States. From The Guardian:

Global Water Intelligence analysts expect the water supply market to grow about 20% in the next five years, and demand is especially strong in North Africa, the Middle East and China, GWI's publisher Christopher Gasson told the Guardian.

Another big growth area is likely to be the US, where "hundreds" of public water authorities thought to be talking to private operators, said Dan McCarthy, president and CEO of the global water division of engineering group
Black & Veatch.

Renewed growth is being driven by poor services and the need for huge investment to repair and expand supplies, which in a recession is even harder for governments and municipal authorities to fund, said Gasson. It is also encouraged by less historical opposition to private suppliers in much of the big-growth regions, and the continuing "marketisation" of China, he said.

"There's been a move towards private sector finance and operation because of this failure to deliver," said Gasson. "If you have a contractor and the contractor doesn't deliver you can beat him over the head, but if you have a public employee who's got a job for life it's much more difficult to demand performance."

Private companies are seen as a source of finance, and a useful scapegoat to raise bills to help pay for the investment, because the decision would be made by state regulators rather than local politicians, said McCarthy: "It takes a bit of pressure off the local officials if they can shift that to somebody who's less impacted by the politics."

If you're not up on the water privitization issue do yourself a favour and read Maude Barlow's "Blue Covenant." There are a lot of potential ramifications to this trend that we need to understand quite clearly and quite quickly.

In Canada we really need to discuss and define the role of our public sector services, the unique benefits they provide and how we are to pay for them. We witnessed this very sort of political perfidy happen in British Columbia when the provincial government privatized the ferry service and we've been paying for that ever since. Governments that fob off public responsibilities to the private "for profit" sector because they lack the spine to raise the funding themselves do the public a great disservice.

Could Charlie Crist Upset Florida's Republican Tea Party?

Florida's Republican nobs have passed judgment on Governor Charlie Crist's ambitions for the US Senate - he isn't rightwing enough to deserve the nomination. So Crist is planning to run as an independent which, according to McClatchey, has his party utterly apoplectic:

You've never seen such fuming, whining and grinding of capped teeth. And that's not from voters — that's from Republican leaders, who are pitching a hissy fit.

They want the governor to shut up and go away, but he's not playing ball. They want him to yield the stage to Marco Rubio, a robotic right-wing smoothie, but Charlie insists on hanging around for an encore.

...Not so long ago, the governor was their golden boy, and not just because of his trademark tan. Most of the party's top dogs were singing his praises for the Senate
But try as he might -- and at times it was pathetic to watch -- Crist just couldn't swerve hard enough to the right. His belated bashing of President Obama sounded halfhearted compared with the spittle-flecked ravings on Fox News.

The governor is famous for tacking with the political breeze, but even he couldn't pull off a convincing ideological swoop to ultra-conservativism.

That's the irreconcilable problem: Crist is a moderate in a party whose leaders no longer tolerate it.

Always distrustful of him, Republican screamers officially turned on the governor after he accepted federal stimulus benefits. In a state suffering from brutal unemployment and epidemic home foreclosures, only a moron would have turned down the money.

And that says it all. Charlie isn't moronic enough to deserve the Republican nomination in Florida, the state where he's the sitting governor. Charlie didn't measure up to the, "spittle flecked ravings" of today's Republican leadership.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The World IS Only 6,000 Years Old After All!

Noah's Ark Ministries International claims to have found the biblical ship - on Mt. Ararat (of course) - and have carbon dated the timbers back 4,800 years. Tack on another 1,200 years for Adam and Eve's progeny to evolve into Noah and - bingo - God's your uncle!

Now they're not really sure what they've found is the remains of the Ark but they're 99.9% sure it's the real deal. They report they've found wooden beams and the remains of the compartments in which Noah stored all those critters too.

NAMI spokesman Yeung Wing-Cheung told Agence-France Presse his group has ruled out the notion that the find could represent an ancient, human settlement.

Arizona Kampf - You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

America's descent into fascism got a huge boost this week when the governor of Arizona signed a bill into law that orders police to stop anyone "if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the US". "Reasonable suspicion" is code for appearing Latino. The new law even gives citizens the right to sue local authorities that don't enforce this law. The Guardian reports that the law has sparked outrage and calls to boycott the state of Arizona:

In a sign of the passions aroused, cleaning crews were called to the state legislative building this morning to clear swastikas daubed on it overnight.

Opponents of the legislation say it will lead to victimisation of anyone who looks or sounds Latino. Supporters say the legislation is needed because the state can no longer cope with an estimated 450,000 illegal immigrants.

Among those calling for a sweeping boycott was the San Francisco city attorney, Dennis Herrera, who urged city departments to look at contracts with Arizona that could be terminated.

Posters were created over the weekend supporting a boycott, including one by the Chicano writer and artist Harry Gamboa headed "Boycott Hate State Arizona".

Repugnant as this is, it may be just the beginning of a darker, more violent reaction to illegals from the south. Central America and the northern parts of South America are expected to be hard hit by global warming, hard enough to trigger mass climate migration north. Gwynne Dyer addresses the issue head on in his book "Climate Wars." Dyer contends that America may eventually resort to lethal force, possibly on a mass scale, to seal off its border against climate migrants. While that may sound fiendish, even diabolical, bear in mind that the United States will by then have its hands full just trying to deal with internal climate migration out of the drought-stricken south and low-lying coastal areas. It's akin to the 50's when homeowners prepared to guard their backyard bomb shelters with shotguns to keep out their neighbours, only this time on a massive scale.

Monday, April 26, 2010

How Insurgencies End - a Primer

That's the title of a report just released by the controversial Rand Corporation. The authors researched 89 major insurgencies over the past century. Here's the bottom line - at least as far as Afghanistan is concerned. A weak government stands just a 10% chance of defeating insurgents. That means there's a 90% chance the Karzai regime isn't going to win this, no matter how long it takes.

As written here for some time, insurgencies reach "tipping points" where the issue is decided long before anyone realizes it. The military war just keeps rolling on well after the political war is decided. That's because the political war is the one that matters. The military war is simply dropping bombs and firing artillery which are sort of meaningless to an insurgency.

"How Insurgencies End" is available free in PDF format at this link. At 270-pages it's a bit of a grind. There are some interesting sections such as this one which is an observer's checklist for when a government is losing to an insurgency:

• progressive withdrawal of domestic support for the government
• progressive withdrawal of international support for the government
• progressive loss of government control over population and
• progressive loss of government coercive power
• capital flight and increasing rates of “brain drain”
• “parking” of financial assets and families of government personnel
in safe havens abroad
• increased military desertion rates, particularly among senior
• increasing rate of “no-shows” among civil servants, business leaders,
and civic leaders
• “drying up” of “actionable intelligence” and other useful information
previously supplied by the civilian population.

Another point worth mentioning is that the authors find the government side almost inevitably loses when it strays from established counterinsurgency doctrine. Unfortunately, that's exactly what we've done, time and again, in Afghanistan. Because we went into this on a "cheap & dirty" basis, with a fraction of the force strength required to secure the civilian population and a decidedly counterproductive reliance on heavy firepower. We've pretty much thrown the playbook out the window and we've reaped the rewards of our foolishness.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

BC Must Say "No" to Oily Coast. So Should Ignatieff

Not only are the Athabasca Tar Sands a looming environmental disaster for Alberta but the Oil Patch is looking to threaten British Columbia coastal waters to boot.

BC's hard-right "Liberal" government has always been a little greasy but now it's gushing at the prospect of oil revenue.

One aspect entails a twin pipeline from the Athabasca fields to a marine terminal near Kitimat. That would mean supertankers just like the Exxon Valdez plying BC's pristine northern coast. Even without a cataclysmic spill, the tanker traffic poses a real threat to coastal marine life and to the livelihood of First Nation and other coastal communities.

And we're doing this for what? To benefit the pipeline builder, Enbridge, and the Alberta oil patch? This is so they can expand their markets for the world's filthiest fossil fuel into Asia and to hell with British Columbia.

Michael Ignatieff. If you really want to get off your centre-right perch and really join the Liberal Party, here's something on which you can take a stand. The people of BC are solidly against this so it should be a real opportunity to do what has eluded you so far - reach the British Columbia voting public on an issue that resonates strongly with them. Even better than that, opposing this project is just the right thing to do.

And while we're on the subject of oily faux Liberals, you could take a stand on Victoria's sudden bent on offshore oil and gas development. There is some oil and some gas that needs to be left right where it has been, safe and sound, for millenia. Drilling wells in the immediate vicinity of a volatile, subduction fault line maybe isn't the brightest, safest or soundest idea. There's a reason BC has had a moratorium on that for years.

Right now we're watching what can happen when there's an oil rig mishap at sea. In the Gulf of Mexico, the Americans are wrestling with an oil slick some 400 sq. miles in area that's threatening the coastline of every Gulf state - Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. From Times Online:

“It’s 1,000 barrels [a day] emanating from 5,000ft below the surface,” said Rear-Admiral Mary Landry, of the US Coast Guard, who is overseeing the emergency response. “Absolutely, this is a very serious oil spill.”

BP, which leased the rig, said last week that it was doing everything in its power to contain the spill and resolve the situation “as rapidly, safely and effectively as possible”, using underwater robots, 700 personnel, five aircraft, 32 vessels, and nearly 200 miles of floating booms.

BP and the US government thought they were dealing with a surface oil problem. Turns out the leak is a mile underwater. BP has a plan to seal the seabottom leak but it's an iffy prospect and it's going to take many months to complete.

The nice thing for the Liberal leader is that the conservatives, the CPC and the LPBC, are on the wrong side of this one. The public doesn't back them on these initiatives but we feel like we don't have a voice. It's an opportunity that's begging to be taken and, right now, the Liberal leader doesn't seem to be awash in opportunities.

Stephen Hawking - Stay Away from Aliens at All Costs

Renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking thinks we should reconsider our desire to reach out and contact alien life.

Hawking says it's a safe bet they're out there but that doesn't mean we'd enjoy a get together. From BBC News:

"...he warned that aliens might simply raid Earth for resources, then move on.

"If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans," he said.

Prof Hawking thinks that, rather than actively trying to communicate with extra-terrestrials, humans should do everything possible to avoid contact.

He explained: "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet."

If you still don't understand what Hawking is getting at, have a chat with a Plains Bison.

Whitehall to the Pope: How to Score Points with Britons

Britain's Foreign Office has a problem on its hands. Somebody leaked an internal memo by junior staffers suggesting how the Pope could use his upcoming visit to the UK to improve his image.

The suggestions included:

- opening an abortion clinic
- blessing a gay marriage, or
- launching a range of branded condoms

The ministry condemned the memo as "ill-judged, naive and disrespectful" and has sent an apology to the Institute of Kid Diddling, er, the Vatican. The sassy culprit has been transferred "to other duties." Yeah, right.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Kevorkian on "Real Time" - Watch

Dr. Jack Kevorkian put in an appearance on Bill Maher's "Real Time" last night. It's definitely worth a watch:

Bill Maher - a Teabagger? Really? Watch

Maher Takes on Teabaggers

The View From Iceland has published a series of breathtaking photos of the volcanic eruption taken in Iceland last weekend. Here are a few.

This one shows lightning streaking across the sky as lava flows from the Eyjafjallajokul volcano.

This ash plays hell with the paintjob

More lightning in the ash plume

Check out the high-resolution photos at

From Terrorist to Farmer - Afghanistan's "People's War"

The Taliban in Afghanistan are taking a bit of a time out, going back to their day jobs as farmers harvesting their poppy fields. It's time to put the safety on the AK and hide the RPG. From The Guardian:

"The reduction in insurgent activity ... is a sign the poppy harvest is in full swing and therefore a great deal of young men are involved in harvesting," said Major General Gordon Messenger. He warned that attacks could be expected to rise once the harvest was over. Official figures show the number of British casualties is relatively low in the spring but increases significantly during the summer.

So the insurgents have gone back to farming, so what? The significance to that is what it tells us about the Taliban and the nature of the war we're fighting in Afghanistan. It suits our military and political leaders to depict the Talibs as religious, mad dog lunatics who pour into Afghanistan from the Madrassas in Pakistan with an unquenchable thirst for blood. But what if that narrative is simply propaganda? What if the Taliban, in 2010, more closely resemble the Viet Cong of the 60's, a nationalist movement driven not so much by ideology as the desire to drive out a foreign, occupying army and a corrupt central government? What if the war we're really fighting isn't an insurgency but a people's war, a civil war?

The 18th century military genius, Carl von Clausewitz was one of the foremost military thinkers or his day - and since. His book, "On War" is still widely studied at military academies today. Clausewitz gained first-hand experience of "people's war" in Europe and he defined the five conditions for success:

- that the war is "carried on in the heart of the country"
- that it "cannot be decided by a single catastrophe"
- that "the theatre of war embraces a considerable extent of country"
- that "the national character is favourable to the measures"
- and that "the country is of broken and difficult nature, either being mountainous, or by reason
of woods and marshes, or from the particular mode of cultivation in use."

It's as though Clausewitz was writing of Afghanistan itself and, unknowingly, he was. These five conditions bedevilled the British when they sought to tame Afghanistan, they brought defeat to Soviet forces and these same five conditions define the war we're trying to wage there now.

The insurgency part of this war did exist - briefly. In that early period we had some opportunity to wage a successful counterinsurgency but we didn't bother while we still had the chance. Now this war has transformed from insurgency to a people's war which is a subtle but devastating change. Oh dear.

Why the RC Church is Rotten to the Core

Here's a story that's oft repeated, a story that told once is once too much.

This concerns the Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, who resigned yesterday after admitting to having sexually abused a young boy. Now, just one day later, a retired priest in Brussels tells Associated Press, that he told his superiors about Vangheluwe almost two decades ago and nothing was done.

Retired priest Rik Deville told The Associated Press that he made the allegations to Archbishop Godfried Danneels between 15 and 17 years ago after learning of them from a confidant of the victim's family. Danneels said through a spokesman that he had no recollections of Deville's allegations at the time.

...Norbert Bethune, who was dismissed after a doctrinal conflict with superiors, told the AP that he had brought allegations by some 30 other victims of other clerical abuse to the attention of Danneels and "he was so angry was us, so negative that he did not want to hear anything."

...The Vatican is moving to get rid of bishops tainted by the scandal — either those directly responsible of abusing children or ones who had sought to shield abusive priests. A Vatican spokesman said Saturday that the Catholic Church is capable of healing the wounds inflicted on it by the scandal.

Isn't that sweet? The Catholic Church is the victim of this. The wounds were "inflicted on it" after all and maybe a little bit on those kids, maybe. They're clinging to this mentality of the church as victim. Put the blame on a few rotten apples. Leave church doctrine, especially that celibacy business, out of this.

In my opinion, it's the Vatican's tenacious grip on that fairy-tale celibacy doctrine that ensures this church will forever remain a magnet for paedophilia. That's the very core of this evil and it reaches into every corner of the Roman Catholic world.

Too Late for Krugman to Yell "FIRE"?

All across America people are beginning to wake up and realize their country is in serious trouble and heading for even worse. You can hear it every time a notable yells "FIRE."

FIRE is an acronym for "finance/insurance/real estate" which have grown to become a cancer on the economy of the United States. The latest to let out a howl of protest is NYT columnist and Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman. From The New York Times:

What’s the matter with finance? Start with the fact that the modern financial industry generates huge profits and paychecks, yet delivers few tangible benefits.
Remember the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” in which Gordon Gekko declared: Greed is good? By today’s standards, Gekko was a piker. In the years leading up to the 2008 crisis, the financial industry accounted for a third of total domestic profits — about twice its share two decades earlier.

These profits were justified, we were told, because the industry was doing great things for the economy. It was channeling capital to productive uses; it was spreading risk; it was enhancing financial stability. None of those were true. Capital was channeled not to job-creating innovators, but into an unsustainable housing bubble; risk was concentrated, not spread; and when the housing bubble burst, the supposedly stable financial system imploded, with the worst global slump since the Great Depression as collateral damage.

Krugman argues that the financial sector has grown far too large as a segment of America's economy - and it must be shrunk:

...the fact is that we’ve been devoting far too large a share of our wealth, far too much of the nation’s talent, to the business of devising and peddling complex financial schemes — schemes that have a tendency to blow up the economy. Ending this state of affairs will hurt the financial industry. So?

What Krugman doesn't address is how his country is to fill the vacuum left over by shrinking America's FIRE economy. What do you put in its place and where do you get it? And that, kids, is Wall Street's ace in the hole. The enormous damage they've done is much, much harder to repair than it was for them to cause and they know it.

An article I came across a month or two back in The New Yorker addressed attempts to redevelop America's pre-globalization manufacturing sector. Powerful people were beginning to realize the deep and open wound left in America by the transfer of its manufacturing base to cheap labour countries abroad. Now they wanted to sew that back up, heal their country's economy, restore its manufacturing sector. But it wasn't working. They couldn't make it happen. That little genie was out of the bottle and, arm in arm with Elvis, had long since left the building.

One problem those hoping to re-industrialize America kept running into was the choking grip of the financial sector. Nobody wanted to invest large amounts of capital in factories that promised just a reasonable, albeit modest, return when the financial sector was offering huge returns. And, as Krugman correctly points out, once in the hands of Wall Street, all that capital was then funneled instead into inherently self-destructive economic bubbles.

America also can't restore its industrial economy because it can't compete - on wages, on environmental regulation, on almost anything. The globalized, free market economy means Americans cannot manufacture. The United States cannot manufacture. It cannot compete in its own markets - on the shelves of WalMart - with "cheap" imports. That's what happens when you enter a vast free-trade regime. We're told it's about the free movement of capital but that's a smokescreen. What it's really about, the sine qua non, is the surrender of national sovereignty over access to your markets. That's like giving your teenager the keys to the family car and a twelve-pack.

Republican insider and author Keven Phillips addressed this conundrum in his 2005 book, "American Theocracy." Phillips examined the path of American supremacy and the evolution of its economy from agrarian to industrial to financial and he did that in the context of the rise and fall of the previous Spanish, Dutch and British empires. Each of them grew more powerful, more dominant, more supreme until it decided that it didn't need to make things anymore, it was so rich it could just devote itself to finance and have the stuff manufactured in cheap factories abroad. And that was the end of them.

Phillips, in a very well developed analysis, reveals that what each of these superpowers, by turns, did - and what America itself has done - was to use its national wealth to grow another nation's economy. Where do you find really cheap labour? In agrarian societies, that's where. You take an agrarian society and cheaply transform it into an industrial society only to discover, well after it's too late to change anything, that you've been ousted by the very rival your wealth went into creating. Brilliant.

It's easy to agree with Krugman when he claims America's FIRE economy needs to be suppressed, regulated, cut down to size but it's a lot harder to answer, "okay, then what?" How do you reverse the damage of the three decades that have passed since Reagan ushered in America's "Age of Ruin"?

Is it too late to yell "FIRE"?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Turning Now to The Latest News in Kid-Diddling

We have reports from Santiago, Chile that the priest some Chileans revere as a "living saint," Fernando Karadima, is facing criminal charges. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

...four men who were once devoted followers have filed a criminal complaint alleging that Father Karadima, now 80, sexually abused them in secret for years. One man said he had reported the abuse to Father Karadima's superiors in Santiago seven years ago, but no action was taken.

All four men filed complaints last year with the archdiocesan tribunal and, receiving no response, spoke publicly for the first time this week. But the allegations have been largely met not with anger at Father Karadima but with outrage at the accusers by many of his parishioners, a prominent conservative politician and church officials.

... as the news broke this week, a cardinal confirmed the church had been secretly investigating claims of sexual abuse against the priest.

And, in Belgium, the Bishop of Bruges has resigned after admitting that he abused a young boy several years ago.

''When I was still a simple priest and for a while when I began as a bishop, I sexually abused a young man in my close entourage,'' Roger Vangheluwe said in a letter read out to reporters by a church official yesterday.

When is this church going to face reality and accept that there's something seriously and systemically wrong in the way it operates - that is to say under the doctrine of celibacy? Enough is enough.

Almost Too Much to Hope For - National Post Under New Management?

Stumbled across this at Kinsella's blog. The Toronto Star, reports the G&M, is emerging as the favourite to snap up the CanWest papers, including the utterly awful National Post.

Sources indicate a bid that includes newspaper owner Torstar Corp. is now emerging as a favourite, since it is expected to involve more cash than other offers.

The publisher of the Toronto Star and 97 other Ontario papers is backed by the deep pockets of Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., which owns 19 per cent of Torstar.

Torstar would come aboard as the operator of the CanWest papers, but would limit its exposure by contributing a relatively small amount of its own money, while relying on the financial muscle of Fairfax, the insurance company headed by Prem Watsa.

Among the CanWest assets, Torstar is believed to covet the Financial Post to bolster its flagship paper, the Star.

Lenny Asper is still in the running, seeking to get CanWest back, but apparently his offer is low on cash and high on debt, something the creditor banks may give a pass.

Vancouver Island's Deadly Export

One of the effects of global warming is migration. Animals, even plants migrate - away from the warming. People are just beginning to migrate from homelands where habitability is in decline. And, of course, pests and disease are also migrating.

According to Reuters, Vancouver Island has its own travelling ambassador of climate change, a potentially lethal fungus, cryptococcus gatti.

The airborne fungus ...usually only infects transplant and AIDS patients and people with otherwise compromised immune systems, but the new strain is genetically different, the researchers said.

“This novel fungus is worrisome because it appears to be a threat to otherwise healthy people,” said Edmond Byrnes of Duke University in North Carolina, who led the study.

“The findings presented here document that the outbreak of C. gattii in Western North America is continuing to expand throughout this temperate region,” the researchers said in their
report, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Pathogens.

“From 1999 through 2003, the cases were largely restricted to Vancouver Island,” the report reads.
“Between 2003 and 2006, the outbreak expanded into neighboring mainland British Columbia and then into Washington and Oregon from 2005 to 2009. Based on this historical trajectory of expansion, the outbreak may continue to expand into the neighboring region of Northern California, and possibly further.”

The spore-forming fungus can cause symptoms in people and animals two weeks or more after exposure. They include a cough that lasts for weeks, sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, fever, nighttime sweats and weight loss.

It has also turned up in cats, dogs, an alpaca and a sheep.

Freezing can kill the fungus and climate change may be helping it spread, the researchers said.

Despite the alarming tone of this report, the cryptococcus threat isn't huge - yet. An oceanside provincial park in town, Rathtrevor, was singled out several years ago as some sort of crypto-epicentre and warnings are posted that the fungus can be present on the stands of trees but a lot of us still regularly stroll through the forest trails without incident.

This fungus is far more prevalent on tropical islands in the mid-Pacific, the spots you might pay a king's ransom to visit for a holiday.

Spiralling Out of Control - Our Acidic Oceans

One million tons of carbon dioxide each and every hour. That's the amount of CO2 the world's oceans absorb and it's why, according to the US National Research Council, our oceans are today 30% more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution.

Okay, it's pretty obvious this isn't good but there's much worse in store unless we decarbonize our societies and our economies. James Barry, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California and one of the study's authors warns that, the way we're heading, ocean acidity could increase 200 per cent by the end of this century and far more in the next.

"Acidification is changing the chemistry of the oceans at a scale and magnitude greater than thought to occur on Earth for many millions of years and is expected to cause changes in the growth and survival of a wide variety of marine organisms, potentially leading to massive shifts in ocean ecosystems," Barry told the Senate Commerce Committee's Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee on Thursday.

The effects of growing ocean acid levels might be more pronounced off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Cold water absorbs more carbon dioxide than warm water does. A phenomenon known as "upwelling" off the coast of Washington state and Oregon also brings deep ocean water — which already is more acidic — to the surface, where it's saturated with even more carbon dioxide. According to one study, upwelling of acidified water off the West Coast had reached levels that hadn't been anticipated until 2050.

Read more:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

No Place In My Canada for Sikh Extremists

British Columbia's radical Sikh element has outstayed its welcome in my country. These diabolical dirtbags venerate mass murderers as martyrs and, in my book, that makes them the scum of the earth.

These creatures came to Canada for our freedoms and then betrayed the generosity we extended to them by exploiting Canada as a base for their rank malevolence. Now the Khalsa Klown Korps is threatening violence against Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, using a Facebook site to label him a "traitor" and inciting his assassination.

As far as I'm concerned, any attack on Dosanjh is an attack on Canada, an attack on me. I've been following the perverse antics of these shitbirds for at least two decades and I'm convinced there's no way we can deal with them short of throwing them in prison or showing them the door.

Flicker Vertigo Anyone? 3-D TV Hits a Snag

This didn't take long. 3-D TVs now hitting the market could be harmful. Industry leader Samsung warns you shouldn't watch your fancy 3-D set “if you are in bad physical condition, need sleep or have been drinking alcohol.” (What if you ring "all" the bells?)

Seems the 3-D glasses viewers must wear "shutter" (i.e. flicker) 60 times per second. It seems each lens shutters independently. They're not synchronized. Oopsie!

We've known for decades that strong, flickering light at just the right frequencies can really upset the brain, even cause seizures. A long, long time ago at the Defence & Civilian Institute of Environmental Medicine, a sometimes very unusual facility, there was some development work on weaponizing strobing light. Some believed it could even kill. The problem, as I recall it, was that individuals seemed to be susceptible to differing frequencies. What would cause Johnny to collapse in uncontrollable spasms might have no effect on Billy.

So you might want to put that trip to the electronics store on hold for a while until they get this one sorted out.

Did a Human Torpedo Sink a South Korean Ship?

The Associated Press is reporting that a warning was issued earlier this year that North Korea was planning a suicide submarine attack on a South Korean naval vessel in retaliation for an earlier naval engagement which the north lost.

On Thursday, the mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported the Korea Defense Intelligence Command alerted the navy weeks ahead of the ship sinking that North Korea was preparing underwater suicide teams in mini-submarines to attack the South.

These "human torpedo" squads were said to involve small submarines navigated so close to the target that their torpedoes or explosives blow up both target and the attackers, or are timed to explode while the attackers escape from the vehicle, the report said.

The attack preparations were aimed at retaliating against the South over its defeat in a naval skirmish in November, the paper said. The site of the sinking is near where the rival Koreas fought three times since 1999, most recently a November clash that left one North Korean soldier dead and three others wounded.

We're Number 46!

The 2010 Environmental Performance Index is out and Canada has placed 46th out of 163 countries assessed. The United States came in at 61st. Most of Europe placed in the top 20. The top 4 slots went to Iceland, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Sweden.

Here's how the good folks at Yale describe their index: "The 2010 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks 163 countries on 25 performance indicators tracked across ten policy categories covering both environmental public health and ecosystem vitality. These indicators provide a gauge at a national government scale of how close countries are to established environmental policy goals."

As an indicator of just how well the Harper government is doing on the environment, on the 2006 EPI, Canada was ranked 8th best overall. In 2008 we slipped to 12th. Now we've plummeted to 46th. And don't buy any of that "cold country" nonsense either. Four of the top five spots were claimed by the Nordic states.

Way to go Steve!

Put Up or Shut Up Time for the National Post?

Why won't that rag just crawl away somewhere and die?

The National Spot has a well-deserved reputation for advancing the cause of global warming denialism. It spins faux-skepticism like crazy - and I do mean "crazy." Along the way it's taken some pretty fierce swipes at certain climatologists and now it's facing its day of reckoning for that - in court.

UVic climatologist, Dr. Andrew Weaver has launched a suit against the Spot in the BC Supreme Court. Weaver is suing in defamation. He thinks the Post was over the line when it's asserted, "he's a corrupt scientist who promotes global warming theories so he can obtain government research grants."

It's the old "in it for the grants" hoax line these morons cherish so much and now the National Spot has stepped into "put up or shut up" territory. It's time this issue was put before a court and the denialists forced to defend their vicious lies. These fake journalists have acted outrageously in recent years. What could be better than to show them they can't act with impunity any longer?

Steve, About That Apology Thing

L'il Stevie Harper seems more than eager to apologize for supposed wrongs committed by Canada while under Liberal government but the hypocrisy is glaring.

Supposedly, Governor General Michaelle Jean, was acting on government direction when, in visiting Rwanda, she apologized for Canada's inaction during the 1994 campaign of genocide that claimed 800,000 lives there.

Inaction? To me that suggests a situation where one had some ability to act but simply didn't. The first unasked question - did Canada really have any ability to act in any meaningful way in Rwanda in 1994?

The apology sort of overlooks the fact that Canadian forces were heavily committed to other humanitarian missions in 1994 - Somalia (UNOSOM I & II) , the Balkans (UNPROFOR), Haiti (UNMIH), Iraq (UNSCOM) and a gaggle of smaller committments in such distant hotspots as El Salvador, Western Sahara, Cambodia, Kuwait and others. As for Rwanda itself, Canada was engaged in the United Nations Observer Mission Uganda-Rwanda (UNOMUR) followed by United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). Canada was but one of a handful of countries that were in Rwanda during the genocide.

Yes Belgium apologized and, given its colonial past and the dodgy way it acted leading up to the genocide, it certainly owed an apology. Yes the United States apologized. Given the way it blocked intervention at the UN Security Council, it clearly had some atoning to do. But Canada? No way.

What shows the rank hypocrisy of the Harper/Michaelle Jean apology roadshow are the remarks she made just one day earlier in the Congo. As she trolled her backside through the DRC, she wasn't interested in apologizing for Canada's failure to act during the years of slaughter and butchery there that cost five million lives. Instead she made a silly remark imploring the government to prevent the rape of Congolese women as though that was going to achieve anything.

Of course we couldn't go to the aid of the Congolese because we were tied down as part of George w. Bush's Foreign Legion in Afghanistan. But Steve didn't have to engineer the extension of our committment in Afghanistan first to 2009 and then to 2011. He could've said that we've done enough for Washington and for Kabul and now we're needed more elsewhere to stop this mass carnage in the Congo. You want a failure to act that warrants our apology? There it is.

Maybe GG Jean was only following orders with her hypocritical apology to Rwanda and her convenient slide on the Congo but, then again, she's always been Harper's faithful water carrier, hasn't she?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Your Excellency, If You Really Want to Apologize...

Our soon-to-be-lapsed Governor General is in Rwanda where she got all gushy and apologized for Canada's failure to intervene during the 1994 genocide there. Ms. Jean needs to think straight. You can only fail to intervene if you have the means to intervene and the authority to intervene.

We long ago vested the power to decide when to act militarily to the United Nations Security Council. Call it an "end to Armageddon" thing. Unfortunately both Britain and the United States saw to it that the Security Council did nothing for Rwanda. Clinton later apologized for his country turning its back on Rwanda and he had some real atoning to do.

Canada? Hardly. Just like they have been in Afghanistan for the past eight years, the Canadian military was largely overcommitted back in 1994 in other hellholes that we call the Balkans. Even if we'd been asked to intervene we lacked the means. So maybe Her Excellency should apologize for the United Nations - except she lacks the authority.

But wait, there's more. Ms. Jean just whipped through the Democratic Republic of Congo where she asked the authorities to stop raping the womenfolk. If she had a hankering for apologizing maybe she could have dropped a mea culpa or two there because the West has sat on its hands for a decade while five million Congolese were butchered. Yeah, that's right, 5,000,000 (don't worry, they're mainly zeroes) while we sat in Afghanistan with our fingers up our arses propping up a thug named Hamid Karzai, babysitting their unresolved civil war and keeping Afghanistan safe for the corrupt government, brutal warlords and opium kingpins.

I just cannot stomach that woman much longer. The sooner she's out of Rideau Hall the better.

The Many Minds of Gary Breitkreuz

Thinking must be a real chore for Saskatchewan Reformatory Gary Breitkreuz. Apparently it's a job he subcontracts out to his staff. They just make stuff up, throw quotation marks on it, print it on the MP's stationery and send it out, no matter how offensive or ridiculous, as his very own.

One of Breitkreuz' pack of trained Howler monkeys has taken the fall for the over-the-top presser that labelled the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs as a "cult" and suggested they could be bought. Breitkreuz is apparently such a busy boy that he knew nothing about the press release, didn't even see it before it blew up in his face. It's not his fault that his aides are permitted to simply make shit up and pass it off as a direct quote from a genuine shithead.

Curious. I guess Brietkreuz doesn't even look at his own web page. The announcement is still posted on his site, long after he supposedly apologized.

Her Excellency, Lady Foot In Mouth, Does It Again!

Our erstwhile Governor General has done it again. Governor General Michaelle Jean has apologized to Rwandans for Canada's "inaction" during the 1994 genocide there.

What gives this frivolous idiot reason to believe she has the right to issue apologies on behalf of Canada? Oh that's right, in her curious little mind, she gets herself confused with our Head of State who, the last time I checked, was the Queen.

Just what action did she think Canada would have been capable of taking in Rwanda in 1994? Does she believe it was within our power to send phantom divisions of troops racing over there to separate Hutu from Tutsi? Maybe she thinks Canada held a seat on the Security Council in 1994 (we didn't). Maybe she can't get it through her pointy little head that only the Security Council could have acted and both the United States and Britain blocked the notion.

I sure as hell hope this buffoon doesn't let the front door of Rideau Hall hit her on the ass on her way out. Thinking of just how far she has lowered the bar for Governors General, maybe William Shatner wouldn't be all that bad a pick after all.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

This May Not Be Killing the Whales - But It Doesn't Help Either

Five grey whales have died in local waters recently and no one's quite sure what to make of it. There is concern that malnutrition may have played a role. Then there's water-borne garbage. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that the stomach of a dead grey found in West Seattle last week was discovered to contain "20-plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape and a golf ball."

The Cascadia Research group concluded that the whale had been feeding in "industrial areas." Greys are filter feeders that rummage through sea bed muck in search of shellfish and other creatures.

Vancouver Gives Smokers Another Reason to Quit

The Vancouver Park Board has decreed that, come September 1st, smoking will be banned at the city's 200 parks and beaches.

Pity the poor Vancouver puffer. He/she can't smoke in pubs or restaurants, in workplaces, near building entrances and soon even in the park or at the beach.

Me? I think it's a good move. Having gone through my own tortured odyssey to quit, I'm convinced that quitting is the result of cumulative factors - expense, inconvenience, health, family and even public attitude. Everybody has a number and, when you finally reach it, you quit. Quitting isn't a matter of wanting to quit as much as wanting enough to quit. It's still not easy but it is worthwhile, sufficiently worthwhile to see it through.

Government Infrastructure Crumbling on Harper's Watch

Maybe Steve should've spent some of that stimulus money himself instead of paying for that new deck on the cottage.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser reports that the government - from its aging computer systems to the Parliament buildings - is breaking down. From

Canadians could be denied basic public services such as their annual tax returns and employment insurance cheques unless the federal government updates aging computer systems that are on the verge of "breaking down," warns the auditor general.

The problem is so serious that the RCMP are even warning the public faces an increased risk of "injury or death" because of outdated information technology that police rely upon for their radio systems.

As well, the Parliament Buildings are in such a state of disrepair that the House of Commons and Senate could be forced to shut down or limit their operations, Auditor General Sheila Fraser said in a report tabled Tuesday.

Together, fixing the twin problems of old computer systems and a crumbling Parliament could cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Didn't Steve just pass a Pinata Budget with a multi-billion dollar giveaway package? This is, of course, the same dolt who conveniently defunded the treasury by cutting the GST when we could least afford it. Now that Steve has the government running a mega-deficit he's going to have to come up with billions of new money to keep the lights on and the roof from caving in.

This is what happens when immature ideology supplants reason.

Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

I think it's slowly becoming apparent that academics do not necessarily make good political leaders. Yes they're highly educated and, in their own ways, quite bright and they've read a lot of books and, usually, written a few but they've also picked up some habits and traits that can be drawbacks at the top tier of politics.

Academics don't lead. They direct. They don't amass their power from below - from the rank and file students they teach. They're endowed with their power from the institution and its governors. They're directors, not leaders.

Professors are poor consensus builders. Their tools are course plans and reading lists. They impart knowledge that way but they don't shape their courses to conform to the interests and views of their students.

Academics are poor fighters. They may be quite skilful manipulators but they're not really good at the rough and tumble stuff that seems to lie in the background of most great politicians. Many academics tend to be timid sorts and, when they do show a bit of courage, it often comes across tinged with bitterness or resentment.

Academics tend to be bland and uninspiring. They come from a world that doesn't highly value charisma and fiery rhetoric. I'm sorry Mr. Dion and Mr. Ignatieff but the two of you have been boring, at times even stiffs. It's hard to get people to vote for boring stiffs, even accomplished ones. Ask Bob Stanfield.

In so many ways the political arena must seem positively alien to an academic. It ill suits them and, try as they might, they can't help but exude a scent of unease.

Why is it that, when one looks at really great leaders from the past, they usually come across as colourful people who brought to politics rich, eclectic pasts often marked with an element of adventurism, real adversity, even controversy.

I'm convinced that Canada is in urgent need of that kind of political leadership that's nowhere to be found today in any party. Yes the current party structure makes it harder for any leader to obtain a majority government but surely that simply calls for much better leadership than we have today.

Ashes to... Glass? More, Much More to Come?

BBC News has a couple of excellent clips on its web site that explain why aviation in Europe has been grounded by an ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano and a warning from the president of Iceland that what Europe has seen this week is but a "small rehearsal" for what to expect in the near future

This link lets you see what just a little ash can do to a massive jet engine:

This link takes you to the warning from president Olafur Grimmson:

"Virtual Water" - It Can Mean So Much

To Canadians, water is what flows so freely from our taps. We don't think of water very much until, perhaps, somebody sounds the warning about American designs on Canada's supposed bounty of the stuff or we glance at a utility bill.

Most of the world views water much differently. That's because they're running out of it and are scrambling to come up with new sources of water. Sometimes that means tapping into new sources, sometimes it means the construction of ecologically-devastating desalination plants, sometimes it means privatizing water - letting big corporations control the production and distribution of a region's water resource.

All this pressure has given rise to the term "virtual water." Few countries export water as such but almost every country exports virtual water - the water resource it consumes to grow crops or manufacture products for export.

Britain's Royal Academy of Engineering has released a report that concludes a staggering two-thirds of the water that Britain's 60-million people need comes in the form of virtual water "embedded in imported food, clothes and industrial goods." From The Guardian:

"...when people buy flowers from Kenya, beef from Botswana, or fruit and vegetables from parts of Asia and Latin America, they may be exacerbating droughts and undermining countries' efforts to grow food for themselves.

...One kilogram of beef needs 15,000 litres of water to produce, more than 10 times the amount required to produce the same weight of wheat. A T-shirt requires 2,700 litres.

"We must recognise how the UK's water footprint is impacting on global water scarcity. We should ask whether it is right to import green beans – or even roses – from water-stressed countries like Kenya," said professor Peter Guthrie, chair of the group of engineers who compiled the report. "The burgeoning demand for water from developed countries is putting severe pressure on areas that are already short of water. Our water footprint is critical", he said."

"By 2030 demand for food will increase by 30% and for water by 30%. Potentially we have a global crisis," said Guthrie.

It's useful for us to remember our own water footprint because it exposes not just problems abroad but a key vulnerability in our own society. Canadians consume a terrific amount of agricultural products from Mexico and California, both of them becoming very water stressed. California already stands to see 847,000 acres of incredibly productive farmland in the San Joaquin valley go unplanted this year because of drought, a situation that could easily worsen in the near future.

It would be foolish for Canadians not to expect to feel the impacts of that drought - on our grocery store shelves and in the troubling world of water politics. After all, when we buy Californian or Mexican produce, we're importing their water too. That could cause some tension when we then refuse to export Canadian water to their region. The days of cheap strawberries in January may be numbered.

This is another aspect of the environmental dialogue our government needs to but refuses to have with the Canadian people lest it turns us all green or icky or - unruly. Virtual water - "virtual" government.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Most Sceptical of Professions - Science

A terrific article in today's Guardian on how to distinguish global warming sceptics from denialists.

The first point is that scientists are the true sceptics:

...scientists operate by trying to disprove ideas put up by fellow researchers. Those ideas that survive this critical analysis are then accepted. Newtonian physics, relativity, continental drift and a thousand other theories are only believed today because they have survived such trials by academic fire.

...if the scientist is the true sceptic, then what name do we give to those individuals who dispute the validity of their work and who deny global warming is happening. The latter like to flatter themselves by claiming they are sceptics, but lack the intellectual integrity which goes with the term.

Hence the term denier, which neatly encapsulates their flat refusal to face facts. Some complain that the term has echoes of Holocaust denial. I find such emotional sensitivities hard to stomach, however, given the vitriol that so many deniers pour out in blogs and emails.

...Scientists have uncovered compelling evidence that the world is warming, but cannot say by how much. Rises of between 1C and 6C this century are put forward. This lack of specificity puzzles many people and suggests, to deniers, that scientists are unsure of their facts. Such a claim confuses caution with ignorance. Nor is it an excuse for inaction.

You may be confident that your house will not burn down this year, but you would be considered a fool by many people if you failed to take out insurance. And so it is with climate change. The detailed nature of global warming's impact on the planet is not yet agreed by scientists. It could be dreadful; it could be limited.

The "climategate" campaign waged by the denialists is on the rocks, scuttled by two careful inquiries that found the University of East Anglia scientists' work valid, not the hoax proclaimed by so many profoundly stupid people (Beck, are you listening?).

Hey (Unfortunately) We're Number One

Canadian Press is reporting that Canada beat the rest of NATO two to one in the number of Afghan detainees we turned over to their country's brutal security services in the first nine months of last year.

We handed over 163-Afghans to the torture squads. The Brits came second with a distant 93. The Dutch transferred a mere 10.

Here's the thing. Either our forces are just really, really good at capturing insurgents or, as often claimed, we're a little indiscriminate in just who we're willing to hand over for a quick, Afghan-style "tune up."

The stats were released to CP by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Canada's stellar performance is even an embarrassment to Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security. The NDS has complained that Canadian Forces hand them detainees without sufficient evidence for the prisoners to be prosecuted.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fascinating - Traffic Congestion, San Francisco, 1906

This is said to be the earliest known 35-mm. film, taken from a cable car in San Francisco in 1906. Does anybody have the "right of way" or is this just survival anarchy?

Notice how everybody seems to be so purposeful in their stride? Not much casual strolling. I suspect it's the result of two things - the traffic threat and having to cross streets covered in horse crap. I think that would teach you to take big strides and be careful where you plant your feet.

Unfortunately this blog doesn't show the full video. The right side is cut off. Best to follow this link:

When the Wheels Fall Off Civilization's Bandwagon

The ongoing impacts of a volcanic eruption in Iceland demonstrate the astonishing vulnerability of the civilization we've created for ourselves. The eruption of a single volcano in Iceland (and not a huge one at that) has wreaked havoc across Europe and this could just be the beginning. The last time this particular volcano blew, it erupted for a year.

Throughout much of Europe, airports remain closed days after the eruption. The Guardian reports some 17,000 flights were cancelled yesterday alone. The backlog of stranded travellers is becoming serious. Many of these are holidayers or people off to visit relatives but there's also a disruption of business travel and air freight.

The disaster is estimated to be costing airlines $200 million a day, but the economic damage will roll through to farms, retail establishments and nearly any other business that depends on air cargo shipments. Fresh produce will spoil, and supermarkets in Europe, used to year-round supplies, will begin to run out.

But unless flights are disrupted for weeks, threatening factories’ supply chains, economists do not think the crisis will significantly affect gross domestic product.

If it really drags on another week that could be really serious,” said Peter Westaway, chief economist for Europe at the Nomura investment bank. The air travel shutdown could affect productivity, he said, if hundreds of thousands of people miss work or are not able to do business because they are stuck in limbo somewhere.

He would know. He was speaking by cellphone from Tokyo where he was watching British soccer on a barroom TV at 3 a.m. and waiting for news of when he might be able to get back to his office in London

We don’t understand how interconnected we are until you can’t do it anymore,” he said.

The shutdown has also affected American military operations. Military supplies for operations in Afghanistan have been disrupted, and a spokeswoman for the Pentagon said that all medical evacuation flights from Iraq and Afghanistan to Germany, where most injured soldiers are typically treated, were being diverted directly to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

There are invaluable lessons to be learned from what is going on in Europe today. One of them is that our civilization is not nearly as robust as we imagine. It is, in fact, quite fragile yet, despite the myriad of challenges we'll be facing this century, no one is in charge, we have no Plan "B". While our leaders natter on endlessly about trivialities, seeking to score points, nobody is leading.

Stephen Harper isn't a leader. He's an automaton, the closest thing yet to a breathing robot. In the fashion of the day, Harper treats Canada's challenges like they were a greasy diner menu and he wasn't particularly hungry. He picks at his plate, moves his food around with his fork, and declares himself finished.

Canadian society is facing great environmental, social and economic upheaval and this will probably land on your doorstep with a definite thud within a decade, two at the outside. When it does, you're going to wonder why nobody was doing anything about it years earlier. Why was nobody talking about it, why was nobody talking to us about these challenges? Why indeed.

How many of us know that Canada has a looming freshwater crisis? Yeah, that's right, Canada. And how many of us know that several governments, Conservative and Liberal, have been warned about this by their own environment ministry and simply ignored their warnings. Do you realize that we don't even have an inventory of our remaining groundwater reserves even though about 30% of us are fully dependent on groundwater.

Here are a few insights taken from Maude Barlow's excellent book "Blue Covenant":

...a Statistics Canada study called Human Activity and the Environment warned that the country's major glaciers,which hold 50% more water than the Great Lakes, are melting. Some 1,300 glaciers have lost between 25% and 75% of their mass since 1950 and all are predicted to disappear.

Important regional rivers, such as the Saskatchewan River, depend entirely on these glaciers for renewal. The British science journal 'Nature' notes that western cities such as Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon are at risk of losing the rivers upon which they are built in the next generation or two.

...the fastest-growing source of water loss and contamination in the country is coming from the mining operations in the tar sands of Northern Alberta. ...It takes between 2 and 4.5 barrels of water to produce a barrel of [Tar Sand] oil, says the Pembina Institute, and very little of that water is returned to the river. Most of it is dumped into some of the world's largest man-made dikes [visible to the naked eye from space] containing toxic waste and is lost to the lydrologic cycle forever. Fifty square kilometers of these toxic tailing ponds now cover what used to be wetland and boreal forest. [University of Alberta expert, Dr. David] Schindler says that this operation threatens the water security of two northern territories, three hundred thousand aboriginal people and Canada's largest watershed, the Mackenzie River Basin.

...A leaked 2005 Environment Canada assessment of the state of Canada's water for then environment minister Stephane Dion was a scathing indictment of the government's water policies. "Clean, Safe and Secure Water: The Need for Federal Leadership", meant only for the minister's eyes, said that a water crisis in Canada was looming, but that no one is in charge...

"No one is in charge." Precisely. Yet despite the ecological devastation wreaked by the Tar Sands (leave greenhouse gases aside), the Conservative and Liberal parties are led by Tar Sands boosters. That is nothing short of astonishing and an indictment of both supposed leaders. It's one reason why I believe that Canada will be ill-served with either of them as prime minister. We're running out of time. Canada and the Canadian people cannot afford their sort of leadership any longer.

Serious as Canada's freshwater problems are, they are vastly worse and rapidly worsening in most other parts of the world. We need to realize that, without adequate, secure freshwater there is no global economy. Without adequate, safe and secure freshwater, there is no global security. We are so utterly dependent - not just for our prosperity but for our very survival - on a fragile resource we have blithely taken for granted and abusively exploited at every turn.

Barlow asserts that the global freshwater crisis is every bit as serious as the global warming problem but much more immediate. India and China are particularly threatened just as they step up to become economic superpowers. It's going to take real genius and some very costly goodwill just to shave the sharp edges off what's coming. Unfortunately, "no one is in charge."

When it comes to knocking the wheels off our own civilization's bandwagon, we don' need no steenking volcano.

Friday, April 16, 2010

India - A Country In Trouble

Here's a clear sign of India's troubles. Half the population have cell phones. Less than a third have access to a proper toilet.

In a nation with a growing population already exceeding 1.2-billion people, that's 800-million without "access" to proper sanitation. From AFP:

"..It is a tragic irony to think in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones," so many people "cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet," said UN University director Zafar Adeel.

...Proper sanitation "could do more to save lives, especially those of young people, improve health and help pull India and other countries in similar circumstances out of poverty than any alternative investment," Adeel said.

Poor sanitation is a major contributor to water-borne diseases, which in the past three years alone killed an estimated 4.5 million children under the age of five worldwide, according to the study.

Global Warming - Where's the Heat Going?

In a stable climate period, the amount of heat coming from the sun and elsewhere equals the amount of heat given off by the Earth. Balance, stasis.

Global warming is the result of heat coming to Earth and being trapped by greenhouse gases instead of given off by the Earth. How much heat? According to Reuters, the trapped heat is roughly 37 times the, "...heat energy produced by all human activities, from driving cars and running power plants to burning wood."

What has researchers from America's National Center for Atmospheric Research perplexed is where all that extra heat has gone.

Half of that gap is unaccounted for... It hasn't left the climate system but it hasn't been detected with satellites, ocean sensors or other technology. The rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere means far more energy is coming into Earth's climate system than is going out, but half of that energy is missing and could eventually reappear as another sign of climate change.
...It might lurk in deep ocean waters in areas sensors don't reach. Some of it could be the result of imprecise measurement or processing of satellite or sensor data. But the greenhouse-caused heat gap is definitely there, the authors said.

"The heat will come back to haunt us sooner or later," Trenberth said. "It is critical to track the build-up of energy in our climate system so we can understand what is happening and predict our future climate."

Brilliant. All that heat and no idea where it's gone.