Monday, May 31, 2010

Louise Arbour Slams Israeli Flotilla Attack - Iggy, Can You Hear Her?

The President of the International Crisis Group, Canada's own Louise Arbour, isn't pulling any punches in responding to Israel's assault on a flotilla bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza.

For years, many in the international community have been complicit in a policy that aimed at isolating Gaza in the hope of weakening Hamas. This policy is morally appalling and politically self-defeating. It has harmed the people of Gaza without loosening Hamas's control. Yet it has persisted regardless of evident failure.

The flotilla assault is but a symptom of an approach that has been implicitly endorsed by many”, says Robert Malley, Director of Crisis Group’s Middle East Program. “It is yet another stark illustration of the belated need for a comprehensive change in policy toward Gaza.”

International condemnation and calls for an inquiry will come easily, but many who will issue them must acknowledge their own role in the deplorable treatment of Gaza that formed the backdrop to today’s events. [Iggy, I think that includes you] The policy of isolating Gaza, seeking to turn its population against Hamas, and endorsing a "West Bank first" approach was not an exclusively Israeli one. To focus on this recent tragedy alone is to miss the much wider and more important political lessons.

...“Today, we have witnessed the sad outgrowth of a failed and dangerous policy”, says Louise Arbour, Crisis Group President. “One hopes it can provide an opportunity for a long-overdue course correction.”

Meanwhile, the silence from Ignatieff is deafening. He did issue a cold fish statement regretting the loss of life and asking for Israeli clarification but that's it. Then again he might realize that, when it comes to Gaza, he stands right up there with the "morally appalling" who've been complicit in "the deplorable treatment of Gaza that formed the backdrop to today's events." In any event, progressive and centrist Liberals shouldn't need the International Crisis Group or Louise Arbour to recognize that their party leader's unbalanced and absolutionist, pro-Israel policy on Gaza is morally appalling.

Is Harper Leaving BC Exposed to its own Deepwater Horizon Debacle?

An alarming report from The Tyee's Mitchell Anderson claims that the Harper Cons have introduced policies to undercut BC's Oil Spill Prevention Panel, aka the Pacific Regional Advisory Council on Oil Spill Response, while, at the same time, the Tories secretly rewrite the safety regs.

" the time television pictures of an oil-slicked Gulf of Mexico reached British Columbians, the very advisory board mandated to watchdog marine oil safety and communicate with the public had seen many of its veteran experts dismissed, and its resources and responsibilities clipped.

Late last year, Transport Canada unexpectedly replaced five of the seven members, and required incoming members to sign a "Letter of Expectation" that limited their meetings to only two per year "unless pre-approved by the Regional Transport Canada Office."

In previous years, the group met numerous times annually and reportedly had difficulty keeping up with their growing workload.

This leash-shortening, sources say, wasn't the only action by the Harper government that many of the past and present Pacific RAC members found troubling.

The members also wondered why, given their mandate and expertise, they had been denied access to drafts of changes to marine oil safety regulations they've known are in the works in Ottawa.

And this volunteer panel of experts were flummoxed when denied even a modest travel budget to engage communities about increased tanker traffic on the B.C. coast.

In effect, Harper has not only gagged but bound and gagged British Columbia's Oil Spill Prevention Panel just as the Liberal-In-Name-Only government of Greasy Gord Campbell has thrown its support behind offshore oil drilling as well as development of a potentially dangerous tanker port to carry filthy Athabasca Tar Sands oil to Asia.

Pacific RAC veteran Stafford Reid had this to say:

"Here you've got this talented group who's using up their professional time and passionate about protecting the coast and making sure that it's win-win for industry as well as the environment. Yet you've got only two meetings a year and no budget?"

"It [the RAC] appears to be a burr in the saddle for Transport Canada," said Reid, who believes that Ottawa made the move in reaction to the committee becoming more insistent on engaging the public as per their mandate. "It's quite clear that they're not going to give it a budget, they're not going to allow you to have more meetings, and they didn't want to hear anybody howling so they got rid of most of the members."

The long and the short of it is the sooner we turf these provincial conservatives in Liberal clothing and the sooner we put an end to Harper's Tar Sands wet dreams the sooner we on coastal British Columbia can breath easier.

Hey Iggy, there's an issue you can jump in on. Oh wait, sorry, I forgot you're as much of a Tar Sander as Harper. That's okay, we'll just add you to the list with Campbell and Harper.

Read the complete story here.

Black Blasts Harpo's Prison Fetish

Say what you will about Conrad Black, the man does know a thing or three about prisons. In Saturday's National Spot, Black eviscerates Harper's prison expansion plans:

This Roadmap--which was released in 2007, and which the Harper government began officially responding to in its budget in 2008, setting out a five-year plan -- turns the humane traditions of Canada upside down. It implicitly assumes that all who are convicted are guilty and have no remaining claim to decency from the state, and that treating confinees accordingly is in the interest of the legally unexceptionable majority.

The Roadmap does not mention prisoners' rights, beyond basic food, shelter, clothing and medical care, and assumes that they are probably not recoverable for society and that the longer they are imprisoned, the better it is for society. Almost no distinction is made between violent and non-violent offenders.
Of course, great caution must be shown in the reintegration into society of violent criminals. But the objective of the penal system must be to return those capable of functioning licitly in society as quickly as practical, allowing also for straight punitive or retributive penalties, but not for mindless vengeance. The whole system must be guided by the fact that the treatment of the accused and confined has been recognized by ethicists and cultural historians for centuries as one of the hallmarks of civilized society.

The Roadmap holds that anything beyond the necessities for physical survival must be "earned." Traditionally, the punishment is supposed to be the imprisonment itself, not the additional oppressions of that regime, and the proverbial debt to society is paid when the sentence has been served; it does not continue as a permanent Sisyphean burden. In the interests of eliminating illegal drugs in prison, the authors of the Roadmap want all visits to be glass-segregated, no physical contact. This is just a pretext to assist in the destruction of families and friendships.

...The Roadmap is the self-serving work of reactionary, authoritarian palookas, what we might have expected 40 years ago from a committee of southern U.S. police chiefs. It is counter-intuitive and contra-historical: The crime rate has been declining for years, and there is no evidence cited to support any of the repression that is requested. It appears to defy a number of Supreme Court decisions, and is an affront, at least to the spirit of the Charter of Rights.

Read more:

Mulroney Excuse "Patently Absurd"

The Oliphant report into Mulroney/Schreiber contains a few scathing findings about the former prime minister and his credibility. From the G&M:

The conduct exhibited by Mr. Mulroney in accepting cash-stuffed envelopes from Mr. Schreiber on three separate occasions, failing to record the fact of the cash payments, failing to deposit the cash into a bank or other financial institution, and failing to disclose the fact of the cash payments when given the opportunity to do so goes a long way, in my view, to supporting my position that the financial dealings between Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Mulroney were inappropriate,” Mr. Oliphant said.

“I found that the business and financial dealings between Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Mulroney were inappropriate. I also found thatMr. Mulroney’s failure to disclose those business and financial dealings was inappropriate. Simply put, Mr. Mulroney, in his business and financial dealings with Mr. Schreiber,failed to live up to the standard of conduct that he had himself adopted in the 1985 Ethics Code.”
He included tough words in his report about the conduct of Mr. Mulroney, the prime minister of Canada from 1984 to 1993, during an examination as part of his lawsuit against the government of Canada. Mr. Mulroney has justified his answers at the time, in which he failed to disclose his dealings with Mr. Schreiber, by saying that the question was not asked
For Mr. Mulroney to attempt to justify his failure to make disclosure in those circumstances by asserting that (federal lawyer Claude) Sheppard did not ask the correct question is, in my view, patently absurd.,” Mr. Oliphant said.

Unfortunately Harper ran effective interference for Mulroney, forbidding Oliphant from looking into the Airbus Affair, which pretty much takes Lyin' Brian off the hook forever. That is... unless Schreiber has a bombshell or two left to deliver from his German prison cell. Still and all, Oliphant reveals Mulroney as a devious, unethical, flat out lying bastard.

There's Another Leak, Much Bigger, 5 to 6 Miles Away

State of the Planet Report, 2010

The latest NRDI is out. The National Disaster Risk Index 2010 depicted in the map above is, of all things, a business tool. No, it's not the ranting of some global warming conspiracist. Its stated purpose is to, "enable businesses and investors to identify risks to international assets." In case you haven't figured it out, the darker the green, the greater the risks.
The NRDI is a product of Maplecroft, an industrial risk management company.
"There are 15 countries rated as "extreme risk" in the ranking, including N11 members Bangladesh (1), Indonesia (2) and Iran (3), with Asian heavyweights, India (11) and China (12) also in the highest risk category. These are the same countries that are projected to set leading growth trends amongst emerging economies. According to IMF estimates Bangladesh grew 5.49% in 2009, Indonesia 4.54% and Iran 1.82%, whilst China grew 8.73% and India 5.66%. These countries also form important links in the supply chains of many companies.
...Poverty is an important factor in countries where both the frequency and impacts of natural disasters are severe," said Maplecroft Environmental Analyst, Dr Anna Moss. "Poor infrastructure, plus dense overcrowding in high risk areas like flood plains, river banks, steep slopes and reclaimed land continually result in high casualty figures."
..."Due to climate change, extreme hydro-meteorological events are predicted to increase," continued Dr Moss. "Business risks include damage to assets; interruptions to operations from the breakdown of infrastructure like transport and power networks; plus there can be devastating impacts on local workforces. This makes it essential that businesses plan for the possibility of a disruptive natural disaster."

According to Maplecroft's results, it is not just developing nations that organisations need to have contingency plans for, as three G8 member states are rated as "high risk." France (17) and Italy (18) are the most vulnerable countries in Europe; mainly because of the heat waves in 2003 and 2006 where over 40,000 people died, whilst the U.S. (37) is highly susceptible to hurricanes and storms, which have claimed 8,400 lives over 30 years. Japan (41), Germany (50), Russia (54) and Canada (107) are all rated "medium risk," whereas the UK (111) is considered "low risk."
Meanwhile, it appears the 2010 hurricane and tropical storm season is off to an early start. Reuters is reporting that Tropical Storm Agatha has brought deluges to Central America that triggered mudslides killing at least 96 people.

There's a Hole In the Bottom of the Sea

Americans believe. They're a nation of believers. The late Pierre Berton said their passionate "need to believe" was, more than anything else, what distinguished Americans from Canadians.

Being gripped by belief has served the American people, by turns, both very well and very poorly. It has formed the foundation for a highly confident, dynamic nation that - albeit briefly - ascended to unipolar global supremacy. For a while that seemed not just to confirm but to conclusively prove the reality of American exceptionalism. It manifested itself in neo-conservatism expressed by the likes of The Project for the New American Century and given life in the Bush Doctrine.

There is an often blurry line between confidence and arrogance. Crossing that line usually carries unwelcome consequences. Arrogance begets hubris, the "pride that blinds", a cup from which Americans took deep draughts ever since the arrival of Reagan's Age of Ruin and, particularly, over this past decade. It has left America unbalanced and bloated - bloated with debt.

This crippling debt was understood by the Project for the New American Century. The Neo-Cons realized that American governments, corporations and the American people had mortgaged their global supremacy to foreign lenders and therefore advocated the use of American military superiority to bolster their country's dominance, militarily and economically. This madness was formally adopted in the Bush Doctrine. "It's ours and if you dare rival us, we'll bomb you into submission." Bush's supporters believed this was their nation's due. They believed America's destiny and rightful place was to rule, or at least "guide" on advantageous terms, the rest of the world - in perpetuity. The world would be led forever by the United States of America. It was state gangsterism, the act of a rogue state. America proclaimed itself beyond the laws of nations that America itself had prescribed, an outlaw state.

There were some who supported the conquest of Iraq as fulfillment of this American superiority doctrine. One neo-con (whose name unfortunately escapes me) opined that America chose Iraq as an opportunity to throw a small nation against a wall as a lesson to other states of the consequences of defiance.

Ever wonder what the world would look like today if America had pulled off stunning victories in Iraq and Afghanistan? Wrap your mind around that for a while. In your mind, rewrite the history of the past decade. Who would have been next? Where would the madness have ended and at what cost?

The madness of America's quest for global domination was mirrored by a deep madness at home. The American people lost their grip on reality. What other people could believe that a debt-ridden government running massive deficits could simultaneously wage two wars and cut taxes for the very rich without leading the country to ruin? What other people could believe that achieving wealth was simply a matter of getting title to a home or two or three, four maybe? Perhaps a nation in which an immensely powerful vice president was able to assure his president that "Reagan showed that deficits don't matter" as justifying additional tax cuts for the rich? What other people could believe that the solution to financial distress was to refinance, or "re-fi", their homes? Where were the Tea Partiers when this madness was bringing ruin to their nation? Why was it only after the hens came home to roost that they rebelled? Madness, that's why and a firm belief in truly magical thinking.

To a people in thrall to utter delusion, what must it mean that all the King's horses and all the King's men cannot save them from a mere hole in the bottom of the sea? It must be driving them mad. A little hole in the bottom of the sea that imperils the American south from Texas to Florida and possibly the Atlantic states to boot. Is it any wonder they blame Obama when the path to this disaster leads directly back to the days when neo-conservative Oil Men occupied the White House?

Unless he fights back and fights hard, Obama may wind up wearing the Deepwater Horizon fiasco, because, to a lot of voters, he hasn't kissed their boo-boo nor has he conjured up the shiny thing to distract them as his predecessors so routinely did. What must it feel like to this horde to see their country exposed as impotent by a mere hole in the bottom of the sea?

Climate Change Hammers South Asia

Citizens driven to take shelter in the subways. Electricity blackouts, severe water shortages, gasoline pumps run dry, civilians dying in the streets, others flooding hospitals. Rocketing price increases for basic food stocks.

Sounds like a nation under attack. It is. It's India and its attacker is climate change. Indians are beset by an intense heatwave that's been going on for weeks. This is the hottest summer India has had since records were first kept.

The country now awaits rescue in the form of the annual monsoon rains which it is hoped will arrive today. From The Guardian:

"The capital has sweltered under intense heat for weeks though, having endured temperatures of around 45C last week, dust storms and scattered rain brought some relief over the weekend. The new air-conditioned metro has seen record numbers of passengers as travellers abandon buses, taxis and auto rickshaws.

"Parts of the city have suffered prolonged electricity blackouts and, in outlying suburbs, water shortages. In upmarket Mehrauli village, residents were forced to buy from private suppliers plying door to door with tankers. In the new town of Gurgaon, entire apartment blocks have run short. In the city of Nagpur, Maharashtra, petrol pumps ran dry after railway wagons which normally carry fuel were switched to supply water.

"The Indian Meterological Department attributes the record heat to lack of atmospheric humidity, hot dry winds blowing across the south-western Thar desert and the effects of last year's El Nino cycle."

Even mountainous Nepal is beset by drought this year. The UN's World Food Programme reports that upwards of two million Nepalese now face a high risk of food shortages.

"The 2008/2009 winter drought - one of the worst in the country’s history - has destroyed crops across Nepal, with wheat and barley production reduced by 14 and 17 percent respectively. Crop yields in some districts in Mid- and Far-Western Nepal – which received less than 50 percent of average rainfall during the period from November 2008 to February 2009 - have dropped by more than half.

"The report – which was produced by MOAC, WFP and the FAO – estimates that 40 of the 75 districts are food deficit because of the drought and also expresses serious concerns about the nutrition situation across Nepal. Half of children under the age of five in these districts are stunted, while 39 percent of children are underweight and 13 percent are severely malnourished."

Here, on Canada's "wet" coast, we gripe about enduring a wet and cold spring. When you look at what's going on around the rest of the planet, cool and wet doesn't seem all that bad.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Spurn Baby, Spurn

There may be a silver lining to the Deepwater Horizon debacle.

In the runup to the 2010 Congressional mid-term elections, Democratic support has been flagging. Big Oil just might give the Dems the opportunity to revive their fortunes.

The latest Gallup poll shows Republicans remain unmoved by the Gulf of Mexico fiasco and continue to solidly support domestic energy development over environmental protection by better than two to one. Democrats, by contrast, have gone from 58 to 73% pro-environment and, even more importantly, independents have gone from being slightly pro-energy to solidly pro-environment since the Deepwater Horizon fiasco.

How hard is it going to be for Obama and Congressional Dems to remind American voters that the oil men ran the White House from 2000 to 2008, that none other than Big Oil's patron saint, Dick Cheney, manipulated their nation's energy policy during those critical years? Bang that drum, over and over - Cheney, Big Oil, Deepwater Horizon; Cheney, Big Oil, Deepwater Horizon; Cheney, Big Oil, Deepwater Horizon. Burn it into the voting public's mind so that it remains front and centre when they go to the polls this fall.

In the meantime the Dems should get busy amending their energy legislation to produce an ambitious, alternative energy bill to force the Republicans' hand well prior to the mid-terms. Build a confrontation that will keep Democratic supporters motivated and independent turnout safely on the Democrat's side.

The Straw That Broke Big Oil's Back?

It may be too much to hope for but a new Gallup poll claims Americans' priorities are shifting to environmental protection from energy security.

In March, a Gallup poll found Americans favouring the development of US energy supplies over environmental protection by a 50-43% margin. The latest poll shows environmental protection has trumped domestic energy production by 55-39%. What's particularly interesting is that Republican numbers remained unchanged with energy production favoured over environmental protection two to one in March and again in May. The big change came from Democrats who from 58/35% pro-environment to 73/23% pro-environment and independents who went from 51/43% pro-energy in March to to 58/34% pro-environment in May.

With the Republican base stuck on pro-energy and the Democratic base energized on pro-environment along with the independent sector shifting to pro-environment, this could be an enormous opportunity for the Dems in the mid-terms.

The question asked respondents which they favoured, environmental protection even at the risk of limiting US production of oil, gas and coal or development of US energy supplies even if the environment suffers to some extent.

Is "drill baby, drill" dead and gone? Probably not, at least not yet. It is hard to imagine the trend reversing so long as the Deepwater Horizon disaster and its prolonged environmental fallout remain the dominant story on America's airwaves. Once it recedes from the public's consciousness, however, that's anybody's guess. This could be a tipping point or it could just be a bout of indigestion for the fossil fuelers and you can assume that Big Oil and Big Coal are gearing up their publicity/manipulation machines to fight back. With hundreds of billions of dollars potentially at risk and a "bought and paid for" Congress, it's inconceivable they'll go down without a fight.

In any case it's an issue that seems custom made for the 2010 mid-term Congressional elections, one that might just break along party lines. Could this be America's first election fought on environmentalism?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Senor Harper, Stop Bullshitting Us.

Visiting Mexican president Felipe Calderon has a pretty blunt message for Stephen Harper - stop dragging your knuckles on global warming. Calderon told his host that Mexico and much of the rest of the world can't accept the rich nations' indifference to climate change.

“In Mexico, we cannot wait. We cannot wait for the developed countries to make a decision,” the Mexican President said at a joint press conference with Mr. Harper. “Some of them, like the U.S., could take another eternity to decide on what they had decided since the Kyoto Protocol.”

“We know that the quality of life, and the future, is at risk. And I mean the future of a great deal of humanity.”

Harper dodged Calderon's complaints, noting Canada's non-existent progress on implementing carbon capture and sequestration technologies for the Athabasca Tar Sands. Harper's typically lame and disingenuous excuses rank up there with "the dog ate my homework." Gee, I wonder if Steve's momma trained him to be such an inveterate liar or if he mastered the art all on his own?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Let's Hope BP Isn't Out of Ideas

If the "Top Kill" procedure was supposed to staunch the oil gorging out of the seabed, it doesn't appear to be working. BP's live video feed shows what appears to be a mixture of substances still erupting. If anything, it appears to have worsened. The stuff appears to be pouring out through three or four large ruptures in the apparatus. See it for yourself here. You be the judge.

There are reports that BP is now going to attempt the "junk shot" - an attempt to plug the leaks by packing the pipe with debris including rubber straps and perhaps golf balls.

And You Think Drilling Rig Regulations are Too Lax!

Brace yourself. The really scary stuff is happening in loosely regulated biotechnology labs. From the New York Times:

...The casualties include an Agriculture Department scientist who spent a month in a coma after being infected by the E. coli bacteria her colleagues were experimenting with.
Another scientist, working in a New Zealand lab while on leave from an American biotechnology company, lost both legs and an arm
after being infected by meningococcal bacteria, the subject of her vaccine research.

Last September, a
University of Chicago scientist died after apparently being infected by the focus of his research: the bacterium that causes plague.

Whether handling deadly pathogens for biowarfare research, harnessing viruses to do humankind’s bidding or genetically transforming cells to give them powers not found in nature, the estimated 232,000 employees in the nation’s most sophisticated biotechnology labs work amid imponderable hazards. And some critics say the modern biolab often has fewer federal safety regulations than a typical blue-collar factory.

...three trends are stoking concern among safety advocates. In the wake of the 2001 anthrax attacks, the federal government stepped up research involving biowarfare threats, like anthrax, Ebola and many other of the world’s deadliest pathogens. Another factor is that the new techniques of so-called synthetic biology allow scientists to make wholesale genetic changes in organisms rather than just changing one or two genes, potentially creating new hazards. Just this month, the genome pioneer J. Craig Venter announced the creation of a bacterial cell containing totally synthetic DNA, which Dr. Venter described as the first species “whose parent is a computer.”

The third trend involves the shifting focus of the
pharmaceuticals industry — potentially the largest source of new biotechnology jobs. Drug makers, responding to competition from cheap generic medications, are moving beyond the traditional business of making pills in chemical factories to focus instead on vaccines and biologic drugs that are made in vats of living cells.

Obama Shuts Down All Gulf Rigs

There are 33-deep water oil rigs under US jurisdiction in the Gulf of Mexico and president Obama has just shut them all down. Operations are over, suspended, for six months or until a presidential commission into the Deepwater Horizon disaster has completed its work.

America's Petro-Porn Queen, old "Drill Baby, Drill" herself, hasn't responded just yet but it shouldn't be a long wait.

Look At It This Way - A Billion Dollars is...

I was wondering how to visualize a billion dollars, nearly the amount Harper is planning to spend on three days of summit meetings in Toronto. Look what I found at

A billion dollars is:

Now ask yourself this. How can three days of diplomatic chin wagging in Toronto exceed what it cost the Americans in 2007 to wage two active wars for two days fighting Baathists, al Qaeda and the Taliban? We're talking tanks and bombers and artillery and hundreds of thousands of troops and contractors, all running around and blowing up shit. I mean, really, how?

BP Goes Judge Shopping

It's not unknown for some litigants to go "judge shopping" - trying to get their cases heard before a judge known to have, shall we say "helpful" leanings. Usually it's something they try to keep quiet. Not British Petroleum. They're judge shopping and they know just who they want - US District Judge Lynn Hughes.

With more than a hundred suits already brought against BP arising out of the Deepwater Horizon spill, BP has asked that all pre-trial motions in all suits be heard by Judge Hughes. McClatchey Newspapers explains why that might be:

That judge, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, has traveled the world giving lectures on ethics for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, a professional association and research group that works with BP and other oil companies. The organization pays his travel expenses.
Hughes has also collected royalties from several energy companies, including ConocoPhillips and Devon Energy, from investments in mineral rights, his financial disclosure forms show.

Hughes, appointed to the bench in 1985 by then-President Ronald Reagan, declined to comment for this report.

Legal experts say the request for a single judge, while not unprecedented, is unusual, and they surmise BP is seeking rulings from a judge well-versed in the company's issues.

Edward Sherman, a law professor at Tulane University in New Orleans who has closely followed the BP legal maneuvers, said BP probably studied Hughes' past rulings and his caseload before suggesting he take the cases.

"Probably studied Hughes' past rulings"? Gee, I guess that's possible. Sure, BP's lawyers probably studied Hughes decisions just like the sun will probably come up again tomorrow morning.

Read more:

Obama Gets It. Will Premier Campbell?

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill fallout is reverberating throughout Washington. It has even driven president Obama to suspend exploratory oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean offshore of Alaska.

The move will stop Shell from drilling five wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off northern Alaska weeks before it had hoped to start work, an administration official told McClatchy Newspapers.

The move will stop for now a controversial expansion of oil drilling in a part of the world that could hold vast stores of oil and natural gas, but which environmentalists warn would come at great risk

"He is suspending proposed exploratory drilling in the Arctic," an administration official said on condition of anonymity to talk before [Interior Secretary] Salazar's report is officially released Thursday. "He will not consider applications for permits to drill in the Arctic until 2011 because of the need for further information-gathering, evaluation of proposed drilling technology, and evaluation of oil-spill response capabilities for Arctic waters."

Read more:

Now if only BC Premier Gordo Campbell would step back and re-examine offshore oil and gas exploration along the seismically active BC coast. When the government keeps warning us this mega-earthquake could hit any day, will probably hit some time in the coming century, this might not be the era for offshore oil wells in British Columbia waters.

Troops Not Militarizing Mexico Border. Really?

The US ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, says the 1,200 National Guard troops president Obama has ordered to bolster security along the US-Mexico border is not a militarization of the frontier. From Reuters:

"This isn't a militarization of the border. In fact the overall share of the military is still relatively small," Pascual told correspondents at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City. He said with the 300 National Guard troops already stationed at the border, the total number would not surpass 1,500.

"I think it is important that we continue to reinforce in our strategy that we are putting civilian law enforcement agencies out front and that they have the lead," he said.

The troops, rather than carrying out operations to dismantle drug cartels or human smuggling rings, will be working in back offices helping intelligence officials process information, or be posted as lookouts between ports of entry.

Border experts and human rights workers say the border is already militarized with parallel steel fences backed up by sensors and patrolled by helicopters and armed border agents."

I suppose the argument can be made today that 1,200 Guardsmen does not a militarized border make. However there are a lot of people, including some senior folks in the Pentagon, who can easily foresee the day when the military presence grows vastly bigger as America is compelled to rely on force to thwart climage migration out of Central America.

Makes the Sponsorship Scandal Look Like Chump Change

Sorry, Libs, to open up old wounds but when I was trying to choke down the billion dollar plus bill for Harper's Toronto summits, I started thinking about this mega-boondoggle in the context of the tens of millions of dollars misappropriated in the "sponsorship scandal."

Hmm... a billion. That's like a THOUSAND million, isn't it? Just who does Steve think is out to get him? Me? Probably not. You? I can't be quite so sure.

Come to think of it, I'm sure the Toronto summits would be even safer if they anchored their security out here on mid-Vancouver Island. That way they could button down Canada from coast to coast for those three critical days. I am available Steve and all I want is just one of those millions.

Saddam's Gay Sex Tape?

Figured that'd get your attention. Some at the CIA were even counting on that. The Guardian reports that the CIA entertained the idea of staging a gay sex tape involving a Saddam impersonator and a teenage boy but top officials never gave the final go ahead: a scenario more the preserve of careless Hollywood starlets such as Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, the CIA appears to have plotted to undermine Saddam Hussein with a gay sex tape.

According to the Washington Post's security blog, some of America's spooks believed that shooting a fake video of Saddam cavorting with a teenage boy might destabilise his regime in the runup to the US-led invasion in 2003. "It would look like it was taken by a hidden camera. Very grainy, like it was a secret videotaping of a sex session," the Washington Post quoted one former CIA official as saying.

Nor was the Saddam sex tape the only idea floating around the more bizarre corners of the CIA's
Iraq Operations Group. Other ploys involved interrupting Iraqi television with a false newsflash that would announce Saddam was handing over power to his hated and feared son Uday. The presumed idea was to shock the Iraqi people into rising up against their leaders and thus make the invasion a lot easier.

Perhaps thankfully, the tape and fake news broadcast were never made and the Post reported that top CIA brass repeatedly rejected the ideas.

But that did not stop a CIA video being shot of a fake Osama bin Laden sitting around a camp fire, drinking booze and boasting of his own gay conquests.

The video apparently used some of the CIA's "darker skinned" employees as extras playing the terror chief's henchmen. It does not seem to have been released.

Hey, wait a second! How about a Steve Harper gay sex tape? Anybody got the number for those CIA guys?

BP Has Stopped the Spill?

According to the LA Times, British Petroleum's "top kill" gambit has succeeded in staunching the Deepwater Horizon seabed oil leak.

"U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the paper said that the “top kill” procedure has blocked oil and gas from the well. Once the pressure has fallen to zero, engineers will pump cement into the hole to “entomb” the well."

Keep your fingers crossed. I'll bet that's what they're doing at BP's head office right about now.

Update - Just checked out BP's live video link. It's down.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rolling the Dice in the Gulf of Mexico

Game's On. British Petroleum has decided to gamble with a "top kill" procedure to stem the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The risky procedure was started shortly after noon today. The idea is to pump masses of heavy liquids into the ruptured pipe in hope that will be enough to seal it off which would then allow BP to cement it over. Will it work? Nobody knows because the technique has never been attempted underwater. Some observers warn it's a gamble that carries the risk of making the spill much worse if it fails.

Nobody knows the odds but what we do know is that the "kill shot" wasn't BP's first choice. In fact they've tried a few other options before coming to this and only now, after 33-days of failure, are they taking this gamble.

You can watch BP's live video stream of the site here.

The Green Hypocrisy

Perhaps the toughest thing about committing to a green lifestyle is, well it's the hypocrisy. It's common for me to have great discussions with fellow environmentalists who often seem to want to squeeze in a few comments about their latest foreign holiday. Ouch.

We're all sinners.

In today's Canada, it's damned hard to reduce one's carbon footprint. A big part of that is because our nation was built on ready access to cheap fossil fuels. We live in a society where we go to the things we want. We may work downtown but to get the McMansion we desire (and can afford), we have to commute to the suburbs, even the exurbs. It seems only the rich and the poor get to live near where they work. Many of us think nothing of driving 20-miles or more for shopping. We put gas in the tank, get in the car, and off we go. Because we're so spread out, it's prohibitively costly to offer European-style mass transit.

We're also creatures of a consumer economy. We like to own stuff and, for quite a few of us, the more stuff you own the better a person you are. Think that's not true? Wander over to your local marina or count the big SUVs in your grocery store parking lot. Check out how much the "average" home has grown over the past half century.

We can try to go green. I moved into a much smaller house, a really comfortable little bungalow. I upgraded the place with a high-efficiency wood stove/fireplace for heating and I get my wood supply from a guy who's licensed to collect the leftovers from nearby logging operations that would otherwise be heaped into a pile and burned on site. Put in new windows that allow super ventilation on hot summer days and greatly reduce heat loss when it's cold. Got a small, economy car that I drive when I have a bunch of errands to run, usually about once a week. It's already 11-years old and I expect to get several more out of it while I'm waiting for that great technology breakthrough we're told is just around the corner. I've given up on taking holidays abroad but, then again, I had my full share of foreign travel back well before we knew about carbon emissions.

The point I'm trying to make is that I'm doing a lot to reduce my carbon emissions but I'm not even close to where I should be. I recently went over to for a check-up. There was good news and bad news. My individual carbon footprint is somewhat more than a third of the average American's. That said it's nearly double where it ought to be. While I was digesting that information, the MIT brats who created included one additional, inconvenient truth - the per capita carbon emissions government puts out on our behalf. I guess you really do burn up a mountain of fossil fuels waging war.

What does it all come down to, moral relativism? I may be dirty but I'm less dirty than you are? I'm poisoning the environment much more slowly than you are? Oh how I'd like to give myself a big pat on the back, a hearty "well done" but I can't. Everything I've listed here is good but that's not the issue. What matters is if it's good enough and I know that it's far off that mark. It's naive and foolish of me to believe that I can find the answers because it's going to take, if not all of us, most of us to forge solutions and we don't seem to have the collective will for that.

Madam Justice Blatchford Weighs in on Bryant Case

Oh to be Christie Blatchford or at least to have her uncommon, unquestioning, even unyielding belief in her own brilliance. Rarely has that been more powerfully displayed than when she gave her "two cents worth" on the criminal negligence and dangerous driving causing death charges against former Ontario AG Michael Bryant.

Bryant, claims Blatchford, got "special" treatment which she implies was a curious sort of favouritism that spared him the courtroom trial any average Joe would have faced in this situation:

...Everyone agreed the charges were appropriate when they were laid, but that now, after all that had been learned since, withdrawing them was also the right thing.

Here’s what usually happens: the Crown gets the case if not the night before at best a couple of weeks before, has a quick read, and it goes to a preliminary hearing. There, the evidence is called, although not nearly as thoroughly as it was here, and the Crown might conclude, correctly, that it’s a weak case, but odds are he’d let it go to trial. At trial, the average guy probably would be acquitted
Mr. Bryant said at a press conference later Tuesday that, “Nobody is above the law. But no one’s below the law, either.”

He didn’t add that some folks get the old beater version, and some the Saab: T’was ever thus."

Sorry, Christie, but once again you're abusing the privilege of stupidity. Bryant got the full treatment. Every aspect of this awful incident was scrutinized. I've known Richard Peck and bringing him in to prosecute was no demonstration of favouritism toward Bryant. Peck was there to ensure that the Crown case was above reproach. The "old beater version" of prosecution never would have been enough. If the sort of prosecutor she or I would face was given the Bryant case there'd be a howl of outrage.

Bryant was a noted public figure, a former Attorney-General. When a person of that stature gets mixed up in an incident like this, the public expects safeguards to ensure that any crimes that were committed are prosecuted and punished. That wasn't done for Mr. Bryant's benefit and its disingenuous, dishonest even, to imply otherwise.

This case, however, does illustrate one enormous failing in our legal system. To put it crudely, you get as much law as you can afford. Money gets you the best lawyers, the most thorough investigators and so on. Money can greatly improve one's chances of a successful outcome before the Courts. Bryant went into this case with those advantages. It's hard to fault the "system" for levelling the playing field by bringing in a big gun like Richard Peck.

Even the Toronto Star Gets It - Ignatieff is Failing Canada

Columnist Thomas Walkom isn't mincing any words - Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are failing the country and those who elected them to become the official opposition. The proof, he says, is in the IgLibs' spineless refusal to oppose Harper's Bill C-9:

All three opposition parties say that to package so many disparate things in one bill is an outrageous abuse.

But the Liberals, desperate to avoid an election they believe they can’t yet win, are letting the bill move ahead anyway.

Most recently, the Liberals kept one of their MPs away from the Commons finance committee to make sure that Bill C-9 could get through that stage without their having to explicitly support it.

On Tuesday, Liberal MP and finance critic Bob Rae was on CBC Radio suggesting that the unelected Senate might be better positioned than the elected Commons to give Bill C-9 the scrutiny it deserves.

That’s an argument that doesn’t make sense (the unelected Senate is always loath to defeat a Commons money bill). But to be fair to Rae, it’s all he could say given the refusal of Liberal MPs to undertake the job they were elected to fill — that of official opposition.

The essential problem is that the Liberals don’t take the role of opposition seriously. Desperate for power, they are unwilling to do anything to spark an election until they are reasonably sure of winning it.

Yet given the current configuration of political forces in Canada — and their current leader — they cannot be certain of winning more seats than Harper’s Conservatives in the next election.
So they do nothing. They hem; they haw; they occasionally threaten. But in the end they back off, waiting for that elusive better chance.

That may be fine for them. But it’s not for us. The country didn’t elect 77 Liberal MPs so that they could sit on their hands waiting for the moment to regain power. We elected them — and the Bloc Québécois and the New Democrats — to rein in a minority Conservative government that most of us don’t trust.

There are a lot of Liberals who tolerate the Ignatieff malaise as a matter of loyalty. But, as Walkom points out, loyalty to whom? Does loyalty to their party always have to trump loyalty to their country?

I'll bet that many of the diehard Liberal faithful harbour a pretty good hunch that Ignatieff is never going to become prime minister, at least not without eating humble pie to court the support of the other opposition parties, just as they realize that the current leader of the opposition has done squat for this country. Coming in the wake of the failure he deposed, the inept and hapless leadership of the successor who was supposed to make everything right has to be an enormous and bitter disappointment.

These hard core Libs need to take stock of the situation before them. They need to accept that the brand alone isn't enough to get Canadian voters to restore their party to power. How many more times are they going to beat their heads on that wall?

Read Walkom's column here.

Hurricane Season Just Five Days Away

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has managed to dump hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil into the water just in time for the arrival of hurricane season.

The season officially begins on June 1st, next Tuesday, and scientists are predicting a very active year for major storms. From McClatchey Newspapers:

...William M. Gray and Philip J. Klotzbach, forecasters at Colorado State University, predict 15 named storms, while Ken Reeves, senior meteorologist and director of forecasting operations for , predicts 16 to 18, with a ``higher-than-normal number of impacts, which is not a good thing.''

In 160 years of record keeping, only eight seasons have brought 16 or more storms, according to

One factor that could generate major hurricanes this year is the strength of the Gulf "loop current" that flows at rounhly 4.5 miles per hour:

The Loop Current "is one of the fastest currents in the Atlantic Ocean,'' [the Weather Undergound's Jeffrey Masters] writes. "The current is about . . . 125 to 190 miles wide and . . . 2,600 feet deep, and is present in the Gulf of Mexico about 95 percent of the time.

"During summer and fall, the Loop Current provides a deep . . . layer of very warm water that can provide a huge energy source for any lucky hurricanes that might cross over.

The Price of Oil - $4,300 per Barrel

Let's see - that's 33 days at up to 50,000 barrels a day or roughly 1,650,000 barrels times 4300, equals roughly $7.1 billion US. That's the tab BP could face for the Deepwater Horizon spill if it's fined under the US Clean Water Act. From Reuters:

The little-known, seldom applied clause in the Clean Water Act was added in 1990 after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, and was intended to beef up the arsenal of penalties the government can apply to oil spillers to deter future disasters.

"These civil penalties could be staggeringly high, possibly running into the billions," said Professor David Uhlmann, director of the Environmental Law program at University of Michigan.

Total liability -- including civil fines as well as the cost of clean-up, economic damages and potential criminal liability -- "will run into the billions and may be in the tens of billions," Uhlmann said.

Under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency can seek in federal court to fine any party whose negligence results in an oil spill in U.S. federal waters.

The basic fine is $1,100 a barrell but that can be increased to $4,300 per barrell if the court finds the spill resulted from gross negligence. It's the "gross" part that's tough to prove but Congressional investigations seem to point to a measure of wilful neglect on the part of the companies involved in this drilling rig.

Oopsie, maybe there won't be any Christmas bonuses this year at Bandito Petroleum.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Corporate Populism - Krugman's Wake-Up Call

Western democracy, as we've grown it since Magna Carta, is under attack today not from foreign totalitarianism but from domestic and global corporatism. Indeed, today's "corporatism" could just be the 21st century's equivalent of fascism. In today's New York Times, Nobel economist and Princeton professor Paul Krugman warns that's the very struggle underway today in America.

"...[Wall Street's] rage against regulation seems bizarre. I mean, what did they expect? The financial industry, in particular, ran wild under deregulation, eventually bringing on a crisis that has left 15 million Americans unemployed, and required large-scale taxpayer-financed bailouts to avoid an even worse outcome. Did Wall Street expect to emerge from all that without facing some new restrictions? Apparently it did.

So what President Obama and his party now face isn’t just, or even mainly, an opposition grounded in right-wing populism. For grass-roots anger is being channeled and exploited by corporate interests, which will be the big winners if the G.O.P. does well in November.

If this sounds familiar, it should: it’s the same formula the right has been using for a generation. Use identity politics to whip up the base; then, when the election is over, give priority to the concerns of your corporate donors. Run as the candidate of “real Americans,” not those soft-on-terror East coast liberals; then, once you’ve won, declare that you have a mandate to privatize Social Security. It comes as no surprise to learn that American Crossroads, a new organization whose goal is to deploy large amounts of corporate cash on behalf of Republican candidates, is the brainchild of none other than Karl Rove.

But won’t the grass-roots rebel at being used? Don’t count on it. Last week Rand Paul, the Tea Party darling who is now the Republican nominee for senator from Kentucky, declared that the president’s criticism of BP over the disastrous oil spill in the gulf is “un-American,” that “sometimes accidents happen.”

The mood on the right may be populist, but it’s a kind of populism that’s remarkably sympathetic to big corporations."

It sounds to me that this hellspawn of RJ Reynolds and Lee Atwater, today's Rovian Corporatist Republicans, have perfected the art of manipulating a large segment of the American people by luring them to a populist movement that is really a corporatist service. It worked for years on tobacco, it's working still - and will for many, many years to come - on global warming, why ought it to do any less well on thwarting regulation of their interests to protect the public interest?

Harnessing populist discontent to advance a corporatist oligarchy is simply brilliant. Diabolical certainly - but brilliant.

Israel - Nukes - Apartheid South Africa

1975. Two defence ministers - one named Botha, the other Peres - meet to seal a pact. The South African asked for nuclear warheads. The Israeli, today's prime minister, responded, offering them in "three sizes."

Secret, apartheid-era documents reviewed by The Guardian, confirm that Israel has a substantial nuclear arsenal:

"...Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state's possession of nuclear weapons.

The "top secret" minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that
South Africa's defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel's defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them "in three sizes". The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that "the very existence of this agreement" was to remain secret.

The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of "ambiguity" in neither confirming nor denying their existence.

The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa's post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky's request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week's nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the
Middle East.

They will also undermine Israel's attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a "responsible" power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted.

South African documents show that the apartheid-era military wanted the missiles as a deterrent and for potential strikes against neighbouring states.

These revelations ought to spark an international furor but, chances are, they won't. It's not as though Israel's nuclear programme has really escaped anyone's attention and a degree of military cooperation between apartheid South Africa and Israel was also understood. These documents suggest, however, that Israel was willing to proliferate nuclear warheads into southern Africa by putting them into the hands of the apartheid white movement.

That's not something you just brush off. Israel was totally willing to assist a regime oppressing its own majority people, its blacks, even to the point of transferring to it nuclear warheads.

The sad part is that, it could happen, isn't really that surprising.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Camp Kandahar Under Attack

The Toronto Star reports the Canadian base at Kandahar is under Taliban attack.

Taliban militants fired rockets and mortars at Kandahar airfield in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, wounding NATO troops, officials said.

The attack came days after a brazen assault on one of the coalition’s biggest bases in Bagram, north of the Afghan capital, in which an American contractor was killed and nine U.S. troops wounded.

"Kandahar airfield came under indirect fire at approximately 8 o’clock tonight and shortly afterward a ground attack was under way as well," a spokesman for NATO-led forces in Afghanistan said. A small number of NATO personnel were wounded, the spokesman said.

An intelligence source on the Kandahar base said three rockets had hit the base. One hit a helicopter terminal used by foreign troops, wounding four foreigners, one hit a shopping area and another did not hit any significant target.

In America, Jim Crow Rides Again

America's racist past is being revived today by the country's far right.

Lincoln may have freed the slaves but Republican Rutherford Hayes sold them out in exchange for the presidency in 1877, an event known as the Great Compromise. With that, the federal government abandoned all efforts to protect the civil rights of southern blacks facilitating everything from lynchings to institutional segregation. Miscegenation laws passed by some states banned interracial marriage and blacks were widely disenfranchised.

The Civil Rights movement that took hold in the 50's culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 under Lyndon Johnson. The bitter slave state south has been fiercely Republican ever since.

A lot of progress was made over the past half-century. However the election of president Barack Obama has sparked an ugly, racist backlash in America even to the point of pundits and pols defending racial discrimination. is fighting back. Here's an excerpt from their latest e-mail campaign:

On Wednesday, Rand Paul, the GOP’s US Senate candidate for Kentucky repeated his claim that a central piece of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was wrong, and that businesses should be free to discriminate against whomever they please.1

Paul and his supporters don’t seem to care that without federal intervention, Black people might still be second-class citizens in many aspects of American life: where we eat, where we work, even where we live.

Then, on Thursday, FOX anchor John Stossel went even further, calling for the section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that applies to business to be repealed. And he’s refused to back down.

While Paul may have started this outrage, he can be taken care of at the ballot box — FOX News can’t.

Stossel’s position is an affront to Black America and everyone in this country who believes in racial progress. It’s one thing to be a candidate with backwards views. It’s another to be employed by a supposed news network and to use that platform to push hateful ideas that our nation repudiated decades ago."

Fox News, of course, is the fetid nest of that other bigot Glenn Beck who proclaimed that Obama hates white people. Beck freely peddles racist diatribes.

And then there's Rush Limbaugh. Here, for your entertainment and illumination, are a few gems from Limbot:

"I mean, let's face it, we didn't have slavery in this country for a hundred years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the south. I'm not saying we should bring it back; I'm just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark."

"You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray [confessed assassin of Martin Luther King]. We miss you James. Godspeed."

"Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?"

"The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practise robberies."

This is the ugly face of America, its increasingly vocal far-right. The far right in Canada isn't really any better, it's simply running behind.

UN - Biodiversity Loss Worse Than Global Warming

One of the most dangerous aspects of the 21st century, one we may pay dearly for, is our stubborn dependence on 19th century politics and economics. This isn't your great, great grandfather's world, so why would you choose to sail the 21st century's stormy seas in his leaky old boat?

We've got a whole mess of things to fix up if we're going to see mankind through into the 22nd century in some viable form. There's the obvious one, global warming, and the spinoff impacts we collectively call "climate change." Then there's overpopulation; desertification from soil exhaustion; air, water and land contamination; resource depletion; species extinction; disease and species migration; deforestation; protracted drought, floods and severe storm events, on and on and on. That's some pressure cooker of grief that we're going to have to sort out and, as we've seen from the Kyoto experience, our existing political and economic structures can't cope with it.

As these problems pile up on our doorstep, we're either going to have to shut down - batten the hatches and await what's coming - or we'll have to change.

The United Nations will release a major report on biodiversity this summer calling for just that - radical change. From The Guardian:

"The Stern Report on climate change, which was prepared for the UK Treasury and published in 2007, famously claimed that the cost of limiting climate change would be around 1%-2% of annual global wealth, but the longer-term economic benefits would be 5-20 times that figure.

The UN's
biodiversity report – dubbed the Stern for Nature – is expected to say that the value of saving "natural goods and services", such as pollination, medicines, fertile soils, clean air and water, will be even higher – between 10 and 100 times the cost of saving the habitats and species which provide them.

...The UN report's authors go further with their warning on biodiversity, by saying if the goods and services provided by the natural world are not valued and factored into the global economic system, the environment will become more fragile and less resilient to shocks, risking human lives, livelihoods and the global economy.

"We need a sea-change in human thinking and attitudes towards nature: not as something to be vanquished, conquered, but rather something to be cherished and lived within," said the report's author, the economist Pavan Sukhdev.

The changes will involve a wholesale revolution in the way humans do business, consume, and think about their lives, Sukhdev, told The Guardian. He referred to the damage currently being inflicted on the natural world as "a landscape of market failures".

...The report follows a series of recent studies showing that the world is in the grip of a mass extinction event as pollution, climate change, development and hunting destroys habitats of all types, from rainforests and wetlands to coastal mangroves and open heathland. However, only two of the world's 100 biggest companies believe reducing biodiversity is a strategic threat to their business, according to another report released tomorrow by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is advising the team compiling the UN report.

"Sometimes people describe Earth's economy as a spaceship economy because we are basically isolated, we do have limits to how much we can extract, and why and where," said Sukhdev..."

The fatal limitations in our traditional but obsolete economic and political structures is evident in how the world community has struggled with global warming. There is no sustaining community of interest on which to found effective action. Instead, we're divided into camps that are eerily Dickensian. That we're stuck on global warming as an isolated problem, rather than as an integral component in a much broader environmental threat, reveals the inadequacy of our atrophied institutions and those who lead them without ever looking ahead.

For Canada, it is beyond idiocy to assume that our country will coast through the 21st century on the tarry wealth of Athabasca. That sort of thinking reflects a political and social complacency that, if anything, will ensure that our country, our people, are overtaken by events possibly in a manner akin to being run over by a bus.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Global Famine Closing In

A billion people worldwide are malnourished even as Goldman Sachs and others of that ilk disastrously game the commodities markets. For some people, one family's famine is their path to even greater riches. This is what we have become. This is what we tolerate in the name of free enterprise and global free trade.

As they gamed the derivatives market, dealing a body blow to First World economies, so these Titans of Wall Street are gaming the food market, driving the price of food staples beyond the reach of the poorest and most vulnerable. And we sit by and let them do it. From CBC News:

Over an 18-month period, unprecedented panic and hoarding in the world's primary food markets, coupled with crop failures and price speculation, caused the three key global staples — wheat, maize and rice — to actually triple in cost.

In that process, many of the world's poor lost virtually all their meagre savings simply trying to survive this inflation.

To make matters worse, this calamity was immediately followed by the still continuing global economic crisis, which compounded the problem in the developing world by tossing hundreds of millions out of work.

The result, according to UN studies, is that there has never been more desperately poor people in the world than today.

In a remarkably short time this truly vicious cycle has effectively knocked whole nations out of full participation in the world economy, which in turn further undermines global confidence.
Developing nations have seen their budgets and their balance of payments ravaged as they struggle simply to import enough food for increasingly desperate and angry populations.

Yes, most food prices moderated this spring because of better harvests in Asia. But the past spikes, along with other factors, have left prices still too high for many small-plot farmers and the urban poor.

In India, for example, food inflation remained above 20 per cent last year and has been running at above 16 per cent since.

According to the World Food Program, about 80 per cent of those in Asia, South America and Africa can afford only one-third as much food as they could two or three years ago.

The CBC's Brian Stewart points out that the Harper government, in conjunction with the Obama administration, Spain and South Korea, is spearheading a food security programme to encourage agricultural reforms in the hardest hit nations. Unfortunately what our generosity cannot buy for them is a reliable, abundant supply of freshwater. We can assist them with better seeds, fertilizers and new technology but that won't overcome the freshwater crisis setting in from Asia to Africa.

I commend Harper, Obama and the others for their gesture but it's a very limited gesture. You cannot and will not bolster world food security without accompanying programmes to adapt to the impacts of climate change already afflicting many of the most vulnerable regions and some working solutions to their growing freshwater calamities.

Stephen Harper's Ace in the Hole?

He's the very best single thing Stephen Harper has going for him. Before long he may even deliver up the country to a Harper majority. Oh well, today's Liberals deserve to be put out of their misery but it's a damned shame it's going to take an election to do it.

What passes for today's Liberal leadership has no vision for Canada, no answers to the challenges already upon us and soon to land on our doorstep. Today's Liberal leadership might have managed to be a mediocre government - for the 1980's. There's no drive to it, nothing that resonates with the Canadian public. The leader hops back and forth on issues as though he's constantly getting the hotfoot treatment. When he does stand firm it's on disastrous positions like Gaza and the Tar Sands and the militarization of Canadian foreign policy. Thanks, but ....

I guess what really gets under my skin is that the Libs are letting Harper win by default. He simply has them outmatched, always well ahead of them on strategy, ducking or deflecting everything they throw at him. The Libs fuel voter apathy which is an elixir to Harper, it solves many of his potential problems.

It saddens me to come to this place, for the first time in my adult life, of not being able to support the Liberal Party. I have in the past sometimes held my nose and voted Liberal as the default option but not this time, not with this leader, not with his policies.

Today's Ekos poll has the LPC trailing the CPC by nine points, 25.1 to 34.4. For any real Liberal, concerned about their Party and their country, that ought to be humiliating enough to demand far better, right now.

What's Oilier? Athabasca or Ignatieff?

Michael Ignatieff has tempered his enthusiastic support for the Athabasca Tar Sands by calling for some sort of miraculous environmental remediation.

It’s not just a matter of getting better publicity, we’ve got to get the water use down; we’ve got to get the tailing ponds problems sorted out, the CO2 down. These are real problems for a great industry.”

Um yeah, that's right Iggy and if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle! "Real problems for a great industry" indeed. Isn't that the rhetorical equivalent of wiping your backside with wax paper? And, in case you missed it, Iggy wants you, or at least your tax dollars to fix it.

Ignatieff said Ottawa must do more to clean up the oilsands so it can sell it to the world, adding the industry and national energy policy are “a national unity issue,” and an economic dynamo.

I don't want Ottawa backing itself into some sort of obligation to clean up Athabasca. The people who made the mess are the multi-trillion dollar combine called Big Oil. It's their mess and they should damned well clean it up just as they've been promising, over and over and over again, for the past two decades.

It surely doesn't sound remotely Liberal to me that the Canadian taxpayers should be on the hook to mop up after Big Oil.

What's implicit in Ignatieff's lame Tar Sands position is that he doesn't understand or doesn't believe all that scientific business about anthropogenic global warming. He wants to build the future of Canada on the fossil fuel industry, and the dirtiest form of it to boot, at the very time we need to be working to decarbonize our economy, to decarbonize our society. Unfortunately Iggy reveals a truly "Thelma and Louise" vision of Canada.

In the best case scenario, Ignatieff is just pandering, being disingenuous, lying his Ivy League ass off. In the worst case scenario he actually means what he's saying. Either way, this is not the guy to lead Canada anywhere.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

BP Boss - We've Been "Extraordinarily Successful" On Oil Spill

BP CEO Tony Hayward tells Forbes magazine that his company has been "extraordinarily successful" in tackling the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Hayward even thinks the oil spill may help the oil industry:

"Deepwater drilling will be transformed by this event," he says. "If we can win the hearts and minds of the communities that are impacted, then we have the potential to enhance our reputation rather than have it damaged."

...Hayward, 52, has been with BP since 1982, served as Sir John Browne's right-hand man and became head of exploration and production before taking over in 2007 from Browne, who was felled by personal scandal following the catastrophic refinery explosion in Texas City in 2005 and the Prudhoe Bay pipeline spill a year later. Given the latest comeuppance, you might expect a little more humility from Hayward. Nothing doing. "The company is much better able to sustain this sort of incident than it could possibly have been able to three years ago."

Read the entire article here.

This Blows Holes Through the Tar Sands and "Clean Coal"

Remember CCS, "carbon capture & sequestration", the solution that allows safe, limitless exploitation of fossil fuels? It's more than a myth, it's a lie.

Whenever Big Coal and the Alberta oil patch face tough questions about carbon emissions they immediately wave the carbon capture & sequestration flag and assure critics that, very soon, any day now, they'll be capturing those carbon emissions and sequestering them safely underground where they'll never harm the planet or mankind. A new report shatters the myth of CCS and leaves its proponents looking utterly deceitful.

A Guardian article published on Sunday says the CCS myth is unrealistic, unviable and based on deeply flawed assumptions.

A new research paper from American academics is threatening to blow a hole in growing political support for carbon capture and storage as a weapon in the fight against global warming.

The document from Houston University claims that governments wanting to use CCS have overestimated its value and says it would take a reservoir the size of a small US state to hold the CO2 produced by one power station.

Previous modelling has hugely underestimated the space needed to store CO2 because it was based on the "totally erroneous" premise that the pressure feeding the carbon into the rock structures would be constant, argues Michael Economides, professor of chemical engineering at Houston, and his co-author Christene Ehlig-Economides, professor of energy engineering at Texas A&M University.

"It is like putting a bicycle pump up against a wall. It would be hard to inject CO2 into a closed system without eventually producing so much pressure that it fractured the rock and allowed the carbon to migrate to other zones and possibly escape to the surface," Economides said.

The paper concludes that CCS "is not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions, although it has been repeatedly presented as such by others."

The Carbon Capture and Storage Association, which lobbies for CCS, notes, "..that Statoil, a Norwegian oil company, had been injecting CO2 into an old reservoir on the North Sea Sleipner field for some time as a successful experiment in carbon storage. But Economides says the Sleipner scheme involved a million tonnes over three years, while one 500mW commercial station would need to absorb and store 3m tonnes annually for 25 years.Economides, who admits he veers towards being something of a climate change sceptic, says the oil and coal industries see these schemes as potential solutions so they can keep on doing what they have been doing in the past, but "CCS is the last refuge of the scoundrel," he said. "

Economides says, "...vested interests are protecting a new concept foisted on the world by geologists without proper thought.

"I was a [practising] petroleum engineer for many years and soon realised that geologists did not understand flow and the laws of physics, against which you can't argue."

I suspect the University of Houston team are correct in dismissing CCS as a con. The fact that the CCS "miracle" has been repeatedly promised for so many years yet still remains the uncertain subject of pilot, small-scale demonstration projects speaks for itself. Worse still, when you look behind the Alberta government's CCS smokescreen you discover, in the fine print, that their ultimate "target" is to capture and sequester an underwhelming 20% of Tar Sands CO2 in any case - if such a plant ever materializes.

The Houston University report guts every excuse and false promise held out by the supporters of the Athabasca Tar Sands whether from Big Oil or its political backers, Tory and Liberal. The Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, has already foolishly placed himself on record as a wholehearted supporter of the Tar Sands. Maybe it's time he did a little reading, learned of the magnitude of all the environmental threats posed by this mad venture, and carefully but deliberately climbed down from that perch.

Monday, May 17, 2010

NATO Seeks Legitimacy at the Margins

NATO has a huge problem. There's nothing remotely near the North Atlantic to pose a military threat to its members. The Soviet Union brought the last realistic military threat to justify the alliance's existence and, in case you haven't heard, the USSR is so 1991.

So with nothing close by, NATO is casting its net to distant shores in its quest for villains. A new report, NATO 2020, argues for "dynamic engagement" which appears to be code for battling in remote locales as America's new Foreign Legion. The report, written by the so-called "Group of Experts" calls for NATO to refashion itself as sort of a global policeman ready to call in aerial bombardment on wedding parties in any corner of the world on very short notice.

The Cold War rivalry that once stirred fears of nuclear Armageddon has long since disappeared. NATO’s role in maintaining the unity, security and freedom of the Euro-Atlantic region is ongoing. Its status as the globe’s most successful political-military Alliance is unchallenged. Yet NATO’s past accomplishments provide no guarantee for the future. Between now and 2020, it will be tested by the emergence of new dangers, the many-sided demands of
complex operations, and the challenge of organising itself efficiently in an era where
rapid responses are vital, versatility critical, and resources tight.

...The new Strategic Concept must also serve as an invocation of political will or -- to
put it another way -- a renewal of vows, on the part of each member. Threats to
the interests of the Alliance come from the outside, but the organisation’s vigour
could as easily be sapped from within. The increasing complexity of the global
political environment has the potential to gnaw away at Alliance cohesion; economic
headaches can distract attention from security needs; old rivalries could resurface;
and the possibility is real of a damaging imbalance between the military contributions
of some members and that of others.

The 58 page report is too complex to summarize here but it is plainly conceived in the shadow of the World Trade Centre towers. That, to me, raises the prospects that NATO may somehow define itself by the events of 9/11, just as America already has. I remain convinced that NATO was less than prudent in yielding to Washington's pressure to expand to the borders of Russia which seemed to be a ploy to anchor American interests in the Caucasus and south Asia. There are enormous geopolitical challenges developing in those regions that pit American, Russian, Chinese and Indian interests against each other and at times forge unnatural alliances. Will NATO's new Strategic Concept drag the members' commitment into service of Washington's interests? I want NATO to continue but on a rationalized, clearly defined and delineated basis. Getting dragged into one botched American war is enough.

Coal Keeps America Strong, Safe and "Better"

Sure it's perverse but that's the message Big Coal is feeding the American public. Watch this ad. It links military service, the war in Afghanistan, and "doing one's bit" by keeping America's coal fires burning:

Sleazy? You Betcha! Sadly effective? You Betcha.

Then again I'm from British Columbia where coal is the backbone of the province's mining sector. Grrr

The Cost of Tax Cuts

Stephen Harper is on the neo-conservative track to fiscal ruin. He's given up on deficits. How can you tell? By his insistence on going ahead with corporate tax cuts.

Taxes are, of course, how government pays its bills. When tax revenues fall short, government makes up the difference by going into debt, by borrowing. But Bush/Cheney set the bar for fiscal irresponsibility by introducing a witches brew' of borrowing coupled with tax cuts and topped off with two foreign wars and reckless financial deregulation.

When you're already deep in deficits, the only way you can fund tax cuts is by borrowing the money. You get yourself in hock to lenders so that you can take taxpayers off the hook. It's pure, neo-conservative ideology straight from the Bush/Cheney playbook and you can find the payoff in the current disastrous state of the American economy.

Stephen Harper is a neo-conservative ideologue, a reactionary blinded to reality. Harper's tax cuts merely shift the burden to the non-exempted taxpayers - the rest of us - but he hasn't got the guts to be upfront and raise our rates so he defers the impact by borrowing the money we'll have to repay, with interest. And this is the joker who promised to "Stand Up for Canada"?

Deepwater Horizon is Not a Petro-Fluke

A long overdue, cautionary tale on the global dimension of oil disasters - including Athabasca - from today's McClatchey Newspapers. With attention riveted on the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it's a story repeated around the world.

Like many of her neighbors, Celina Harpe is angry about the oil pollution at her doorstep. No longer can she eat the silvery fish that dart along the shore near her home. Even the wind that hurries over the water reeks of oil waste.

"I get so mad," she said. "I feel very sad."

Harpe, 70, isn't a casualty of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She lives in a remote corner of Alberta, Canada, where another oil field that's vital to the United States is damaging one of the world's most important ecosystems: Canada's northern forest.

Across the globe, people such as Harpe in oil-producing regions are watching the catastrophe in the Gulf with a mixture of horror, hope and resignation. To some, the black tide is a global event that finally may awaken the world to the real cost of oil.

...There's no denying that the rust-red plumes of oil and tar balls in the Gulf of Mexico are a potential ecological calamity for American Southern shores. More than half the petroleum consumed in this country, however, is imported from other countries, where damage from exploration and drilling is more common but goes largely unnoticed.

No one's tallied the damage worldwide, but it includes at least 200 square miles of ruined wildlife habitat in Alberta, more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater spilled into the rainforests of Ecuador and a parade of purple-black oil slicks that skim across Africa's Niger Delta, where more than 2,000 polluted sites are estimated to need cleaning up.

..."Spills, leaks and deliberate discharges are happening in oil fields all over the world, and very few people seem to care," said Judith Kimerling, a professor of law and policy at the City University of New York and the author of "Amazon Crude," a book about oil development in Ecuador.

"No one is accepting responsibility," Kimerling said. "Our fingerprint is on those disasters because we are such a major consumer of oil."