Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt - Army Calls Protesters Demands "Legitimate"

Egypt's army command has vowed its forces will not fire on peaceful protesters and declared the demonstrators' demands "legitimate."

"Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands and are keen to assume their responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens, affirms that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody."

With the police service having scattered and the army intent on remaining neutral, Mubarak seems to have no means left to crush the revolt.  "Freedom of expression through peaceful means" is newfound to Egyptian dissidents who were often imprisoned and brutalized for opposing Mubarak.

In Israel it seems the government and journalists are like are having a collective brown hemorrhage over events in Egypt.   They claim to only want stability in Egypt but their real interests seem to be in perpetuating Egyptian complacency.  One pundit criticized Obama, claiming Uncle Sam has put a bullet in the back of Mubarak and betrayed Israel in the process.  At the moment, Mubarak's only open backers seem to be Israel and the House of Saud.

Another Warning on Egypt - Chris Hedges

Veteran war correspondent Chris Hedges writes we have to brace ourselves for what a post-Mubarak Egypt will look like.   The thing is, he's quite probably right:

The only way opposition to the U.S.-backed regime of Mubarak could be expressed for the past three decades was through Islamic movements, from the Muslim Brotherhood to more radical Islamic groups, some of which embrace violence. And any replacement of Mubarak (which now seems almost certain) while it may initially be dominated by moderate, secular leaders will, once elections are held and popular will is expressed, have an Islamic coloring. A new government, to maintain credibility with the Egyptian population, will have to more actively defy demands from Washington and be more openly antagonistic to Israel. What is happening in Egypt, like what happened in Tunisia, tightens the noose that will—unless Israel and Washington radically change their policies toward the Palestinians and the Muslim world—threaten to strangle the Jewish state as well as dramatically curtail American influence in the Middle East.  

The Muslim world does not see us as we see ourselves. Muslims are aware, while we are not, that we have murdered tens of thousands of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have terrorized families, villages and nations. We enable and defend the Israeli war crimes carried out against Palestinians and the Lebanese—indeed we give the Israelis the weapons and military aid to carry out the slaughter. We dismiss the thousands of dead as “collateral damage.” And when those who are fighting against occupation kill us or Israelis we condemn them, regardless of context, as terrorists. Our hypocrisy is recognized on the Arab street. Most Arabs see bloody and disturbing images every day from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, images that are censored on our television screens. They have grown sick of us. They have grown sick of the Arab regimes that pay lip service to the suffering of Palestinians but do nothing to intervene. They have grown sick of being ruled by tyrants who are funded and supported by Washington. Arabs understand that we, like the Israelis, primarily speak to the Muslim world in the crude language of power and violence. And because of our entrancement with our own power and ability to project force, we are woefully out of touch.  Israeli and American intelligence services did not foresee the popular uprising in Tunisia or Egypt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Israel’s new intelligence chief, told Knesset members last Tuesday that “there is no concern at the moment about the stability of the Egyptian government.” Tuesday, it turned out, was the day hundreds of thousands of Egyptians poured into the streets to begin their nationwide protests.

...Mubarak will soon become history. So, I expect, will neighboring secular Arab regimes. The rise of powerful Islamic parties appears inevitable. It appears inevitable not because of the Quran or a backward tradition, but because we and Israel believed we could bend the aspirations of the Arab world to our will through corruption and force.

Let Them Eat Cake

I guess it's in our nature to want to treat the unrest sweeping the Arab world as an expression of an unquenchable thirst for democracy.   Unfortunately that's not true.   Fortunately what is going on is much greater than a mere demand for democratic reform and, because of that, regime change in the Arab world is far more likely to happen.

One reason the upheaval, that began in Tunisia and currently is spreading through Egypt and soon may topple the ruling government in Yemen, is so unfocused is that the dissent is much more broadly based than we often perceive it.   Some are, in fact, seeking democratic reform.   Others, however, are much more concerned with stunted economic opportunity and social mobility.   For others yet it's all about hunger and the inability of their government to keep food staples affordable.

In a few days, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will be releasing its latest Food Price Index.   December, 2010 was the record index score but the January figures are expected to be very close to the all-time record.

Punishing food prices can sometimes trigger food riots as seen in many countries in 2008 but rarely lead to the sort of upheaval that triggers regime change.  They do, however, created broad based discontent.  What's confronting autocratic Arab rulers today is the perfect storm of political and economic upheaval reinforced by unrest over food prices.  

Autocrats throughout the Middle East are cottoning on to the need to marginalize the political and economic dissent by disarming general discontent over food prices.   In hopelessly undemocratic Kuwait, the national assembly has passed a $5-billion food aid package.   Get this, each Kuwaiti citizen will receive an allotment of $3,850.   That is accompanied by distribution of certain food staples free of charge.  Kuwaiti authorities put it down to celebrating the golden jubilee of independence next month, the twentieth anniversary of liberation from Iraqi occupation and to honor the five years of the emir’s ascendance to power.   Yeah, right, sure.

But it's not just democratic reform, economic stagnation and food prices that will be plaguing the region this year and for a good time to come, possibly decades.   Add to that regional water crises.   The Telegraph reports that, in this region, water riots are next:

"Water remains a more problematic commodity than food and fuel: though cheap in its natural state, it is expensive to process and expensive to transport, especially in the quantities necessary for agriculture," according to a report released last month from the Washington-based, Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Past water shortages have been temporary or small-scaled; future groundwater depletion will be massive and effectively permanent."

As I've argued at length, we are witnessing the emergence of destabilizing forces unlike any we have known for centuries, perhaps even in the history of mankind.   Add'em up - climate change, the freshwater crisis, floods and droughts in increasing frequency and severity, desertification, deforestation, air/soil/water contamination, overpopulation, resource depletion and exhaustion, disease migration, species extinction, sea level rise and associated issues of inundation and surge flooding - those are already setting in.  Add to those global security threats including terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and wars of sustenance.   Soon to come will be climate-driven mass migration.

So the best Mubarak and other ME autocrats can hope for is to buy a little time because the problems they're struggling to overcome today are changing from periodic to permanent and they're only going to continue to worsen.   The Century of Revolution is upon us.

Fear Not for Egypt

Gwynne Dyer's take on the Egyptian uprising is calming.  He believes it will be the military that tells Mubarak to go, although that could take a few weeks.  He also thinks the military would appoint someone like ElBaradei a titular, interim leader until proper political parties could be formed to contest a democratic election.  What then?  Dyer thinks Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood would win, something he thinks would not be all that radical but might give Israel plenty of concern:

The likely winner of a genuinely free Egyptian election, according to most opinion polls, would be the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brothers are not particularly radical as Islamists go, but the first thing they have promised to do if they win power is to hold a referendum on Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. And most Egyptians, according to the same polls, would vote to cancel it.

That would end the flow of official U.S. aid and private foreign investment that currently keeps the Egyptian economy more or less afloat, even though it would probably not lead to an actual war. And there is no reason to believe that an Islamic government could make the Egyptian economy grow any faster, although it would distribute the poverty more fairly.

It's possible that a threat to rescind the Egypt-Israel peace treaty could be enough to shift Israel to accept a genuine, 2-state solution to the Palestinian issue.  Israel has reaped enormous economic benefits from its peace pact with Egypt.  It was able to greatly slash its military budget as it considered safe and stable its long border with Egypt.   Having to reinforce that border would be a big hit to the Israeli economy.

How About Turkey?

Debating democracy in the Arab world is all the rage lately.   Can an Arab state really handle democracy?   What about Hamas?   What if Egypt falls to Islamist radicals?

No one, it seems, thinks of the republican democracy called Turkey.  By some fiction we consider it part of Europe but it's 99.8% Muslim and pretty obviously part of the Middle East.  Know who else thinks that?   Barack Obama, that's who.  The US president and Turkish prime minister Edrogan were on the phone over the weekend discussing ways of preventing the Middle East from falling into chaos.  Afterward the Turkish PMO released a statement that Obama and Edrogan "have agreed on the necessity of meeting the legitimate and democratic rights of the people in the region.

What's that, "region?"  What region?   The entire Arab world?   Anybody think the despotic Gulf States will be keen to hear that one?

Edrogan hasn't said anything specifically about Mubarak but he's expected to make his and his government's views public tomorrow in his weekly address to his ruling Justice & Development party.

Turkey has already airlifted about 1,200 Turkish nationals out of Cairo and is planning further evacuation flights.    The country is also making preparations to receive and accommodate foreign nationals at Ankara airport. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

For Everybody's Sake, Egypt Needs a Coup

Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak is not going to implement genuine democratic reform.  He can't.  It would mean signing his own arrest warrant.  Free and open elections in Egypt would mean the end of Mubarak and his hated NDP.  It's time for a coup, an army takeover.

True democracy is unknown in Egypt.   The last four rulers have been strongmen.  Before them the place had a monarch.   Establishing political parties capable of formulating policy platforms and contesting an election can't be done overnight, not if it's to be done well.

There are a lot of competing interests at play - nationalistic, socialistic, theocratic, pan-Arabic - all of which should be accommodated within the democratic structure.

Egypt's army seems to be well accepted by the public.  It's predominantly a conscript service which keeps it rooted in the masses.   The Egyptian military is huge, almost half a million strong.  The police are seemingly considered corrupt, brutal and oppressive.   There is no organization other than the army capable of replacing the police service while it, too, is cleaned up.

Ditching Mubarak is not going to solve the plight of the Egyptian people.  The economy is wobbly.   For months the UN has been warning of big food and fuel price hikes that are coming.   The Middle East is no stranger to bread riots and whoever is in power is going to have to deal with that problem.

The Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings bore many of the hallmarks of a classic revolution; an oppressed public, a corrupt and atrophied central government and a rebellious middle class.   Both countries, like many others in the Middle East and south and east Asia, have a big problem, a surplus of reasonably-well educated, underemployed youth.  They have been churning out college and university graduates at rates disproportionate to the ability of their economies to absorb them.   Those who are picked do very well, the rest languish.  Paternalism, corruption and nepotism flourish under these circumstances, fueling the discontent that eventually breaks out in large-scale uprisings, demands for democracy and economic meritocracy.   Both China and India are becoming worried about this same threat.   China has even censored information about Egypt on their internet system.

A big danger common to successful revolutions sets in after the old order has been deposed by the moderate, middle class insurrectionists.   Once the hard work is done, violent radicalism tends to surface out of the uncertainty and chaos.  That's how the Bolshies (at gunpoint) appropriated the Menshavik revolution.  It is how the Reign of Terror swept France.

Countries like Egypt and Tunisia need a post-regime change authority capable of safeguarding them from radicalism.   There is no shortage of radical, Islamist fundamentalism.  Egypt has the Muslim Brotherhood.   Al Qaeda has openly stated that it is waiting for the inevitable period of chaos to make its move.  If the anticipated bread riots break out it would be a perfect opening to be exploited by radicals.  Egypt, Tunisia and other countries facing this situation may need to follow the example of Turkey where temporary military rule laid the groundwork for a viable, democratic succession.

I expect Washington is going to support a military coup in Egypt.   A Wiki document released by Britain's The Telegraph reveals that Washington was in close contact with Egypt's protest movement.   The newspaper suggests the document proves America supported the rebellion.   That's nonsense.   What it shows is worry, perhaps even alarm, that the ambitions of the opposition forces were unrealistic, unattainable; grandiose if not delusional.

Is it entirely coincidental that the Egyptian army chief of staff was in Washington for meetings with his American colleagues when the uprising broke out?  He had been notionally scheduled to be in the States until Feb. 2 but he flew back to Cairo yesterday.   Is it sheer coincidence that the army has been sitting on the fence, safeguarding property but refusing to back either Mubarak or the protesters?   The Americans seemingly knew what was in the works and summoned the Egyptian army's top general for a little chin wag and, perhaps, to take back a bundle of parting gifts for Hosni.

America can't afford to lose its influence in Egypt nor can it expose Israel to the threat of Egyptian radicalism.  Mubarak can no longer be trusted but neither can the insurrectionists, at least not yet.   Once you eliminate all the options and assess the potential dangers, a military coup it is - for everyone's sake.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Obama Syndrome

A lot of folks now see Barack Obama as something of a wind bag.  He talks a good game but consistently fails to deliver.  There seems to be a real timidity to him, one that congressional Republicans have regularly exploited.

The Obama Syndrome seems to be fully in play as the president freezes up over the Egyptian uprising and Hosni Mubarak.   It seems that the American administration is only outdone by Israel's in dummying up on the problem.  Israel has good reason to lay low and anxiously wait to see how it all turns out.   But the United States, Egypt's biggest benefactor? 

It's been reported out of Washington that Obama spoke with Mubarak and told him he had to come through with the democratic reforms he promised on state television today.  Of course if Mubarak did that, he would be writing his own marching orders.  The last thing he can do is to hold fair and open elections.  Surely Obama must realize that.  Maybe Obama hopes that Mubarak can wait this out.

There is one alternative scenario.   The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Egyptian military's chief of staff and Mubarak's defence minister has been in Washington and cut short his planned visit today to fly back to Cairo.  It is entirely conceivable that the White House knows what the army's commander has in mind about supporting or opposing Mubarak.   Could the American silence be in anticipation of a coup?   Or is it just Obama refusing to come to grips with yet another problem?

WaPo Calls for Obama to Break With Mubarak

The Washington Post isn't pulling punches.   It calls for President Obama to break with Egypt's Mubarak and, instead, reach out to ElBaradei and for the Pentagon to put their Egyptian counterparts on notice not to turn on the protesters:

Rather than calling on an intransigent ruler to implement "reforms," the administration should be attempting to prepare for the peaceful implementation of the opposition platform. It should be reaching out to Mr. ElBaradei - who Friday was reported to be under house arrest - and other mainstream opposition leaders. And it should be telling the Egyptian army, with no qualification, that the violent suppression of the uprising will rupture its relationship with the United States.
The one place WikiLeaks' document dump has truly wounded Washington is in the Middle East.  These documents revealed American perfidy in its dealings with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to essentially sell the Palestinians down the river.  They also revealed America's steadfast support for the hopelessly corrupt regime of Ben Ali in Tunisia.  Worse still they laid bare America's knowledge of widespread torture by the Mubarak regime to suppress any dissent while America sat mute.  It's too late now for the White House to be calling for reform.  They've lost the moral highground throughout the Arab world and they're going to have to get ahead of events if American prestige and influence is going to be maintained in that region.  The Obama administration, aping its predecessors, has an awful lot of catching up to do.

Mubarak Dissolves Government

It seems Mubarak intends to stay.   Yet he says he's asked the government to resign and there'll be a "new government" tomorrow.   A new government presumably with Mubarak still at the helm.  It's the same old government with the same old legislators only with a cabinet shuffle.

This guy is a joke.  He went out of his way to absolve himself from his very own tyranny as though it was all someone else's doing.  Amazing.

Now it remains to see what the army will do.   The protesters are bound to be infuriated.   The police have lost the ability to suppress them.   Will the army be willing to turn on their own people?  It's going to have to turn on somebody.  This could get very ugly.

Mubarak Hits the Airwaves. Dissolves Government?

Hosni Mubarak is appearing live on state television.   A quick swipe at ElBaradei for exploiting the situation.

Mubarak claims demonstrations could not have occurred without Egypt's reforms.  Sovereignty, he claims, belongs to the people.   ...Fine line separating freedom from chaos.  ...Will defend Egypt's stability.   ...Egypt is governed by its constitution and rule of law.

...Demonstrations suppress lawful aspirations to more democracy, improvement of standard of living and reduction of corruption.  Steer away from those who invite chaos and public looting.

...We will continue political, economic and social reforms.  We have taken the side of the poor people of Egypt.

It sounds as though Mubarak thinks he can ride this out.   Plenty of gibberish about reforms and the rule of law.

I have requested the government to step down today.   New government tomorrow.  

al Jazeera Reports Prominent Egyptians Are Flying Out

Egypt's national carrier has suspended all flights into or out of Cairo airport but al Jazeera reports that hasn't stopped a number of top Egyptian businessmen and prominent individuals from arranging their own flights out of the capital.  There is some speculation that Mubarak himself may have fled.

It now appears that the Egyptian army armoured vehicles seen on the streets of Cairo have moved into position to secure the American and British embassies as well as the Cairo museum.   The tanks have also established a cordon outside the NDP headquarters which seems to have been totally gutted by fires.

Now many Egyptians are asking why president Obama isn't supporting the protesters.  Many commentators on al Jazeera believe that the protests have reached a critical mass and that Mubarak and his governing party are finished.

al Jazeera Video - Armoured Vehicle Crews Waving at Protesters

The Egyptian army has taken to the streets of Alexandria and Cairo with armoured vehicles.   However al Jazeera live video showed crews waving to the protesters, possibly even waving them on.  There has been no indication that the army has fired on the protesters.  At the moment, however, the posture and intent of the military is unknown.

Our Century of Revolution Seems to Have Arrived

What's going on in the Arab world may just be a taste of what is to come.   Some are predicting that the 21st will be the Century of Revolution.  Man's history is a compendium of wars fought for political, religious and economic aggrandizement but that sort of conflict may be dying out replaced by internal struggles, class-driven insurgency.

In many states, the discontented, disaffected are finding the enemies that matter most are the enemies within.   This is a reality about to dawn on America's working classes, blue and white collar.

America lost sight of the fact that its real enemy, the one that most threatened to undermine American stability and strength, was itself. An Age of Ruin set in beginning with Ronald Reagan that saw the industrial powerhouse transition from a culture of production to a culture of consumption. When Reagan took office, America was the world's largest creditor nation. When he left it had become the world's largest debtor nation. Whereas all of his postwar predecessors, Democrat and Republican alike, had steadily (even during the enormously expensive Vietnam War) whittled down America's debt to GDP ratio, that was all washed away by Reagan, Bush I, Bush II and now by Obama who has inherited the debris of their mental illness.

Corporate America forged the era of globalization which so richly served the oligarchs, the rentier classes, while sucking wealth out of the middle and working classes where, despite productivity leaps, wages stagnated even as the country's manufacturing base, the beating heart of a stable middle class, was shipped offshore. The scourge of inequality, fought back from the days of Roosevelt to Carter, returned with a vengeance.

It's unlikely that marginalized Americans will take to the streets as we are seeing the disaffected do in the Arab world.  That probably won't happen unless their power at the ballot box is somehow usurped.  Yet at some point the inequality that so plagues the United States will, in some guise, lead to political upheaval.  If this is the future that awaits America, what must lie in store for the emerging economic superpowers?   Even India today is finding itself unable to meet the aspirations of the burgeoning ranks of its new graduates.   The same is happening in China.   There simply aren't enough quality (highly paid) jobs to go around.  And there never will be.   Meet the Wall.

We have had centuries to witness nations ascend and decline but the process in the Century of Revolution is markedly different. We've run out of stuff. We've already hit the wall. They can't become us, because there's not enough stuff to make that possible. Sometime in the late 1980's mankind's consumption reached our planet's annual production of renewables - water, trees, fish and so on. We got away with it for decades thanks to sleight of hand, eating into our reserves, and outright conjuring tricks such as the Green Revolution, but the hens always come home to roost.

 So, we're out of good stuff. Now what to do? Well power traditionally translates into access. Those who have power or seize it expect to be first in the queue. But they can't get a power-size share of an already allocated pie without somebody else taking a much smaller than usual slice. The question becomes who gives up how much and why? That's something we'll be struggling with for quite a while and it may cause us to revisit some of our fanciful notions of free-market capitalism - again the Century of Revolution.

When planning is based not on growth but on allocation it shifts the focus from opportunity to inequality. People look for a lot more equality in sacrifice than in prosperity. We can become very egalitarian when we perceive that to be vital to our self-interest. If we aren't to be stampeded off the cliff we will have to pull back and that promises to be a struggle of truly revolutionary dimensions. The forces of the status quo will not go peacefully into the night. We need only look at the extraordinary efforts of the Fossil Fuelers in maintaining their dominance at mankind's considerable expense to understand that corporatism is tenacious and, as needed, ruthless.

An allocation based society is inherently far more communal than most of us have ever experienced. It is an order that confounds free market capitalism, tames it, and dismembers corporatism - not because of some grandiose ideology but of sheer necessity.

I suspect this will, after a lot of costly revolutions, become the new world order, one in which muted aspirations are accommodated by measured equality.  The gap between rich and poor will always exist but it cannot survive at the extremes at which it exists today.

What Fuels the Protests is an Arab Class War

The protests sweeping Egypt today may have more in common with the French Revolution than with the democratic revolts that swept eastern Europe.  Class warfare appears to have erupted on the Arab Street.

An op-ed piece published a couple of weeks ago in al Jazeera contends that Arab countries face their own insurgencies but not from religious fanatics but from,"  the terror of marginalisation for the millions of educated youth who make up a large portion of the region's population."

The policing, equipment, funding, expertise and anti-terror philosophy being fed to the likes of Algeria, Libya and Morocco are geared towards fighting the 'bearded, radical salafis' whose prophet is Osama bin Laden. But, the tangible bin Ladens bracing suicide in its entirety have emerged from the ranks of the educated middle classes whose prophet is Adam Smith.

...From Tunisia and Algeria in the Maghreb to Jordan and Egypt in the Arab east, the real terror that eats at self-worth, sabotages community and communal rites of passage, including marriage, is the terror of socio-economic marginalisation.

The armies of 'khobzistes' (the unemployed of the Maghreb) - now marching for bread in the streets and slums of Algiers and Kasserine and who tomorrow may be in Amman, Rabat, San'aa, Ramallah, Cairo and southern Beirut - are not fighting the terror of unemployment with ideology. They do not need one. Unemployment is their ideology. The periphery is their geography. And for now, spontaneous peaceful protest and self-harm is their weaponry. They are 'les misérables' of the modern world.

...For Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan and Egypt, the impoverished Arab states, in need of the liquidity of Euro-American and International Misery Fund aid, infitah (open-door policy) was the only blueprint of forward economic management. Within its bosom are bred greed, land grab, corruption, monopoly and the new entrepreneurial classes who exchange loyalty and patronage with the political masters as well as the banknotes and concessions with which both fund flash lifestyles.

...The absence of a critical mass that produces a tipping-point dynamic means that regimes know how to buy time, co-opt and fund themselves out of trouble when pushed. Genuine democratic bargains do not ensue. The states have not invested in social and political capital.

Oppositions and dissidents have not yet learned how to infiltrate governments and build strong political identities and power bases. This is one reason why the protests that produced 'Velvet revolutions' elsewhere seem to be absent in the Arab world.

The momentum created by the bread rioters is never translated into self-sustaining critical mass by opposition forces. Regimes wait until the last minute after use of force fails to kill off the momentum through the offer of concessionary and momentary welfare.

The Guardian interviewed a Mid-East expert who described the uprising as fragile in that it lacks anything resembling political organization.  The Muslim Brotherhood appears not to have gained the  backing of the protesters.  Mohamad ElBaradei, perhaps opportunistically, seems to be trying to become a figurehead around which the protesters can coalesce but it's far from clear that he will be acceptable to them.  Mubarak may be banking on being able to prevent that from happening by finding means to divide the protesters and dilute their ranks.

Asia Times Online reports that al Qaeda is waiting in the wings, hoping that the unrest in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab states will descend into anarchy at which point they will be able to exploit the chaos to establish the organization in those countries.  If nothing else, the threat of radical Islamist expansion into formerly pro-Western Arab countries may motivate the West to wring genuine democratic reform out of the despots they have, to now, been supporting.

Has Mubarak Seized ElBaradei?

As anti-government protests in Egypt escalate, Nobel laureate and former IAEA chief Mohamad ElBaradei may have fallen captive to the Mubarak regime.

Louise Arbour, head of the International Crisis Group, has issued a release stating that Egyptian authorities are keeping ElBaradei bottled up in a Cairo mosque apparently to prevent him from leading protesters against the regime.  ElBaradei is a member of the Crisis Group's Board of Trustees.

The WikiLeak document dump has been culled yet again.  This time the trove was US diplomatic notes reporting that the Mubarak regime used torture routinely against criminals, Islamists, opposition activists and - wait for it - even bloggers.  Let's hope Harper doesn't get wind of that idea.

The Guardian reports that pamphlets are being circulated through Cairo to organize and direct protesters:

Anonymous leaflets circulating in Cairo also provide practical and tactical advice for mass demonstrations, confronting riot police, and besieging and taking control of government offices.

Signed "  long live Egypt",  the slickly produced 26-page document calls on demonstrators to begin with peaceful protests, carrying roses but no banners, and march on official buildings while persuading policemen and soldiers to join their ranks.

The leaflet ask recipients to redistribute it by email and photocopy, but not to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which are being monitored by the security forces.

Protesters in Cairo are advised to gather in large numbers in their own neighbourhoods away from police and troops and then move towards key installations such the state broadcasting HQ on the Nile-side Corniche and try to take control "  in the name of the people".  Other priority targets are the presidential palace and police stations in several parts of central Cairo.

It's hard to guess whether these protests will come to much.  When you look back to the seismic upheavals that led to regime change in Iran, East Germany, Poland and, most recently, Tunisia each saw the military either join the protesters or retire to their barracks which sent the secret police fleeing.   So long as Mubarak's military remains loyal and he remains able to dominate his ruling party then his secret police will be able to go after the protest leaders.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gates to Canada, Please Don't Back Out on F-35, Oh Please?

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates came to Ottawa today and pleaded for Canada and the other eight "partner" nations not to walk away from the overhyped, overpriced and underperforming F-35 ground attack fighter.

Apparently stumped for sensible explanations, Gates tied the F-35 ground pounder to NORAD and North American air defence.

"It is a true fifth generation fighter, it will give us significant capabilities, it will continue the interoperability that has been at the heart of our NORAD relationship for decades now."
Hmm.   If the F-35 is essential for NORAD interoperability, why won't our NORAD Big Brother, the USAF, be interoperating the same airplane for air defence?  Why?  Because the Americans have a genuine air superiority fighter/interceptor, the F-22 Raptor.  The F-35 is for blowing craters in the dirt, not air defence.  The F-35 is also pretty good for blowing smoke up a lot of gullible asses.

LimBot Strikes Again

A self-proclaimed Rush Limbaugh fan took exception when California state senator Leland Yee said Limbaugh should apologize for mocking the Chinese language and China's president on his open-mouth radio show.

The LimBot apparently faxed the following to Yee's office:

Of course the dumb shit chose to send this to Yee via the oh so traceable FAX.  That should give the authorities a handy headstart at tracking him down.

The Joys of Private Healthcare - Not

Vietnam vet, Ron Flanagan of Colorado, has been in the fight of his life - against cancer - the past two years.   Last week he was getting prepped for a bone biopsy when his wife called.   His insurance company had just dropped him.

It seems Ron's wife, Frances, goofed when paying  a previous month's premium online.  She hit the 7 key instead of the 9, leaving the payment two cents short.  The insurer, Ceridian Cobra Services (never buy insurance from a company that names itself after a venomous snake), is sticking to its guns.

Only in America?  Not if our conservatives get a chance to shoehorn private healthcare into Canada.

Sarah Palin's Biggest Enemy - Her Mouth

Watch the village idiot - and enjoy

The Most Heartrending YouTube Clip You May Ever See

Being a beagle fancier (and owner) these past 35-years, I was deeply moved at a YouTube clip I found posted by Montreal Simon.  If you don't know, these wonderful hounds are the favourite subjects for laboratory testing.  They're incredibly stoic and a lot of them pay dearly for that quality.

The clip Simon posted didn't make the ProgBlog cut and that's a shame.   It shows two beagles rescued from some laboratory who had spent their lives in crates and had never felt grass under their feet.   Just watching how they react as they're freed for the first time in their lives should pretty much make your day.

Sincere thanks to Montreal Simon for this one:

Top US Rabbis Slam Glenn Beck

A group of top American Rabbis representing the spectrum of Jewish belief has placed a full page ad in the Washington Post asking Rupert Murdoch to sanction Glenn Beck.   The ad is signed by the heads of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish movements.

The Rabbis are apparently inflamed by Beck's three-part series denouncing George Soros as a "Jewish boy helping to send the Jews to the [Nazi] death camps."

They're also outraged at Fox News chief Roger Ailes who defended Beck's constant Nazi references, dismissing Beck's critics as, "left-wing rabbis who basically don't think that anybody can ever use the word 'Holocaust' on the air."

The ad was said to have cost somewhere in the six figures.   Fox has not responded to new enquiries.

Does Washington Really Want Democracy for Egypt?

The US is stuck on the wrong side of a thorny problem.   While it loudly champions the spread of democracy it quietly props up compliant despots.  Think Egypt, think Saudi Arabia, think Kuwait and the Emirates.   America has a rich legacy of this sort of thing in South and Central America, Southeast Asia, even Africa.  Unfortunately it's a policy that rarely ends well.

South America today, once considered a gaggle of American fiefdoms, is breaking free of Washington's hold.    The US once had much of Africa its for the taking but now it is being muscled out by China.

But a classic example of how American policy backfires is Palestine.  The Palestinian people, offered a free choice between pro-American Fatah and pro-Palestinian Hamas, elected Hamas.  So what do the US and Israel do?  They ignore the election and carry on as though Fatah's Palestinian Authority was the legitimate voice of the Palestinians.  They even smuggle arms to the PA for the violent overthrow of Hamas.  Now al Jazeera has unveiled documents showing that the PA was willing to sell out the Palestinians to Israel on East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements.   And the Americans wonder how Islamist movements gain popular support?

Awful as the Palestine problem is, the US and Israel are far more concerned today with the uprising in Cairo and Suez that threatens their compliant despot, Mubarak.  Mubarak and his party have held onto power for 30-years largely thanks to fixed elections.   For a government that claims to embrace democracy, Mubarak has been preparing to hand control over to his son who is even more hated and has reportedly fled the country.

The Egyptian protests face far greater hurdles than the apparently successful uprising earlier this week in Tunisia.  Israel, which counts Mubarak as its strongest regional ally, has most to lose should he be topped.  Israeli leaders, however, believe Mubarak's control over Egypt's security forces is stable and will enable him to put down any uprising.   

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that "we support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. And we urge the Egyptian authorities not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications, including on social media sites."

"We believe strongly that the Egyptian government has an important opportunity at this moment in time to implement political, economic, and social reforms to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people." 

The White House may actually hope that Mubarak will give in and implement reforms, something to placate the protesters, while retaining his hold on power.  Some American diplomats, however, doubt Mubarak will budge.

America may have placed itself in a lose-lose situation on Egypt's troubles, one that may be decided more by its interests in Riyadh than in Cairo.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rolling Stone Names Worst Climate Change Villains

And the winner is - Rupert Murdoch!   According to Rolling Stone, Murdoch has done more than any other living soul to thwart action to arrest global warming.

The billionaire Kock brothers, Charles and David, share second place followed by that overused reproductive tract from Wasilla, Sarah Palin.  She's the only woman to make the rankings.  Bjorn Lomborg placed a disappointing 11th.   Repug Senator James Inhofe was apparently too big a laughing stock to even place.

Will Obama Ditch Climate Change

Barack Obama, faced with a Republican insurgency in Congress, may be giving up on the fight against global warming.  Carol Browner, the White House coordinator on energy and climate change is stepping down and it's unclear whether she'll even be replaced.

Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners LLC in Washington, said the November elections results were a warning to Obama about his ambitious energy policy.

"  The age of grand designs ended that day and the age of 'bite-sized chunks' began,"   Book said. "  That doesn't leave a lot of maneuvering room for an environmentalist-in-chief."    

Can We Still Keep Backing Israel After This?

Can we still back Israel if it has no intention of ever accepting the creation of a Palestinian state?   Can we support the state of Israel if we discover that it has been flying false flags about peace in the Middle East?   Can we support an Israel whose actual policy is to perpetuate the notion of flexible, ever shifting borders and the permanent subjugation of the Palestinian people?

I think we can and, so long as the Libs remain under the current management, will do just that.

You don't hear much about it in our media but al Jazeera has blown the lid off the secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority going back to the Bush/Cheney years.   The Arab news service has released confidential documents, now called the "Palestine Papers" showing the P.A. was willing to drop its pants and bend over to get any sort of statehood deal from Israel only to get the heave-ho.

Why won't Israel even consider handing Gaza and the West Bank over to a legitimate Palestinian state?   One reason I've often repeated is that Israel will never permit the aquifer that lies beneath the West Bank to fall under Palestinian (i.e. "enemy") control.  It is one of three aquifers that Israel sees as essential to its survival.   There will always be an Israeli tank parked on top of it.

The second reason is best explained by Alistair Crooke.   He contends we have heard but never understood what type of state the Israeli's want to create in their homeland.

It may be politically expedient, however disingenuous, for the current Liberal management to cling to fairy tale explanations of the Palestine/Israel roadblock but that does the party and its faithful no honour.

The documents are out.   They speak for themselves.   The Guardian has received a volume of them from al Jazeera and has had Palestinian officials privately confirm their authenticity even as the Palestinian Authority wants them to simply go away.

Monday, January 24, 2011

This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

 A photo from Der Spiegel of a street scene from Tunis.

What I Want From Ottawa

As a lapsed Liberal I've spent the past couple of years in political limbo.  The Harper government has been mediocre at best.   The Liberals, first under Dion and then Ignatieff, have been duds.   The NDP, well I still don't trust them, probably never will.

It finally dawned on me that rejecting the current offerings doesn't mean I have to limit myself to criticizing them.   No, indeed, this is an opportunity to express what I want to hear from a party I'd be willing to support.   What is important to me?  What am I looking for?   So, here goes.  This is what I want in exchange for my vote.

1.   I want a government that gives genuine priority to climate change.  Every country is facing significant climate change impacts just from the emissions already in the atmosphere.  We have to come to grips with that.  Our government has to get a practical assessment of what's coming our way.   It has to get that information out to local authorities and the public.   It has to evaluate our options for adaptation and then engage the processes of planning and implementation.

2.   I want a government that acknowledges that the wealth gap, the inequality between rich and poor, is a scourge to the country and its future that needs to be redressed.   Inequality harms everybody save for the richest of the rich.  It hobbles us and holds us back.   It undermines the social cohesiveness we're going to need to meet the challenges coming our way this century.

3.  I want a government dedicated to the restoration of a robust, vital and independent Canadian media.   That would be a government willing to compel the dismemberment of the corporate media cabal that suffocates diversity and serves power interests instead of the public interest.   I want more owners, not fewer, more reporters and columnists, not just the hacks who preside today.

4.   I want a government resolved to restore Canada's place in the world.   There is no shortage of combat soldiers in the world.   Contributing a couple of thousand warriors here or there is a wee drop in a very deep bucket.   Yet there is an enormous need for peacekeepers.   The job may have become more violent today than it was in the 60's but that hardly determines its relevance.  We don't need to become a brigade in America's Foreign Legion.  

In short, I want a truly Progressive government, one willing to take long overdue bold stands needed to serve the people of Canada.   I want a government with true vision, one that is able to look around the country, see what's happening and understand what's needed.  I want a government willing to act with courage and principle, not the milquetoasts who want power but aren't willing to fight for it.

That's my wish list.   What's yours?

Corporatism Watch

Corporatism, more accurately described as corporate statism, has taken hold in the United States.  It is inherently anti-democratic, concentrating power in the control of a political-economic elite.   21st century corporatism seems to be evolving differently than its predecessors in that it seeks to organize society not for the general welfare and betterment of society but to entrench the advantage of the privileged.

Keith Olbermann's abrupt consignment into obscurity has some of us mystified.  AlterNet suggests if you want to know what happened to Olbermann, you should ask GE, General Electric, the corporate owner of MSNBC.   It contends that KO was just too progressive for the corporatist media:

Now, with Olbermann’s permanent departure on Friday, the remainder of MSNBC’s liberal evening line-up, which also includes Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and Lawrence O’Donnell (who will fill Olbermann’s 8 p.m. slot), must face the reality that any sustained friction with management could mean the bum’s rush for them, too.

The liberal hosts also must remember that MSNBC experimented with liberal-oriented programming only after all other programming strategies, including trying to out-Fox Fox, had failed – and only after it became clear that President George W. Bush’s popularity was slipping.

Media corporatism, of the variety now comfortably blanketing Canada's news outlets, is a vehicle of corporatist statism.   Media, concentrated in the hands of but a few interests, is in a position to benefit in many ways by placing itself at the service of compatible political interests.  There are subsidies to be had, regulations to be rewritten or scrapped entirely, all for promoting a partisan point of view to an often unwary public.   The political beneficiary of this kindness need dispense nothing but the public interest in an independent, vibrant mass media.

What is beginning to happen in Canada is old hat in the US.  Corporatist statism there has advanced by leaps and bounds ahead of its Canadian adherents.   The forces of corporatism there not only have their "bought and paid for" Congress in their service but also the Supreme Court itself.  The Citizens United decision in which the US Supreme Court invested corporations with political rights, ignoring the fact that corporate personality is a simple legal fiction, was the hallmark of the judicial branch's conversion to corporatist statism.  Last week the progressive state of Vermont moved a resolution to reverse this decision, hoping it will lead to a groundswell of anti-corporatist outrage elsewhere, but we'll have a good wait before we see if that defies the odds to succeed.

Corporatist statism was manifest in the Bush/Cheney years.   Imagine a government waging two, enormously expensive wars on money borrowed from foreign lenders also enacting tax cuts for the rich likewise funded by money borrowed from foreign lenders.  It suffered a blow with the election of Obama and the Democratic capture of both houses of Congress but, aided by the corporatist media, the Republicans were quick to retake the House.

America stands as a warning of the perils of media corporatism and what it holds for Canada.    We witnessed the sharp turn to the right in the Globe & Mail when it fell to Bell Globemedia.  We saw the rise and fall of the blatantly partisan CanWest.  Sun Media needs no elaboration.   Now, in the West, we have the emergence of the new media monolith, Shaw Communications.

From a lowly cable TV company, Shaw has rapidly branched out into a regional, internet service provider and a telephone service provider.   Recently it acquired the broadcast interests of CanWest, that now adds to its corporate structure the elements of broadcaster and TV content provider.  It appears Shaw next intends to get into the cellular phone business.   Have we unleashed a potential monster?   Is this expansion truly in the public interest?

This is the very sort of problem I once would have expected the Liberal Party to address.   I keep waiting to hear today's Liberals speak out on the entrenchment of concentration of media ownership and media cross ownership in Canada.   I wait forlornly for Liberal advocacy for the restoration of independent, robust and vibrant media in Canada.   Yet all I hear is silence.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Five Lost Years. No Land In Sight.

Stephen Harper quite understandably gloats this weekend at five years in power.

Five years.

Those have been five lost years for the Liberal Party.   Five years squandered, adrift, no land in sight.

Harper is as he ever was - comfortably ahead of any Liberal rival.   Sure he remains in a minority but he's become quite adept at playing inept opposition leaders in order to get his way.   If he stays leader long enough, if the Liberals stay in the hole they've carved out for themselves, he might just get a majority - eventually.

Who knows?   Maybe the Liberals are content to keep Mr. Harper or a successor in power for the next five years, maybe even five years after that.   God knows they've done bugger all to unseat him.

Maybe a Harper majority is the only way to get Liberals to act liberal again.  Maybe a big Tory win would force the Liberal hierarchy to pull their thumbs out of their asses, restore progressivism to the party and present badly needed policies that would resonate with the electorate.

Maybe the worst thing for the Liberal party would be more Conservative minority governments.   The Liberal brand clings to life but it isn't what it was five years ago and it's nothing like what it was ten years back.   It's in serious decline and another five years of flailing about uselessly will only bring it closer to irrelevance in the public mind.

You Libs have had five years of management by schoolboys.   Isn't it time you found somebody with teeth and fists who's not afraid to use them?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tucson Wasn't an Aberration. Arizona Is a Nuthouse.

Top to bottom, Arizona exemplifies the disease that has afflicted the American psyche.   It's the state with the lowest per capita debt and yet it's one of the most insolvent.   They even flogged off their state legislature building to raise a few bucks.

Arizona, home to that angry old geezer, John McCain, introduced draconian anti-immigrant laws.   Then there was that bizarre mid-term election with lunatic candidates making preposterous claims.   Hot on the heels of that came the Tucson shootings by a guy who demonstrated that, in Arizona, the deranged have no trouble arming themselves to the teeth.

Now it's the state's attorney general, Tom Horne, showing the world the true face of Arizona.   The Horne dog has ordered Tucson-area schools to drop classes in Mexican-American history and social studies.   Horne claims these classes are "propagandising and brainwashing" students into overthrowing the constitutional government and hating white people.

Horne wrote a law barring Arizona schools from holding classes that breached any of four prohibitions: promoting the overthrow of the government, creating resentment toward a race or class of people, focusing on students of one ethnic group or promoting ethnic solidarity.

Of course deciding what class or textbook "creates resentment toward a race" is a pretty subjective matter unless, of course, you see it in the context of how non-whites might perceive whites.   Then it's easy as hell.

It's a phase they're going through in the American southwest.   White majorities are threatened by burgeoning Latino populations.   Soon it'll be Mexican-Americans who are in the majority.   Maybe rubbing their noses in the dirt just before they get majority status isn't such a bright thing.

If We Can't Get a Global Warming Treaty, How About a Global Population Treaty?

We've been warned to set 9-billion places at the table by 2050.  We're expected to hit 7-billion this October which means another 2-billion in the following four decades.  (This makes me feel old.   When I was born we were still in the low-two billions, itself a record).

In recent weeks I've read a number of articles about how we can feed nine-billion human beings.   The expert consensus is that we can indeed meet the challenge.  Yes we can, but it's not a question of "can" but of "will."   Do we have the will to accept the sacrifices, the compromises without which nine billion cannot be fed?

It's conservatively estimated that we'll have to increase global food production another 70%.   Some believe we'll have to double it.   And then we'll have to ensure that we distribute everything properly so we no longer lose food to spoilage.  We're going to have to scrap our fancy notions of "best before" dates and be willing to eat stuff that, by today's standards, has gone a bit off.   But the big challenge is that we in the affluent world are going to have to cut our food intake back, way back.

I think it's quite possible that we can do these things but I don't believe it's in our nature, the human nature, that we will do them.   Try to imagine how intensely ordered the world will have to become to pull this off.  It would be a world unlike anything we have ever known.

The Guardian warned yesterday that the era of cheap food is about over.   From here on in food will get much more expensive.   Presumably that's the supply and demand function at work.   Yet those extra two billion won't be born with silver spoons in their mouths.    Most of them will be born to poor parents in poor nations.   Just how are they going to be able to buy expensive food?  How will they manage to pay to have it shipped vast distances to their markets?  How many middle men will stand between them and the calories they need to subsist?  How many thugs?

If food is elevated to the status of a strategic weapon, something that can be used to bring a nation living at subsistence levels to collapse, how will we prevent that nightmare from happening?

Surely what these projections tell us is that we cannot have another two billion people added to the roster.  We're just not capable or good enough to manage that extra burden.   We can't even figure out how we're going to cope with the impacts of anthropogenic global warming that are supposed to begin arriving, in force, at the same time we bring aboard those extra two billion.

Maybe it's time for a showdown.   Perhaps it is time we resolved that 7-billion is enough and that mankind has to draw the line there.   Africa and Asia have to put the brakes on, arrest their burgeoning population growth.   They've simply got to stop.   They have to take responsibility for their population levels.

We all must recognize that the good times have rolled.    We're in for a century marked by droughts, floods, severe weather events and rising sea levels with associated inundation and salination threats.   Even the more advantaged countries, like the United States, will be hard pressed to meet domestic troubles including loss of agricultural capacity and internally displaced citizens.

It's hard to imagine the affluent, northern countries bending low to help regions that chose to add two billion people while knowing full well where the world was heading.   For ultimately what is being hinted at is rationing.   We'll have to consume less so that ever more can consume a little.   That's not something we do terribly well.  Worse yet, if we accept some sort of de facto food rationing, we'll also be facing pressures for other types of rationing/sharing - water, energy, natural resources.   That's simply not going to happen.

There's nothing we can do any longer to avert the baseline impacts of global warming, the changes that are coming even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases entirely as of today.   It remains entirely in our power to defuse the global population explosion.   That's a matter of choice.   It's a life or death choice.

Glenn's Kampf

Revolution?   Civil War?  "Shoot them in the head?"

I think the Left is much too quick to lambaste the Right as akin to Nazis but this sounds like something straight out of a Munich bierkellar

Friday, January 21, 2011

Enormous Softwood Victory! No, Not Really.

Yippee!  Okay, we lost - BUT not as badly as we could have lost.

Canada has been ordered to impose an additional $60-million in special export levies on softwood producers in Quebec and Ontario.   Trademin van Loan says it could have been oh so much worse.   The Yanks were after $2-billion in extra tariffs.

But the surly Gringos aren't done with us yet, not hardly.   They're after half a billion bucks claiming that British Columbia is flogging lumber at rock bottom prices in the province's interior.   The Americans haven't figured out all that cheap lumber is the result of huge tracts of trees killed by mountain pine beetle infestations.

A Toronto trade lawyer is quoted by CTV as saying, "This is the cost of the deal we reached with the United States."  He's referring, of course, to the deal the Harper government made with the US.

Give Nukes a Chance

Many ordinary environmentalists have been conditioned to recoil at the mere mention of nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.  Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, the bombs - pretty powerful stuff indeed.

Unfortunately our minds were locked up long ago.   The Chernobyl disaster in 1989 was the icing on the cake.

Fortunately the public's wariness of nuclear power failed to prevent the development of third and fourth generation nuclear technology, the "fast reactors."  Let's put it this way, they're not your father's nuclear reactors.  In fact they may be your best hope of arresting global warming before we reach tipping points.

The common complaints I hear about nuclear energy are that it's dangerous, can be used in the process of creating weapons grade material and leaves all those spent fuel rods that have to be stored for countless thousands of years.   Those were all good points, emphasis on "were."

Australian professor Barry Brook has a blog, Brave New Climate at   If you're not current with developments in nuclear technology it's a good place to catch up.

Brook explains why the latest generation of reactors are so much better than their predecessors.   The main reason is that previous nuclear plants were based on technologies developed for military purposes.

All of those fuel cycles were derived from technologies developed to meet special military needs: naval propulsion, uranium enrichment, weapons-plutonium production, and plutonium separation. Waste disposal has been approached as “someone else’s problem.” The IFR concept is directed strictly to meeting the needs of civilian power generation. It is an integrated, weapons-incompatible, proliferation-resistant cycle that is “closed”—it encompasses the entire fuel cycle, including fuel production and fabrication, power generation, reprocessing and waste management.
“Fuel cycle” refers to all the steps involving nuclear fuel that are needed to generate electricity: mining, milling, enrichment, fuel fabrication, reactor operation, reprocessing and waste management. Depending on the fuel cycle, some of those steps might not be needed. The three major fuel cycles of current interest are: thermal without reprocessing (“once-through,” or “throw-away”), thermal with reprocessing and IFR. The IFR will eliminate the need for mining (for centuries), and milling and enrichment (forever).

Whereas early generation reactors generate plutonium and those never really spent fuel rods that have to be safely and expensively stored forever and ever, amen, IFRs actually eat that stuff.   The can consume it as fuel.   They can also turn weapons grade material into fuel.  It's sort of like turning nuclear swords into electrical ploughshares.

I have only a layman's knowledge of nuclear energy and, until recently, harboured the same biases against it that are common today.  It was only when James Lovelock came out as a strong advocate of nuclear power that I started to take a second look.  I was frankly surprised at how civilian-oriented, nuclear technology has evolved.

It may just be time we gave nuclear power, the fast reactor kind, a chance.

Why Are Our Conservatives Dumber Than Theirs?

There's something that distinguishes North American conservatives from their conservative counterparts elsewhere.   Our cons refuse to accept the need for immediate action to curb carbon emissions.   To them the theory of global warming is about as appealing as parsnips to a spoiled 6-year old.   They don't like it and they're not going to have it.

Elsewhere on the planet, conservatives do get it.   Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady herself, was onto global warming back when Reagan could still remember where he lived.   Angela Merkel gets it.   So do other conservatives the other side of the Atlantic and Pacific.   Ours reject global warming, not based on science but out of preference.   That's because they're not really conservative at all.   Edmund Burke, their patron saint, would have faced the global warming challenge very conservatively.   He would have done whatever was possible to "conserve" his country and his world.

Canada's Conservatives hide behind America's "bought and paid for" Congress, confident that their Republican colleagues will throw a monkey wrench into any meaningful attempt to act on global warming.   And now, having regained control of the House, Republicans are gearing up to do just that.   McClatchey Newspapers reports that House Republicans are about to start pushing hard to derail carbon emission regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency in December said it would draw up performance standards that would help cut heat-trapping gases produced by refineries and coal-fired power plants. The EPA hasn't proposed the specifics yet, and existing plants wouldn't be affected until the later years of the decade, but opponents of regulation aren't waiting. 

The new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said he'd have hearings about the impact of the EPA's emission reduction plan on jobs.

"  Standing up for American workers and addressing EPA's rampant regulations is a top priority, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said Thursday. "  We will be active and aggressive using every tool in the toolbox to protect American jobs and our economy by rolling back the job-destroying (greenhouse gas) regulations."

The Repugs won't be able to do much unless they can swing several Democratic votes in the Senate but if they do manage to retake both houses of Congress they're bound to pounce on the EPA.
Meanwhile ExxonMobil predicts that global carbon emissions will increase by 25 per cent over the next twenty years.  If the oil giant is right, that means any hope of preventing runaway global warming is gone.  Exxon sees demand for power increasing by 40% over the next twenty years and it sees that demand being met by conventional fossil fuels.

"In 2030, fossil fuels remain the predominant energy source, accounting for nearly 80% of demand. Oil still leads, but natural gas moves into second place on very strong growth of 1.8% a year on average, particularly because of its position as a favoured fuel for power generation.

"  Other energy types – particularly nuclear, wind, solar and biofuels – will grow sharply, albeit from a smaller base. Nuclear and renewable fuels will see strong growth, particularly in the power-generation sector. By 2030, about 40% of the world's electricity will be generated by nuclear and renewable fuels."

The company does not say what it expects global oil output to be in 2030, but suggests that US demand will be roughly at 1960 levels, suggesting that the US will have reduced its dependency on foreign oil considerably.

Instead, it says that growth in CO2 emissions in the future will be dominated by China, India and other developing, or non-OECD countries.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why Order a Guy to Get On the Ground After You've Killed Him?

Middle of the night.   Guy hears a ruckus at his door.   Grabs a golf club.  Cops enter - bang, bang, bang.   Guy drops, dead.   Cops approach and order the corpse to "get on the ground."

Watch it yourself.   Do you think all these cops with their helmets and all that ballistic body armour, well back from their victim, were even remotely in danger from the guy's golf club?  Or do you think it's judicial murder?

South Korea Seeking US Go-Ahead to Build Ballistic Missiles

South Korea wants out of a deal it made with the US in 2001 that limits it to missiles with a top range of 186-miles and warheads no larger than 1,100 pounds.

Apparently fed up with threats from the North, the South Koreans want to build missiles capable of hitting targets anywhere in the North which means increasing the range limit to 1,000 kms. or 620-miles.   South Korea already has an arsenal of cruise missiles able to strike anywhere in North Korea.

Washington has sought to limit South Korea's missile capability fearing expansion would trigger Pyongyang to expand its already considerable arsenal.

He Who Forgets His History Is Doomed to Repeat It. He Who Never Knew It Is In For Surprises.

Those of us living in urban, western North America live in a relatively young society.   Our kind just haven't been around that long.   Because of that we're unfamiliar with what, in the long run, is "normal" for our locale.   Oh we've heard about the giant quakes that strike every three or four-hundred years but our society is less than two hundred years old and has never experienced one.   We will, one day, and then those of us who survive will duly enter it in the books.    For now, however, it's the stuff of legend.

Consider the prairie.   That has been settled mainly over the past hundred years or so.   The settlers put the grasslands into agricultural production turning it into the breadbasket of our nation.   That led to the establishment of railroads, highways, airports, towns and cities and all the infrastructure that goes with such things.   But we did all this without regard to the history of the prairie.  Only recently did we learn that this region is prone to megadroughts lasting 60-years or more.  60 years?   The fact that, when we showed up, it was prairie grassland made up of some pretty drought-resistant species should have given us pause but didn't.   What we didn't understand that the conditions when we arrived were not normal, not even close.   Our arrival coincided with a century plus-long stretch of unduly wet conditions, perfect for large-scale agriculture.  And so we built a society around that, on false assumptions.

The American southwest is in for its own surprises.  It's running out of water and megadrought is just beginning to set in.   The states in that area are already introducing drastic measures to curb water consumption and that will do a lot to ease the problem - temporarily.   Eventually you reach a baseline threshhold and then you have to depopulate.

Now it's California that's getting a history lesson.   117-researchers got together last week to report that global warming could trigger "superstorms" capable of flooding California's key agricultural zone, the central valley.

A winter storm that brings warm South Pacific air over parts of California, creating an " atmospheric river"   that could bring 10 feet of rain over 40 days, flooding large tracts of the state and bringing flood water to nearly a quarter of the state's homes.

Such a storm could bring water into California at a rate equivalent to that of 50 Mississippi rivers, the climate model projected.

As sensational as that scenario sounds, researchers say it's based in historical reality: Such storms have hit California before, most notably in 1861 and 1862, when floods turned a 300-mile stretch of the Central Valley into a lake. The New York Times reports:

The storms lasted 45 days, creating lakes in parts of the Mojave Desert and, according to a survey account, “turning the Sacramento Valley into an inland sea, forcing the state capital to be moved from Sacramento to San Francisco for a time, and requiring Gov. Leland Stanford to take a rowboat to his inauguration.”

Today we're witnessing megafloods in Australia, Brazil and Sri Lanka.   While they're triggered by the southern oscillation La Nina event the severity is being attributed, at least in part, to atmospheric warming.

The Greatest Race on Earth

Yes, I'm a sinner.   A struggling environmentalist who can't kick an addiction to racing.   But it's just one race.   It's the annual Dakar rally now, thanks to al Qaeda, being run in the relative safety of South America.   My interest is in the motorcycle category where this year the bikes are limited to just 450 cc. engine displacement.  I guess you could call it "fuel saver" racing.   Once again Austrian KTM dominated the motorcycle class.   I think this is their fourth or fifth year in a row.  Here are a few pictures I lifted from the Boston Globe:

If you're interested you can view the rest here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sean Hannity. America's Real Mental Affliction.

I credit FOX News with delivering an awful lot of the conditioning that has left so many Americans ignorant, befuddled, angry and volatile.  Among the FOX celebrities, probably none is more odious than mouthpiece Sean Hannity.  The following clip from Hannity's show pretty much sums up the guy:

Go in and take Kuwait's oil?   Really?  I suppose he maintains that Kuwait owes America for its liberation in Operation Desert Storm.   Maybe Hannity is simply too stupid to recall that was the one war America fought on the cheap with countries like Japan and Germany covering almost all of America's costs.

As for Iraqis paying for their liberation, maybe Hannity could remind us who asked Bush/Cheney to invade and devastate Iraq?  Whoever that is, why not send them the bill?   Sean Hannity is such a total sphincter.

That Explains a Lot. Reagan Had Alzheimers While President.

RR's son Ron claims his dad was becoming seriously addled by the third year of his first term as US president.   Ron Jr. makes the claim in his new book, "My Father at 100,"  that commemorates what would have been Reagan's centennial.

...Ron Reagan describes his growing sense of alarm over his father's mental condition, beginning as early as three years into his first term. He recalls the presidential debate with Walter Mondale on 7 October 1984.

"  My heart sank as he floundered his way through his responses, fumbling with his notes, uncharacteristically lost for words. He looked tired and bewildered," Ron Reagan writes.

Bring On the Alchemists

For centuries alchemy, the belief that common lead could be transformed into pure gold, was the preserve of nutters and dupes.   The 21st century, however, could see a form of alchemy turned into reality.

Yesterday's Globe & Mail reported on a breakthrough that uses genetically modified bacteria (e-coli no less) to transform carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuels - gasoline, diesel, kerosene, you name it.   Joule Unlimited says it has developed a technology that uses bacteria growing in waste water that consume CO2 and excrete liquid hydrocarbon fuels at a cost equivalent of $30-per barrel crude.

The Joule technology requires no “feedstock,” no corn, no wood, no garbage, no algae. Aside from hungry, gene-altered micro-organisms, it requires only carbon dioxide and sunshine to manufacture crude. And water: whether fresh, brackish or salt. With these “inputs,” it mimics photosynthesis, the process by which green leaves use solar energy to convert carbon dioxide into organic compounds. Indeed, the company describes its manufacture of fossil fuels as “artificial photosynthesis.”

I read the article with a good measure of skepticism for it sounds far too good to be true.  That led me to take a look at Joule Unlimited and its key personnel.  I was impressed.   Joule is run by some very top-drawer scientists from the several fields one would expect would be involved in developing this technology.  Yet, for all that, the story still sounded too good to be true.  Now I'm pretty sure it is.

What's notable in the G&M story is the range of questions unanswered and apparently never asked by the reporter.   These are the questions one needs to make any real sense of this story, questions that determine whether Joule's discovery is really an answer to our carbon emissions problems or Peak Oil.

A key issue is whether Joule's breakthrough is just a lab trick.  We've done all manner of things, impossible things in labs recently.   We've collided the smallest sub atomic particles.   We've created anti-matter.  We've even exceeded the speed of light.   All these things were done in very controlled conditions.  None of them will have any practical application probably not even within your grandkids lifetimes.

Is it scaleable?  Is it truly suited to large-scale applications that would be needed to supplant conventional fossil fuels?

What are the waste or by-products of this technology?  For example, desalination plants sound terrific until you begin to explore the contaminated brine effluent that is produced and released back into the environment.  Joule's process uses waste water.   What is the state of that waste water after processing?

Are there hidden energy inputs?   For example, where does that carbon dioxide come from?   Is it pressurized, liquified?  How is it transported?  

If it is scaleable and cheap and safe, what is the timeline for the construction of artificial liquid hydrocarbon plants that could realistically supplant conventional fossil fuels?   This is a big one.   Time is running out.   Some of the best minds give us less than two decades to wean ourselves off conventional fossil fuels.   If the Joule discovery is 30 or 40 years away from practical implementation it's value is greatly diminished.

And then we come to the real problems, the geopolitical issues.   Surely a development like this would be of a magnitude of the first production of nuclear weapons.   It would be a game changer.  Whichever state held it would have a great advantage from independence from conventional fossil fuels.   Something like this, closely held as a strategic asset, might just be enough to put America back on top.  That would, of course, depend on America's rivals not getting their hands on the technology.

Would we finally be able to turn the lights off on the Middle East?   Everything we've done there, every problem we've created and confronted, is at least partly if not entirely related to our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.  With just a couple of exceptions, the world's petro-states are pretty nasty places whose influences we could do quite well without.  If "eco-oil" could be had at $30-a barrel, you could be sure that conventional oil would be priced at a significant discount.  The Persian Gulf?  There goes the neighbourhood.

And, finally, what lies in store for unconventional fossil fuels, the filthiest and most expensive of the lot?   Yes, I'm talking about Athabasca and offshore wells.  They would be the first to go and they would go down hard.

The Joule Unlimited announcement comes on the heels of a report out of CalTech where researchers have obtained a patent for another form of alternative transport fuel, liquid hydrogen, produced from solar-powered, cerium-oxide reactors.  It seems that necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention.   But is it all too little, too late?  And what of the opposition that can be expected to run interference as it does with all alternative energy options?   What of Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Gas and their incestuous bedding of America's "bought and paid for " Congress?   Can any breakthrough decouple the US government from its fossil fuel benefactors?

So many questions, so few answers.  Yet the questions themselves are oddly captivating, even mildly entertaining.   This promises to be an era like none other.

A Climate Change Tax? Australia Ponders Just That.

It's enough to make a Tea Partier's bag boil.  Climate change taxes.  What?  Don't laugh, your turn could come soon enough.  AlterNet reports the Australian government is toying with the idea of a general tax levy to fund reconstruction costs in the wake of recent, massive flooding.

A levy could take the form of an addition to the 1.5 percent Medicare levy backing public health and hospitals, and which raises A$10 billion ($9.9 billion) a year, the Australian newspaper said, without naming sources.

Flooding blamed on rains triggered by a La Nina weather pattern in the Pacific has devastated huge areas of Australia's eastern seaboard, flooded parts of Brisbane, the nation's third-largest city, shut vital coal mines and rail lines, and destroyed crops.

Australia, like most countries in the developed world, has a debt and deficit problem on its hands at the moment.   The government has a recovery plan but shelling out up to $20-billion or more in flood relief could toss that plan off the rails.  So to try to keep its economic plan alive the government may have to hit up the public for additional taxes.

Now, think of another debt-saddled country.   One that is vulnerable to severe weather events that are expected to increase in both frequency and severity.  One where the insurance industry is already refusing to cover these climate change related risks.  That's right, it's the United States of America.

Hurricane and tropical storm damage to the American south and its eastern seaboard and the spreading mega-drought to the south and southwest can be expected to trigger enormous, uninsurable losses.   Insurers long ago ceased writing hurricane coverage as far north as New York state and well inland to boot.  By 2030 America also faces the prospect of internally displaced people who find it necessary to move away from drought-stricken regions or coastal areas experiencing inundation.   Washington may well have no alternative but to spread the costs of reconstruction and relocation onto the shoulders of its citizens through special levies.   Can you hear the howling already, or is that gunfire?

Will Canada be spared these sorts of costs?   Perhaps but don't count on it.  Our own bread basket, southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, are within the severe drought projections for the early 21st century.

Monday, January 17, 2011

You Have to Choose - Will It Be Canada or Athabasca?

For the Liberal leadership, supporting the operation and expansion of the Athabasca Tar Sands involves a wobbly conjuring trick - pretending that the Tar Sands can somehow be made environmentally acceptable.  I'm not excusing the other two parties, they're as bad or worse, but it's the Liberal Party that has always been my home team.

Making the Tar Sands palatable has entailed the idea that all those massive carbon emissions could be captured and then pumped into safe storage underground.  It's telling that the other environmental devastation wreaked by the Tar Sands tends to go unmentioned, swept under the carpet.

Carbon Capture & Sequestration, CCS, or, as I sometimes think of it, Michael Ignatieff's Magic Wand.  It's the stuff of charlatans, hucksters and swindlers.  It doesn't work and, worse, it's lethal when it fails.  To do it properly would render Athabasca's bitumen commercially unviable.  No one's going to pick up that tab.  Certainly Big Oil won't.  Neither will Alberta or Ottawa.   The best they're willing to do is pump the stuff underground and then look the other way.

A few days ago Andrew Nikiforuk, writing in The Tyee, blew the whistle on Canada's CCS showcase demonstration project in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.  About a decade ago it was decided to pipe carbon dioxide from a coal gasification plant in North Dakota and pump it into the partially-empty Weyburn oilfield.   So far about 17-million tonnes of CO2 have been pumped into the Weyburn reservoir.   Government regulators have declared it safe but it's not.  In fact that CO2 has begun leaking back to the surface as it was bound to do and has been detected in concentrations twice the level necessary to asphyxiate a person.  Nikiforuk chronicles the leakage and a variety of other problems now facing residents in the Weyburn area.

In short, this CCS business is hogwash, potentially highly lethal hogwash.  It's time the Liberal Party picked itself out of the petro-gutter and took the high ground on Athabasca.  The Tar Sands are dirty, far dirtier than the Alberta or federal governments have been willing to admit.   There is no Magic Wand solution to the Tar Sands and there never will be.  A real Liberal leader would have the courage to say so.