Monday, February 28, 2011

A National Madness

In an alternate, perhaps saner universe, the United States of America would be a parody of what happens when a great nation loses is collective mind, turns addled, goes blind.

Of the 194 countries in the world (the number recognized by the US State Department) just one of those spends more on its military than the remaining 193 combined even though it represents a modest 5 per cent of the global population.  This unique nation is a true warfare state, one that also happens to be going broke.  Quelle surprise!

Today it's elected representatives are waging war on their debt and deficit but it's a war they've chosen to fight on the backs of their own people, a war in which the bleeding is to be done by the working classes.   It is a class war being waged on behalf of the ultra-rich by their bought and paid for minions in Congress.  It is a class war in which a hopelessly confused and divided populace is turned against itself.

Think this is flowery hyperbole?   Think again.  You can begin by reading Paul Krugman's column in today's New York Times.   He examines the Lone Star state's war on its own budget woes.  Krugman begins by noting that, in Texas, barely three out of five young people graduate high school and the state has an embarrassing low rate of young people ranked in good or excellent health.  So, with an already ill-educated and unhealthy youth population, where will Texas fight its deficits?   Will it tax the already low-taxed rich?   No, it will slash medicaid and get rid of up to 100,000 teachers.

Texas likes to portray itself as a model of small government, and indeed it is. Taxes are low, at least if you’re in the upper part of the income distribution (taxes on the bottom 40 percent of the population are actually above the national average). Government spending is also low. 

 The really striking thing about all this isn’t the cruelty — at this point you expect that — but the shortsightedness. What’s supposed to happen when today’s neglected children become tomorrow’s work force?

Anyway, the next time some self-proclaimed deficit hawk tells you how much he worries about the debt we’re leaving our children, remember what’s happening in Texas, a state whose slogan right now might as well be “Lose the future.” 

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that the Congressional footsoldiers of America's Uber-Rich are poised to bar Obama, "from funding programmes regulating greenhouse gas emissions, or connected to climate science and international negotiations for a deal to end global warming."

The EPA faces other challenges to its authority in Congress, aside from those in the spending bill. One proposal, which has Democratic as well as Republican support, would delay the EPA's efforts to begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions this year.

And all of this from legislators who won't blink an eye at this year throwing a $30-billion increase into the already bloated budget of the military/industrial/corporate warfighting complex.

Now tell me this isn't a nation gone mad.

(I'm very conscious of the fact that my comments have an eerily socialist tone and yet I'm now convinced that's a perfectly normal manifestation of true liberalism in the face of blatant rightwing excess.   We are intended, obliged even to fight these battles from the left, not to cower for safety under the skirts of the right.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Toronto Star Calls It Harper by 13 Points.

The oh-so Liberal Toronto Star brings sad tidings.  The paper's pollsters quizzed 6,000 Canadians and the results - Harper 39%, Ignatieff 26%, Layton 18%.

The Libs, it seems, keep chasing things that don't matter to the people who do - the voters.   The Oda scandal seems to be a total yawner with the electorate.

The 13 point spread holds up in Ontario where the Conservatives garnered a depressing yet impressive 43% to just 30% for the Libs.   The only demo where the Libs held a lead was with university-educated voters.   Unfortunately, in these days of universal suffrage, that doesn't mean very much at all.

In gender, Harper is 20 points ahead of Iggy with men, 44-24% and the Cons lead the women's vote 34% to 28%.

Morally Flaccid Prime Minister to Levy Sanctions Against Libya - Gaddafi Petrified

Canada's leading man of action, Stephen the Grandiose of Ottawa, is scheduled to stand up on his hind legs in the capital this afternoon to unveil sanctions against the Gaddafi regime in Libya.  The Vancouver Sun boasts that Harper's decisive and punitive measures will "step up the pressure" against Libya.

Having completely botched an attempt earlier today to airlift Canadians out of Tripoli (apparently nobody told them to get to the airport and the plane had to leave empty) may be why he's waiting until Muammar is in his jammies to lower the lumber on Libya.

Seriously, we're going to "step up the pressure" on Libya?   Maybe Gaddafi can't live without maple syrup, maybe not.  It's hard to imagine how Schoolmarm Steve intends to ramp up the pressure on a guy who is plainly batshit crazy.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Does "Sordid" Mean Anything Any More?

The New York Times reports that former Harper Collins' editor Judith Regan was allegedly told by Fox News chairman Roger Ailes to lie to investigators about an affair she had with Bernie Kerik who had been nominated to become secretary of Homeland Security.  Ailes was supposedly concerned that a scandal about the former New York Police commissioner Kerik could harm his former boss, the former mayor Rudolph Guiliani.  It is claimed that Regan recorded her chat with Ailes on tape which may have led to the nearly $11-million payout she got when bounced from Harper Collins.

The word that comes to mind when I hear "Roger Ailes" is sordid.  It means, dirty, filthy, squalid, depressingly wretched, base, ignoble, mean, mercenary, avaricious.

You could easily, and fairly, tar Ailes' proteges - Hannity, O'Reilly, Beck and Palin with the same brush.  They're all depressingly wretched, base and ignoble people yet all of them in positions of considerable influence.  

Then there's Wisconsin governor Scott Walker who, mistakenly believing himself to be in a telephone conversation with one of the Koch boys, volunteered that he and his staff had considered planting "troublemakers" among pro-union protesters to discredit them.  He also discussed how he would try to lure Democratic legislators into talks and then turn on them.   Once again, the guy is depressingly wretched, base and ignoble, mean and mercenary.

What is happening today?   How did these traits become the qualities of the radical Right?   They employ these talents against their own supporters in order to extract an advantage against their opponents.   Look at how the Right routinely manipulates its own supporters with fear.   They're inflicting fear on their own, using it as a cattle prod, to stampede the herd and thus overwhelm those who stand up to them.  It's all fear, all the time.

Yet the Left, for reasons incomprehensible, rolls over to these bullies, again and again and again.   The Left capitulates or draws closer to the Right to seek shelter.  I guess the Left is becoming sordid too - it's safer that way.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bombs, Please.

Fantastic times bring out fantastic stories but experience teaches there are plenty of lies among them.

We're now in Gaddafi time with the Italians reporting that the apparently mentally unhinged Muammar is responsible for the deaths of upwards of a thousand demonstrators in recent days.  A thousand, that's a lot.   A four figure number is much more likely to trigger international intervention than a few hundred bodies.  Think Rwanda, think the Congo.   Oops, no forget it.  But those millions were blacks, Libyans are Arabs and Arabs have oil so that moves them up a notch in Western eyes, no?

Anyway, word is out that Gaddafi personally ordered the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.  That would be the Pan-Am 747 that was blown out of the sky over a Scottish village en route to the U.S.  270-passengers and crew perished.  The finger is being pointed by Gaddafi's ex-justice minister, emphasis on "ex".  He claims that was why Gaddafi kept trying to Abdel al Megrahi from a Scottish prison.

The former justice min, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, claims to have proof of Gaddafi's involvement.   Chances are somebody is going to want to see that pretty soon.

I expect Gadaffi's days are numbered and you can count them on one hand.  Al Jazeera reports that what remains of his forces are still falling back as more Libyan cities are taken over by the anti-Gadaffi forces.  He appears to be increasingly reliant on foreign mercenaries.  But, unlike Mubarak and ben Ali, Gadaffi may be two deranged to be able to weigh the odds against him.   That's never a good thing when you're surrounded by dangerous people whose own futures are hanging in the same balance.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Can Egypt Liberate Libya?

Who better to do the job?   In fact, with Security Council authorization, Egypt might be the only country that could make a difference in time. 

Gaddafi's air force that he has reportedly unleashed on the demonstrators relies on a dozen or so, 1960's vintage Mirage F1s.  Egypt has 240, late model American F-16s plus a gaggle of modern Mirage 2000s, more than a match for Gaddafi's older French jets.

On the ground, Egypt fields modern armour including the America M-1 Abrams tank.   Gaddafi's forces rely on the antiquated Soviet era T-72 which is pretty much just target practice for the M-1.

Most of Libya's stuff is pretty old including its surface to air missile batteries which are all but useless against modern electronic countermeasures.

Egypt stands at Libya's eastern border, the part of the country that is already under the demonstrators' control.   This could be over in an afternoon.  The Egyptian air force could easily take out Libyan airfields (runways and bunkers) and demolish the garrisons of those ground forces loyal to Gaddafi.   Take out their critical infrastructure including their command and control systems and they're essentially homeless.   With no air cover and the prospect of Egyptian M-1 tanks rolling on to Tripoli, Libyan military commanders would be left with a pretty hard decision and I doubt it would go Gaddafi's way.   Probably the worst of them would just pack their bags, with or without Muammar.

If external muscle is what it's going to take to pry Gaddafi's claw from Libya's throat it'll have to come from the land of the Pharoahs.

Monday, February 21, 2011

50-Million Climate Refugees Predicted by 2020

If you think the US won't be militarizing their border with Mexico, think again.

A report delivered at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science warns that 50-million climate change refugees are expected to flood into the "global north" by 2020.   Know that beachfront property in Costa Rica you were always dreaming about?  Best you forget about it.

Cristina Tirado, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said,  "When people are not living in sustainable conditions, they migrate."  She noted that southern Europe is already struggling to deal with environmental refugees fleeing Africa.

Gwynne Dyer has a slightly different take.   He says history shows us that, when societies face famine, they first thing they do is raid their neighbours.   And the neighbours, who are probably in trouble themselves, aren't keen on sharing.  It's the subject of Dyer's aptly named book, "Climate Wars."

Christchurch Hit By Damaging Quake

No word yet on casualties but some people are reported to be trapped in collapsed buildings.   Here are a few photos of Christchurch from the Sydney Morning Herald.  It's hard to believe all this damage was caused by a 6.3 magnitude quake.


Is Krugman America's New Revere?

It was encouraging to read the top columnist at The New York Times sounding the alarm at the decline of democracy in America at the hands of the emerging oligarchy.  Paul Krugman is absolutely right.  Union busting in America isn't really an economic issue, it's political.  It's a vehicle for the transfer of political power from the middle class to America's emerging aristocracy.

America is a nation where the powerful have turned on their own people.  Income inequality has been their weapon of choice.  The gap between rich and poor has never been as wide and what lies between has turned stagnant.

A vibrant, robust middle class is the beating heart of any viable democracy.  It operates as a buffer against the excesses of the right and the left alike.   It is the progressive center.  The stronger it is, the broader it becomes.   It once spanned the gamut from unionized workers through white collar occupations and on into the professions.  It was the middle class that assured the prosperity of the middle class.  It was the middle class that served as the vehicle for social mobility.  It was the ladder that people could climb to better themselves, to lift themselves out of poverty, sometimes to even become wealthy.  It obviously had to be crushed.

And then came along the crushers, guys like Mulroney and Reagan, the architects of globalization and outsourcing.   They talked about freedom, the free movement of capital.  They lied.  Capital always moved freely.  The snake oil they were selling had very little to do with capital and almost everything to do with surrendering our markets to capital using cheap labour abroad.  It was about liberating their own from having to employ the same people they needed to buy their products.  You're not going to sell a hundred dollar pair of sneakers to a guy who makes two bucks a day and has five mouths to feed.   Globalization was always about surrendering sovereignty over our markets, the elixir that makes outsourcing so terribly rewarding - for the very few.

Outsourcing led to wage stagnation for America's working classes, blue and white collar.  Wages stagnated despite decades of steadily increasing productivity.  More women entered the work force just to keep the family afloat.  More parents took second jobs.   And, when that no longer kept them afloat in their middle class lifestyles they turned to debt.  A nation became insane enough to believe that their houses were bank machines.   The middle class was sinking without even realizing it.

So now they're turning on government unions.  I watched an interview with the governor of New Jersey who wanted to scrap the state employees' pension plan.  It was the usual, "we're broke and can't pay it" crap.  Later it came out that for something like eleven out of the previous thirteen years, the state had defaulted on its obligation to contribute to the employees' pension fund.   That was money the state owed these people.  They took that money and spent it on something else and then blamed the workers for their pension crisis.  Those awful pinkos and their "entitlements."

Chris Hedges has a new book out, "The Death of the Liberal Class," in which he argues that American liberalism has been dead for almost a century.  He maintains that while modern liberals talk a good game they always give in to right wing and corporate pressure.   Quite frankly that sounds like the recipe for what passes for liberalism in Canada, especially big "L" liberals, in the 21st century.  Faux liberalism today that nitpicks about day care and arts funding while ducking entirely the critical issues confronting our country is just what Hedges is talking about.  But I digress.

A further, chilling account of the transformation quietly underway in America is documented by Andrew Bacevich in his book, "The New American Militarism."
Bacevich is  no pinko.  He's a retired, career US Army officer turned professor.  He contends that the American republic cannot survive the new American militarism.  He chronicles the marriage of the US military with neo-conservative ideology, religious fundamentalism, and the military/industrial/corporate warfighting complex into an entity that now even challenges its civilian masters.  Bacevich laments the death of the "citizen soldier" and argues that the historic bond between the army and the civilian population has been broken.  Even more troubling, Bacevich explores how military force has come to displace diplomacy as the main instrument of American foreign policy.

What drives a country riddled with debt at national, state, municipal and individual levels to spend more on its military than every other nation combined?  What conceivable democratic purpose can that possibly serve?  Today's Republicans are demanding that Obama cut $60-billion from his government's budget.   They could get that by simply trimming a mere 8 per cent from the Pentagon's bloated budget.   This year the Pentagon is expecting just under $700-billion and that doesn't include the cost of the war in Afghanistan or military operations in Iraq.   It doesn't include the military aspects of Homeland Security nor does it include the cost of America's nuclear arsenal which is picked up by the Department of Energy.

When you put Krugman's warning atop the alarms already sounded by people like Bacevich, Chalmers Johnson and Howard Zinn it's pretty clear that its not just Arab countries that are overdue for a revolution.   Then again, as I've written so often before, we do appear to be entering the Century of Revolution.

Libyan Diplomats at UN Denounce Gaddafi As a "Genocidal War Criminal"

Muammar Gaddafi's own envoys to the United Nations have broken with their boss and his regime.   Diplomats from the Libyan mission have called Gaddafi a genocidal war criminal and called for him to quit.

We are sure that what is going on now in Libya is crimes against humanity and crimes of war,” the deputy permanent representative, Ibrahim O. Dabbashi, told reporters in the ground-floor lobby of the Libyan mission on Manhattan’s East Side, adorned by a large portrait of Colonel Qaddafi in tribal dress atop a white horse.

About a dozen of Mr. Dabbashi’s colleagues stood behind him as he spoke, looking tense and nervous.

BBC News reports that the anti-Gadaffi protesters now seem to have taken control of the east of their country.   The report also details the powerful forces Gadaffi has at his disposal and notes that Gadaffi has never hesitated to unleash them on his own people.  The worst of these, known as the Deterrent Battalion, is  under the command of one of Gadaffi's sons.

If You Think It's Oil That's Coming Out of Athabasca, Think Again

You can tell you're talking to a total liar just as soon as the words "oil sands" come out of his mouth.  And yes, Iggy, that includes you.

As Tar Sands writer Andrew Nikiforuk points out, what comes out of Athabasca is a witches' brew of toxic, corrosive sludge that probably should never be pumped through a pipeline at all.  It's bad enough that they have to run this crap down to the United States but why would they pipe this across British Columbia?

Rafe Mair's Guide to Growing 0ld Ungraciously

A great column from Ol' Rafe in the latest Tyee in which he explains the art of growing old without turning old.  It's a good, fun read - especially if you're on the wrong side of 50.

There's No Whore Like An Elected Whore

And there's nothing to get those political streetwalkers fired up than the chance to stage a mega-event like the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games.   These professional harlots are masters at the art of the come-on and they know that lies don't matter once the cash changes hands.

So how did the Vancouver games fare?   What about that $10-billion windfall promised to the people of BC?  Well, according to The Tyee, we were had.

In Case You're Short of Reasons to Despise Harper

Need to recharge those batteries?  Read Murray Dobbin's piece, "Harper, Autocrat" in the latest Tyee.   Now, can somebody explain to me why the Liberals haven't buried this jackass yet?

They Won't Like This at Wal-Mart

There have been plenty of times when I chose to go without something rather than get it at Wal-Mart.  It's not snobbery.  To me, Wal-Mart is just a place where working folks go to shop themselves out of their own jobs.  I don't buy stuff made in China unless I really have no other choice, something that's becoming increasingly common today.  I will buy stuff made in the US but that's because they buy a lot of stuff from us.

Living on the island, Vancouver is just a two hour boat ride away but I don't shop there either.   Far too much money is already drained from islanders into cash registers in the Lower Mainland.  With this contrarian attitude I was pleased to learn that CUPE BC has launched what they're calling a "Ten Percent Shift" campaign.  BC branch president Barry O'Neill is asking his membership and the public to make a modest, ten per cent shift in their purchasing habits away from outfits like Wal-Mart and to local businesses instead.

The shift that this campaign represents is in one way a new direction for the public service employees union. After all, labour and business interests have been often opposing forces. Buy local is aimed at supporting local businesses -- not necessarily those which are union shops. Where they do agree is on strong local economies.

"  It's not a union thing,"   acknowledges O'Neill, "  but it's, I think, a position that the labour movement generally speaking should get behind. We're members of our community first."

Research supports O'Neill's conviction that these kinds of campaigns really can make a difference in a local economy.

The U.S.-based Institute for Community Self-Reliance has studied the impact of buy local campaigns on independent businesses for the past four years.
In the most recent study, 2,768 businesses were polled. Those in areas with buy local campaigns reported average revenue growth of 5.6 per cent in 2010. Those without reported revenue growth of 2.1 per cent.

About two-thirds of all respondents believed that "  public awareness of the benefits of supporting locally owned businesses has increased in the last year."

 A 2008 report commissioned by LocalFirst, an independent business advocacy group based in the Midwest, looked at the flow of money in West Michigan and found that for every $100 spent at a local business, $63 stayed to circulate in West Michigan. For every $100 spend at a non locally-owned business, $43 stayed in the local economy.

Sure the crap at Wal-Mart is probably a bit cheaper but it's also probably crap. When you shop locally you tend to get surprised at just how much is available in your own community and just how good that stuff is.  Over time you get to know more people from your own community and they're usually happy to pass along tips about what's going on and what is to be had and where.  Give it a shot.  It won't hurt.

Who Sends a White Guy to Do Covert Surveillance in Pakistan?

Okay, take a close look at this photo.   One of the men is unlike the others.   Can you spot him?

That's right.   The shirt is a dead giveaway.  I mean who wears plaid in Pakistan?

The dude is one Raymond Davis, a CIA "contractor" being held by Pakistan authorities for gunning down two locals with the tried and proven Glock so popular in his homeland.   The Americans now say that Davis was part of a covert team of operatives carrying out reconnaissance missions inside Pakistan for the CIA.

Since his arrest, the CIA director, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and even president Obama have been calling their counterparts in Pakistan to get Davis released.

Davis was supposedly travelling under a US diplomatic passport.  How a contractor gets one of those is kind of curious.  In any case it doesn't seem the Pakistanis are buying the diplo immunity argument.

Memo to the CIA.  Next time you send covert operatives to Pakistan, nix the plaid shirts.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Forget about democracy, forget about reform will be a fierce civil war."

That was the warning Muammar Gaddafi's (Ghadafi) son, Saif, broadcast to the people of Libya.  In response, the White House announced it was "considering all appropriate actions" which, given that the current unrest also threatens Gulf oil producers can mean just about anything.

Word is slowly getting out that oil-rich, eastern Libya has already broken with the Gaddafi regime.  If you want an idea what the Libyan protesters are up against, here's Muammar's son, Saif:

Is Gaddafi's Regime Tottering? Al Jazeera Hints It May Just Be.

Despite brutal attacks on anti-government demonstrators in Libya there are signs that Gaddafi's control is weakening.  Al Jazeera  is reporting that at least one army unit has defected to the protesters.   The Arab news agency also reports that tribal leaders are coming to the defence of the demonstrators.   The head of Libya's al Zuwayya tribe has threatened to cut off oil exports unless the authorities cease "the oppression of the protesters."  It says the Warfala tribe, one of Libya's largest, has also joined the anti-Gaddafi protests.

The uprising, originally confined to Tripoli and Benghazi, is now reported to have spread to several other cities.

Muammar seems to be getting decidedly close to what could prove to be a fatally sharp edge.  He might just not be around to celebrate the 43rd anniversary of seizing power in Libya.  If a thug like Gaddafi can be toppled, it's hard to imagine any Arab despot being safe any more.

And We Wonder Why the Rest Of Canada Thinks We're Just Plain Goofy

Ah, good old LotusLand.  My British Columbia, "amongst a grove the very straightest plant" in the entire land.  Perhaps it is the majestic forests and unparalleled beauty that overwhelms us and can leave some ever so slightly unhinged.  By "some" I mean groups like Smoke Free Movies B.C. which, I understand from the Georgia Strait, actually exists.

SFMBC apparently exists, if it truly exists at all, for but one purpose.  It wants our government to slap a "restricted" rating on all films that depict tobacco use.  They don't want kids exposed to scenes of smoking of any sort.

Smoke Free Movies BC is gathering support for a petition that recommends new movies featuring smoking be given an R rating.

“ We really believe that the way to stop people smoking is to have one generation not start, and that will strangle tobacco,”  organizer Pamela McColl told the Straight in a phone interview. 

The petition is based on recommendations made by the World Health Organization and by a Physicians for Smoke-Free Canada study released in August 2010.

According to the study, about 300,000 high-school aged children in Canada are smokers. They estimate about 130,000 of these youth began smoking as a result of exposure to on-screen tobacco use. 

The group is also pushing to require movie producers to indicate on screen that no one involved in the film received anything of value in exchange for displaying tobacco, to require strong anti-smoking ads at the beginning of any movie with tobacco use ,and to bar public subsidies to youth-rated films featuring tobacco use. 

Okay, okay, I suppose they have a point but just how much social engineering do we really need?  I'm a reformed smoker and just as self-righteous about it as most former smokers.  I'm anti-smoking but, really, how far do we take this?  In BC we already require merchants to hide all tobacco products behind screens lest the kids spot them and succumb to nicotine depravity. 

If we want to get serious about it, why not just outlaw tobacco entirely.  Pick a date, say two years down the road, and tell the puffers they've got two years to quit or we'll make their smoking life a living hell.   Cracking down on movies just sounds so damned goofy.

Peace in the Middle East Isn't About Land But Water

Israel wouldn't still be occupying the West Bank in the Palestinian territory if it didn't sit atop a very large freshwater aquifer, a resource that Israeli leaders openly declare essential to the very existence of their state.  That makes the Israel-Palestine conflict intractable, utterly incapable of a negotiated peace.  Israel is not going to give control of that water back to its rightful owners, the Palestinians.   All this nonsense about "roadmaps" and peace initiatives is pure crap.   Until someone comes along who can force Israel back within its 1967 borders it won't happen.

The unrest that is spreading today throughout the Middle East is just a taste of what is to come thanks to the double whammy of freshwater depletion coupled with the impacts of global warming.   A region with a growing population that already lacks sufficient freshwater is going to have much less.

Fortunately, I guess, the Swiss and the Swedes are optimists.   They think if the Middle Eastern states do a collective Rodney King and all agree to "get along" they can avoid having to go to war over water.   That's the conclusion of a report from the Strategic Foresight Goup, "The Blue Peace."

The report gives a pretty stark look at the water problems that now confront Israel and its Arab neighbours.   The river flow of the River Jordan was 1,300 million cubic metres in 1960.   It's down to 100 MCM today.  Iraq's freshwater lifelines, the Tigris and Euphrates, are now threatened by its upstream neighbours, Syria and Turkey, which are having to confront their own freshwater challenges.  Egypt faces a similar threat from its neighbours upstream along the Nile.

The Dead Sea is rapidly shrinking.  In the 60's it was 390 metres below sea level.  Today it's 420.  Today its surface area has shrunk by a third and, unless the decline is arrested, the sea will be a mere lake in 50-years after which it may disappear altogether.

I really don't think we're doing any favours to the Palestinians or the Israelis by all the farcical talk about peace negotiations and return of territory.   That is absolutely putting the cart ahead of the horse.   It virtually guarantees a continuation of the futility of all the past efforts.   The way forward must begin with the water issue and that means Israeli agreement to a deal with the Palestinians on that damned aquifer.  Israel's claw has to be pried loose from that resource.  So long as Israeli control of that aquifer remains unchallenged it has no incentive to negotiate a settlement and that's too dangerous a situation to leave unresolved.

"Water Poverty"? Britain?

The Brits have come up with a new phrase, "water poverty."  It is the situation when rising water rates render the essential resource unaffordable to the poor.  This is standard fare in some impoverished places like India and a fair bit of the Third World but Britain?  Really?  According to The Guardian, that's a big "yeah."

A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, one of the largest social policy research-and-development charities, says that low-income households are at particular risk because of new methods being introduced to increase the efficient use and distribution of water. It defines "  water poverty"   as when households spend 3% or more of their income on water bills.

The report, Vulnerability to Heat Waves and Drought: Adaptation to Climate Change, by the environmental consultancy AEA and a team from the University of Surrey, warns that water is becoming scarce as a result of climate change and increased consumer demand. An estimated four million households in the UK are already "  water poor",  according to the report, and the situation is likely to worsen, with bills predicted to rise by 5% a year for some customers.

" The issue of water poverty – just like fuel poverty – is extremely important, especially as we start to look into the future and consider how climate change is going to impact society,"  said the report's lead author, Magnus Benzie. The south-west of England, where bills are on average 43% higher than in the rest of the country, is set to be particularly affected as the UK becomes significantly drier in coming decades, according to the report.

Water poverty is expected to be acute in "  urban heat islands"  – built-up environments that retain heat more than surrounding areas.

Failures to anticipate the threat posed by climate change can be fatal. The authors point to the heatwave across Europe in 2003 that led to more than 30,000 premature deaths.

Climate change and how we adapt to it will impact upon disadvantaged groups in different ways,"  said Josh Stott, research manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. " This report highlights the need for policy-makers and agencies to consider these social justice issues when preparing and building resilience to climate change, to improve the outcomes for vulnerable people."

Fortunately for Canadians we won't have to deal with any uncomfortable much less painful climate change impacts.   That much is obvious from the utter indifference to climate change shown by our political leadership of all stripes.  For those more interested in transforming Canada into a first class petro-state, the last thing they want to acknowledge is climate change.

When Afghan Authorities Accuse You of Murder

You've got a problem.  Make that we've got a problem or, more specifically, NATO has a problem.  And it's a problem that could well guarantee our failure in Afghanistan.

BBC News reports that NATO forces are accused of killing dozens of civilians in recent days in ground and air strikes in eastern Afghanistan.   Various Afghan authorities put the deaths at 50 to 64-civilians.  All NATO owns up to is killing 30-insurgents.

Governor of Kunar Province, Fazlullah Wahidi, said on Sunday that 20 women and a number of children were among the 64 civilians killed in the district of Ghaziabad over the last few days.

Shortly afterwards, President Hamid Karzai said that, based on information from Afghanistan's spy agency and local officials, troops had killed more than 50 civilians during days of operations.
Mr Karzai said "  about 50 civilians have been martyred during international military forces operations in Ghaziabad district in Kunar province," according to AFP, adding that he "  strongly condemns"   the killings.
This is an ongoing problem that bedevils NATO commanders - you simply cannot wage modern military warfare against a guerrilla force that has already infiltrated populated areas without wiping out a lot of civilians.   Some times you'll get lucky.   Some times the bad guys will come out in the open to attack you.   But when you go after them in populated areas their odds of coming out ahead in the battle for hearts and minds go through the roof.   Every civilian you take out is an enormous victory for them.
It's gotten to the point where you can't even expect support from the very government you're fighting to support.   Karzai and the provincial governors won't lay this sort of thing at the feet of the insurgents.   No, they'll come right out and condemn us.   They'll even describe the killings with the highly loaded word "martyr."   These civilians didn't just get wiped out, they were martyred, they died for something.  The women and children were martyred.  We martyred them.   That puts us in the position of those folks who lashed Joan of Arc to that stake and set the fire at her feet.

As a verb, martyr means "to put to death for adhering to some belief; to persecute, to torment, to torture."  Of course that's our Western take on it.  Martyrdom has a much different meaning to Muslims.  Let's put it this way.  In the context of infidels killing Muslims, it's really not a good thing.  It's sort of like a religious execution that is intertwined with another concept, Jihad.
As far as the Afghan population goes, I'm not really sure it matters all that much whether we actually killed these civilians.   The word is out that we did, that we martyred their countrymen.   They've heard that from their president, from their provincial governor and, undoubtedly, from the Talibs to boot.

Oh please, can we go now?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Gwynne Dyer - America's Decline Fuels Arab Upheaval

Blame it on Bush/Cheney and the half-baked neo-conservatives.   They took it upon themselves to undermine American dominance in the Middle East and in that, if nothing else, they succeeded even if unintentionally.

Rumsfeld sent the Legions steamrollering into Afghanistan and Iraq only to watch them sink into a quagmire of their bosses' making.  It's more than a bit humiliating when a country that spends more on its military than all the other nations combined has its ass handed to it by a bunch of farmers with Korean-war vintage assault rifles.   And no matter how you dress it up, that will be the lasting legacy America will carry once it finally leaves Iraq and Afghanistan - the most profligate wastrel loser in the history of mankind.   Oh yes, you are indeed Number One.

Gwynne Dyer thinks the ongoing upheaval in the Arab world is the product of a lot of factors including al Jazeera, social networking, and a disaffected youth questing for democracy and an end to corruption.  But he maintains that, more than anything else, the uprisings reflect a realization that the despot's once reliable safety net, American power, is unraveling.

The traditional motives for American strategic involvement in the Middle East were oil and Israel. American oil supplies had to be protected, and the Cold War was a zero-sum game in which any regime that the U.S. did not control was seen to be at risk of falling into the hands of the Soviet Union. And quite apart from sentimental considerations, Israel had to be protected because it was an important military asset.

But the Cold War is long over, and so is the zero-sum game in the Middle East. The Arab oil exporters choose their customers on a purely commercial basis, and they have to sell their oil to support their growing populations. You don’t need to control them or threaten them to get oil from them; just send them a cheque. Besides, less than a fifth of America’s oil imports now come from the Arab world.

As for Israel, its military value to the United States has gone into a steep decline since the end of the Cold War. Nor does it need American protection: it is a dwarf superpower that towers over its Arab neighbours militarily. So remind me again: why, exactly, should the United States see “stability” in the Middle East as a vital national interest?

The revolutions of 1989 became possible when people in the Eastern European countries realized that the Soviet Union would no longer intervene militarily to preserve the Communist regimes that ruled them. Is another 1989 possible in the Arab world?

Well, the Arabs now know that the United States will not intervene militarily to protect the regimes that rule them.

How Bahrain's Sunni Minority Keeps Its Shia Majority Under Control

A big, and potentially telling, difference between the uprisings in Egypt and the rebellion now underway in Bahrain is the makeup of the national security services.

In Egypt, the large army was made up mainly of conscripts, citizen-soldiers.  These conscripts were tightly connected to their families and the civilian population.   Soldiers like that can't be relied upon to turn on their own people.  Otherwise, Hosni Mubarak might still be holding court in Cairo.

The rulers of Bahrain, a Sunni gang, realized a long time ago it was best not to raise a citizen army or security force when the population was 70% Shiite who needed to be kept firmly under state control.  So they resorted to gerrymandering their legislature to ensure Sunni political control and, according to BBC News, they built a mercenary police and security service recruited from foreign Sunnis.

Human rights activists, mostly Shia, organised frequent demonstrations to protest against the slow pace of democratisation and what they saw as the suppression of human rights.

I was also told of how the government was hiring men from Syria, Yemen, Jordan and Pakistan - all Sunni - to serve in the police and security forces.

Fast-tracked to citizenship, they were able to jump the queue for housing and also had voting rights that skewed the demographic in favour of candidates supported by the al-Khalifas.

...protesters were faced by police and security forces who were largely foreign recruits.
That may explain the ferocity of the attacks on peaceful demonstrators both on Monday and Tuesday when two people were killed, and again in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Unencumbered with either local connections or tribal loyalties, and green-lighted by the government to use whatever means necessary to break up the demonstration, video evidence shows them charging into sleeping men, women and children with tear gas, rubber bullets, batons and shotguns.

At least four of the dead were shot at close range. A doctor trying to help the wounded told of how he was severely beaten by men speaking Urdu - they were Pakistanis.

But time may be running out for Bahrain's ruling Sunni thugs and their foreign muscle.  The BBC report notes that the uprising has seen plenty of Bahraini Sunnis showing up to join their Shia countrymen in demanding the ouster of their rulers.

Harper's Rancid Dream State

I've never been able to get out of my head the disparaging remarks Stephen Harper made about Canada when invited to the uber-right American Council for National Policy at their retreat in Montreal in June, 1997.  That's when he fell all over himself before his American Idols with lines like this, "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of itCanadians make no connection between the fact that they are a Northern European welfare state and the fact that we have very low economic growth, a standard of living substantially lower than yours, a massive brain drain of young professionals to your country, and double the unemployment rate of the United States."  

Harper believed, and probably still believes, that Canadians are out of touch with reality but that he and his see it with a vision of burning clarity.  Well it's Harper & Company who are out of touch, their image of the greatness of America a gossamer illusion.   Take a look at this chart to see where Harper's American Idol truly stands in today's world and be so very grateful he hasn't yet managed to take us down that same road.

Washington Can't Fake It Any Longer

The United States seems determined to undermine whatever credibility it still holds in the Middle East.  It got caught napping on Tunisia.  It tripped and stumbled and damned near fell flat on its face on Egypt, lurching awkwardly as it transferred its support from Mubarak to the demonstrators.  Now that unrest is spreading to the Gulf States the US has turned catatonic.

America is watching its once powerful hegemony in the Middle East fade and crumble.  For all the pretence, it never was more potent than the fear that once kept Arab people enslaved to their despotic, usually pro-American masters.  Once that fear goes, the game's up - for tyrant and Washington alike.

The White House did nothing to help America yesterday when it stood against the 14-other members of the UN Security Council and vetoed their resolution condemning all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory since 1947 as illegal.   The US didn't just abstain.  It vetoed the resolution, killed it dead.  The by now standard Obama mealy-mouthed explanation was that, while America agrees the settlements are illegitimate, the resolution harmed chances for peace talks.

What peace talks?  There aren't any and there won't be any.  There was the dodgy, backroom deal Fatah was willing to make with the Israelis that essentially sold out the people it purports to represent.   Even that ridiculous capitulation was unacceptable to Netanyahu.  There are no peace talks and for Washington to pretend otherwise only further undermines its credibility with the Arab population.

If a widely liberated Middle East emerges from the current turmoil, "pro-America" may no longer be the default option.  Other interests may rise to displace American hegemony, quite likely a basket of influences ranging from pan-Arabic nationalism to stronger ties to China, Russia and Europe.

America may be about to learn a hard lesson, that the first criteria to be an "honest broker" is honesty.   That's a quality that has been gravely discounted in Washington for years, decades, an era.   America came to believe it could substitute military prowess for diplomatic honesty and, for a good long time, it worked.  But it's not working any more and from Latin America to Africa to the Middle East the American way is being rejected.  It is in decline.  The US is no longer the only game in town.  Bush/Cheney showed the world that even its gargantuan military machine can be brought low by small numbers of Lilliputians armed with Korean-war vintage assault rifles.

America can't fake it any longer.  It either has to bring Israel to heel or watch its influence in this it's most strategically critical region bleed out onto the floor.

Is the House of Saud Orchestrating the Atrocities in Bahrain?

America's original Best Friend Forever in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia, may be behind the violent repression of Shia dissent in neighbouring Bahrain.  But veteran Middle East journalist Robert Fisk says it's a move that reeks of desperation by the Sunni run Gulf States.   Reporting from Bahrain, Fisk says the Sunni trump card - armed violence - may be faltering.   Bahrain's Shia majority seem to be losing their fear of their Sunni king and his armed thugs, the police and army.

Rumours burned like petrol in Bahrain yesterday and many medical staff were insisting that up to 60 corpses had been taken from Pearl Square on Thursday morning and that police were seen by crowds loading bodies into three refrigerated trucks. One man showed me a mobile phone snapshot in which the three trucks could be seen clearly, parked behind several army armoured personnel carriers. According to other demonstrators, the vehicles, which bore Saudi registration plates, were later seen on the highway to Saudi Arabia. It is easy to dismiss such ghoulish stories, but I found one man – another male nurse at the hospital who works under the umbrella of the United Nations – who told me that an American colleague, he gave his name as "  Jarrod",   had videotaped the bodies being put into the trucks but was then arrested by the police and had not been seen since.

Why has the royal family of Bahrain allowed its soldiers to open fire at peaceful demonstrators? To turn on Bahraini civilians with live fire within 24 hours of the earlier killings seems like an act of lunacy.

But the heavy hand of Saudi Arabia may not be far away. The Saudis are fearful that the demonstrations in Manama and the towns of Bahrain will light equally provocative fires in the east of their kingdom, where a substantial Shia minority lives around Dhahran and other towns close to the Kuwaiti border. Their desire to see the Shia of Bahrain crushed as quickly as possible was made very clear at Thursday's Gulf summit here, with all the sheikhs and princes agreeing that there would be no Egyptian-style revolution in a kingdom which has a Shia majority of perhaps 70 per cent and a small Sunni minority which includes the royal family.

Yet Egypt's revolution is on everyone's lips in Bahrain. Outside the hospital, they were shouting: "  The people want to topple the minister,"  a slight variation of the chant of the Egyptians who got rid of Mubarak, "  The people want to topple the government."

And many in the crowd said – as the Egyptians said – that they had lost their fear of the authorities, of the police and army.

Washington appears intent on sitting this one out.  Then again the Obama administration didn't really intervene with Mubarak until the Egyptian dictator's fate was pretty much decided.  But Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait aren't Egypt, they're oil states and American self-interest may ultimately eclipse any humanitarian qualms about repression of troublesome Shiites.  As The New York Times reports, Washington has been indifferent to recent complaints of human rights abuses,  "  in a kingdom that is an economic and military hub in the Persian Gulf."

 " In a January 2010 cable, the American Embassy in Bahrain criticized the human rights group Freedom House for downgrading Bahrain’s rating from “partly free” to “not free” in its global survey of political rights and civil liberties. The cable asserted that Freedom House had been successfully lobbied by a radical Shiite movement, known as Haq, which rejects the government’s reform efforts.

Another cable passed along doubts about a Human Rights Watch report that said the police were using torture in interrogations — saying it relied heavily on allegations made by members of the same group — though the embassy did urge the Bahraini authorities to undertake a “timely and credible” investigation.

“The embassy was feeding this happy talk for years,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain was moving on a genuine reform path for several years, but it did a significant U-turn in the last year, and I think the U.S. government was well behind the curve.” 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Getting Oda Right

I have avoided writing anything about the Bev Oda scandal because of this unsettling feeling that the opposition criticism was off mark.   Finally I stumbled across Gerald Caplan's assessment and he's right on mark.  This isn't about Oda or her lies.  It's all about Stephen Harper.

...Ms. Oda, like Messrs. Kenney and Clement, is just the organ grinder’s monkey. Any CIDA minister would have been in the same boat. She just follows orders. And it’s those orders in the Kairos case that remind us of the real Harper agenda.

The issue here is the reversal, by Stephen Harper, of a 60-year consensus shared by all previous governments about the central role of civil society in Canada. Every previous government has funded civil society groups and NGOs even when they espoused policies that contradicted the government’s own. Governments might have done so grudgingly and not as generously as some of us hoped. But it has been one of the quiet glories of Canadian democracy that our governments have often backed groups that criticized them or had competing priorities.

No more. With Stephen Harper, you either buy the party line or you get slapped down. That’s what happened to Kairos (now ironically receiving proper recognition for its terrific work over the years – eat your heart out, Jason Kenney). That’s what happened to the Canadian Council For International Co-operation and Match International. That’s what happened, with little media attention, to an astonishing number – in the many, many dozens – of other worthy organizations. (An exact figure will soon be posted by Voices, an important virtual coalition of organizations and individuals formed precisely in reaction to the Harper government’s attacks on civil society organizations. I am an enthusiastic supporter.)

Never mind that, politics aside, most of these groups were also doing crucial humanitarian work. Never mind that Kairos was working with violated women in the Congo. Never mind that many de-funded organizations were promoting maternal and child health, ostensibly Mr. Harper's big personal cause. Yet because they also pursue issues that Stephen Harper will not abide – human rights for Palestinians, women’s equality, climate change – they are anathema in his eyes.

...Mr. Harper's devotion to the Israeli government not only dictates what groups he chooses to fund. It dictates much of his foreign policy. Canadians were shamed in recent weeks by the Prime Minister’s refusal to demand the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, mindlessly mimicking the position of the Israeli government. There they were, standing outside history, that tiny gaggle of governments who failed to embrace one of the liberating moments of our era: Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, Algeria, Israel – and Canada.

Caplan is exactly right.   Read the entire article, top to bottom, and then, Liberals, ask yourself why the Harvard schoolboy isn't taking Caplan's fight to Harper?  Maybe then you'll realize just why you've been stuck in that ditch these past years.

Could Arab Demonstrations Spark an Islamic Civil War?

The world is watching uprising spreading throughout the Arab world but the unrest in Bahrain is different than the rest.   In this country the majority is Shiite Muslim, nearly three in four.   However the monarch is Sunni and that seems to hold true for the general civil and military power base.

Bahrain's king has now unleashed Sunni firepower on the Shia crowd. The Telegraph reports that the Sunni forces have turned anti-aircraft guns and helicopter gunships on the demonstrators.

As security forces then began to fire anti-air craft guns over their heads and the air filled with tear gas, the protesters' will finally broke.

But even as they fled in headlong panic, a helicopter sprayed gunfire at them and more fell. Paramedics from ambulances that had rushed to the scene darted forward to help the wounded, but they too were shot at. Several were detained and at least one ambulance was impounded.

... Those caught up in the violence were mourners, returning from funerals of three people killed before dawn the previous day when police opened fire on protesters, many of whom were asleep, in a successful bid to regain control of Pearl Roundabout. 

The Shia protesters say they don't want to topple their king.  Instead what they're demanding is a constitutional monarchy in which they have equality with the Sunni minority.

Saudi Arabia also has a sizeable Shia population who just happen to be the majority in the area of the country's major oil fields.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's Not Just Hot Air Any Longer. Man Causes Floods.

How many times have you read something like, "It's consistent with climate change models," or "it's probably caused by climate change"?  It is the nature of scientists to be hesitant, nuanced, couched in their assessments and that includes the role that man-made global warming may be playing in severe weather events.   Climate change denialists have exploited that sliver of doubt to support the preposterous notion that "the science isn't in yet" or that there's considerable disagreement on whether the theory of global warming is true.   Well, those days are over.

Two studies have just been released.   A British team examined the massive floods that hit Britain in October and November, 2000.   A Canadian team, led by Francis Zweirs of the University of Victoria, examined the same impact of man on hydrological cycles but on a northern hemispheric scale.   Both studies, published in the journal Nature, concluded that, "there has been a 'substantial' increase in the intensity of heavy-precipitation events over large parts of the Northern Hemisphere due to greenhouse gas generated by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities."
The British team concluded that man-made greenhouse gases "doubled or more" the odds of severe weather events like the rains that caused the 2000 floods.

The reports, to the climate change denialists, should be very much like sunlight at high noon to a vampire.   They're wrong - wrong to a point of scientific certainty.  Anthropogenic global warming is real and it is having a very tangible, even devastating impact on life.

Bill, please.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Even Bit Players Like Canada Matter.

One of the common arguments you get from opponents of Canadian greenhouse gas emissions reductions is that we are such a small country in terms of population that any benefit we produced would be barely noticeable in the greater scheme of things.   Since Canada can't solve the problem, why bother?

Well we can't make a huge difference overall but we can certainly do a great deal to make the situation worse.   Take the European Union for example.   The Brits are still pushing for near-term reductions of 30% in greenhouse gas emissions.  Other leading Euro states, however, want that target scaled back to 20%.  Their argument is that a 30% cut would make their industry uncompetitive with other nations.

It's a very neat, stand alone argument, the very sort of thing that appeals to conservative minds.   That's the end of that discussion, let's move on.  But, of course, it leaves out consideration of the consequences we must expect from our intransigence.   As we're just beginning to understand, not cutting emissions carries a very real and dangerous price.

The head of the UN Climate Change secretariat, Christiana Figueres, is urging the world's military leaders to invest in climate change mitigation to reduce the risk of armed conflict resulting from global warming impacts.   If you think that's fanciful scare mongering by a UN bureaucrat, think again.   Climate wars are a genuine possibility accepted in the Pentagon's last Quadrennial Defense Review and by British Ministry of Defence studies.

[Figueres] warned that if left unabated, the impact of climate change on water supplies, weather patterns and sea levels could cause widespread conflict.

Specifically, she said the impact of global warming would increase poverty and governments would struggle to meet the basic needs of their citizens.

...She warned that the global military budget, which grew 50 per cent in the past decade, will continue to increase unless governments spend more on measures to prevent climate change such as investment in low-carbon technology.

" Even under current trends, the rate of defence spending growth could account for a major part of the money needed to cut global emissions and to help the vulnerable, often in the most unstable areas of the world, to protect their societies from crumbling under climate pressures,"  she said.

It's cowardly for Canada's political leadership to continue burying their heads in the sand on mitigation and adaptation.  It is a grave moral failure on their part to hide behind the Americans' intransigence.  To continue to envision Canada as a filthy fossil fuel superpower in the 21st century is depraved thinking.

In Africa, People and Wildlife Compete for Water

We tend to see the spreading freshwater crisis as a human problem.  Not enough water for agriculture.   Not enough clean water for drinking and cooking.  Not enough water for bathing and sanitation.   Yet, when we're short of water, every creature is short of water, and wildlife will compete with us as they must for whatever is to be had.

Asia faces its own climate change problem - too much water.    A report from the Asian Development Bank warns that nations in the region must prepare for waves of internal migration of masses displaced by sea level rise, inundation, floods and desertification.

..the report says most migration in the region will be within national boundaries, and primarily from rural to urban areas. The movement, the bulk of which will involve poor people, is likely to be influenced by social, political and economic changes as well as climate pressures, the report’s authors said.
In addition, the events most likely to propel millions to leave their homes permanently will be gradual environmental changes such as desertification and sea-level rise rather than sudden disasters, said Bart W. Edes, director of ADB's division on poverty reduction, gender and social development.

“Although the extreme weather events capture the attention of people, it’s the slow onset, where eventually you can no longer grow crops in the area or you can no longer live along the coast because the coast has moved inland, that will drive people away more permanently,” he told AlertNet.

Another country at risk from large scale internal migration from sea level rise, storm surges and lowlands inundation and the uninhabitability of populated desert regions is the United States itself.

Will Famine Be The Global Warming Trigger?

Those who accept the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming have always known, with some alarm, that time was on their side, not on the side of the denialists.   Global warming denial is a short to mid-range delaying tactic.  It's a "make hay while the sun shines" sort of idea, tactical not strategic.

Just as climate change is believed to have a number of "tipping points," so too does the acceptance of the reality of global warming.   Month after month, week after week, research keeps pouring in and it's enormously corroborative of the fact of global warming.

But there's more than research into tree rings or ice cores.   Climate change is happening before our eyes.  We can ignore that for a while but not forever.  The hens will come home to roost and one day we'll notice that the hen house is full.

I had suspected that the theory of global warming would be generally accepted, even by the denialists, when the bills began pouring in.   I figured that would arrive via the insurance industry.   Insurance is risk assessment, risk management.  Insurers keep their shareholders happy by foreseeing what's coming.   They have to keep revenues from policy holders coming in faster than they pay out claims to policy holders.

Evidently I was wrong.

The insurance industry does indeed get the reality of global warming.  It's why they're narrowing their risk exposure.   Just try getting hurricane insurance if you live anywhere along America's Atlantic or Gulf coasts.   Sorry, no chance.  The insurance industry has done its due diligence.  It has looked at the available science.  It understands the probability of severe storm events of increasing frequency and severity.   They've run those costs through their computers and said "no thanks."

But the insurance and other industries haven't driven global warming policy among the industrialized world where it most needs to be changed.  Ten, twenty years from now it might be a much different story but not yet.  But there's another global warming impact that might just be the first tipping point - hunger.

A globalized economy is dependent on certain levels of global stability.   Years ago I read a story about Dell computers.   Its machines were built from components manufactured in scores of countries.   Dell didn't have one exec who had actually visited all of those nations.   The point was that Dell was dependent on the ability and willingness of several states to keep providing it with critical components.  If even one of the key countries went down, Dell could be out of business for some time.

Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have shown how food shortages and food price increases can contribute to destabilize governments.   Sure there were pro-democracy and anti-corruption forces spearheading the uprisings but behind them stood a lot more people worried about feeding themselves and their kids.  Even the oil rich Kuwati regime understands this.   It's why they wasted no time in unveiling a 15-month plan whereby the state will issue a $3,800 a head food relief payment to its citizens and provide certain foodstuffs free of charge.

Tunisia and Egypt were first but they won't be the last.   Many other countries are facing serious food crises.  Even India is forecast to lose 30% of its wheat production by 2020.   By 2030 fully two thirds of the world's nations are expected to be vulnerable to food shortages.

There are some voices, such as sustainability expert Les Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, who predict that rising food prices may be the climate change call to action.

With cash-rich China likely to enter world wheat and other grain markets as a major buyer for the first time in 2011, and with world grain stocks already at low levels, food prices are poised to surge, leading to hikes in the number of the world’s hungry, greater poverty, huge new demand on food aid organizations, growing unrest and potentially even an increase in failed states , predicts Lester Brown,  head of the Washington-based non-profit Earth Policy Institute,  in a new book, "  World on the Edge." 

"  I think food is the weak link. The economic indicator that will tell us more about our future than anything else is grain prices,” argues Brown.

Americans may be in for a particular wakeup call, he said, as China – which holds a hefty share of the United States’ large debt burden – begins buying a growing share of U.S. grain production.

It’s a nightmare for American consumers, the prospect of a billion Chinese with rapidly rising incomes competing with us for our grain harvest,” he said in a telephone interview. “And we can’t restrict exports to China because they are our banker.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Another Tale of Deregulation Woe

In theory, deregulation sounds like a good idea.  It's the old "more competition = better prices = better service and product" idea and for those who like their ideas really simple and uncluttered, deregulation is a no-brainer.

But what happened when Mulroney deregulated Canadian air travel?  You may not remember that Canada used to have two viable flag carriers - Air Canada and Canadian Airlines - who became locked in a suicidal death spiral following deregulation.   Canadian Airlines crashed and burned.   Air Canada survived only to pancake in shortly afterward.

More recently, Washington deregulated America's banking system.  How well did that work out?  Let's see, an insane investment/speculation bubble, followed by market collapse, followed by bank failures, followed by Wall Street bailouts followed by a severe recession.

But wait, there's more!  In Texas the state government decided to give its citizens a break by deregulating its electricity market.  In 1999 the government assured Texans the dereg business would lower their electricity costs.  Now a study discloses that deregulation has cost Texas residential consumers more than $11-billion dollars in increased charges.

Before deregulation, Texas had cheaper rates than most states. Between 1999 and the first six months of 2010, however, Texas residential consumers "  suffered greater increases [in electric rates] than residents in all but six other states,"   the report said.

"Had electric prices remained at the national average -- not below it, just at it -- Texas residential consumers would have saved more than $11 billion since the implementation of deregulation," the report said, citing data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The entire deregulated Texas market, commercial, industrial and residential, "would have saved $15.5 billion had prices remained at the national average," the report said.

 When will they ever learn?

Pissing Into the Wind, a.k.a. Afghanistan

First, the good news from Afghanistan.   Now, the other news.  US officials are predicting a severe drought will arrive this year, potentially leaving millions of poor hungry and fueling instability.

"Many Afghans live right on the edge of starvation and without necessary water there will be communities that will be on the move, seeking pasture and agricultural work in other areas," a senior U.S. defence official said on condition of anonymity.

Record world grain prices will make it difficult for the Kabul government to buy staples to ease shortfalls.   But the Karzai government may not be in a position to buy anything due to its handling of the country's largest bank.

An International Monetary Fund assessment of how the Afghan government handled mismanagement and fraud at the country's largest private bank is so bleak it could jeopardise critical donor support for Afghanistan and have devastating political consequences, diplomats said on Tuesday.

Corruption, bad loans and mismanagement cost Kabulbank hundreds of millions of dollars and the government's inability to come up with a serious solution could see the IMF withdraw its support for aid-reliant Afghanistan, four diplomats said. 

The Kabulbank scandal, in which at least $579 million has been put at risk, has added a banking crisis to Afghanistan's troubles, which include a growing insurgency and political paralysis.

The International Monetary Fund and the Afghan government and central bank are at loggerheads over what to do with the politically well-connected Kabulbank: the IMF wants it placed in receivership immediately to stem losses but Kabul wants a gradual rehabilitation and sale.

A narco-economy, corruption, tribalism and warlordism, religious fundamentalism, drought and floods and an insurgency/civil war.  How in hell is the West supposed to salvage that?   What were we thinking?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Peter Kent's Valentine's Video

Courtesy of Greenpeace:

How Hosni Was Shown the Door

On Thursday the world watched a defiant Hosni Mubarak vowing to stay on as president until September.   On Friday morning Mubarak's vice president Omar Suleiman went on Egyptian TV to nervously announce the his boss had quit and transferred power to the Egyptian military.

History shows that leaders can retire or they can reluctantly negotiate resignation or they can be forced out.   It was pretty clear that Hosni didn't choose voluntary retirement but was it a negotiated resignation or was he toppled?

The first sign that Mubarak was driven from office came a day after his resignation when it was announced that senior cabinet ministers had been forbidden to leave the country.  Then word came out that Egypt had asked the EU to freeze their assets.  Sure didn't sound like anyone going graciously into the night.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the story in Egypt's largest newspaper, al-Ahram

..military leaders threatened to publish their own statement announcing that Mubarak had been sacked.
The newspaper said a statement announcing Mubarak's resignation was pre-recorded by the army's chief-of-staff, Sami Enan, and delivered to the offices of the state television broadcaster Nile TV.

In the end the statement was not broadcast after Suleiman agreed at the last minute to read his own statement that Mubarak had resigned in the interests of the country.

In the days since the resignation, senior government and party officials have confirmed that Mubarak originally made a commitment to resign on Thursday, only to change his mind at the last minute.

Al-Ahram and Associated Press reported that Mubarak's top aides and family concealed the full extent of what was happening on the streets, instead telling the 82-year-old that he could ride out the turmoil which had brought the country to a virtual standstill.

 ''He did not look beyond what Gamal was telling him, so he was isolated politically,'' one official was quoted as saying. ''Every incremental move [by Mubarak] was too little, too late.''

The al-Ahram story confirms other insider comments that Mubarak's end was pre-ordained five years ago when he surrounded himself with "yes men" who isolated Mubarak from the nation he ruled.   These sycophants are the same men the Egyptian army now has either under house arrest or prohibited from leaving the country.

al Arabiya also sheds a little light on Mubarak's last hours in office.   The Arab news channel confirms that Mubarak was supposed to resign on Thursday night until his son, Gamal, intervened and persuaded his father to instead announce he was staying.   Apparently this provoked a shouting match between Gamal and his brother, Alaa, who accused Gamal of bringing their father to a shameful end and dragging the country into corruption.

"Carbon Nation" Film Targets the American Right on Climate Change

It's being called the Inconvenient Truth for the right wing, the tinfoil hat brigade who get wracked with spasms at the mere mention of "climate change."  The film "Climate Nation" focuses on the right by telling them it doesn't matter at all if they don't believe in global warming, America stands to be the big loser if it doesn't begin looking ahead instead of backward.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Did Mubarak Step Down or Was He Pushed?

Hosni Mubarak is believed to be hanging out at his Sharm el Sheik villa on the Red Sea.  It is thought he went there after his announcement on Thursday that he was staying on as president.

On Friday, a tense-looking vice president, Omar Suleiman, appeared on state television to announce Mubarak had stepped down and had transferred power to the chiefs of staff of the Egyptian military.

So just what happened betwixt pillar and post?  Did Mubarak change his mind or was it changed for him?  No one has said exactly what happened but there is one sign that Mubarak and his government were overthrown.

The Hindu newspaper carried a report that Mubarak and his officials have been told by the military that they may not leave Egypt without the permission of the military or Egypt's chief prosecutor.  A similar account was published in the Italian news agency, AGI.

The Arab news service, Al Masry Al Youm, is also reporting some of Mubarak's cronies have been put under house arrest, others ordered not to leave Egypt.   Citing "well informed sources" the online paper is reporting that Mubarak may have fallen into a coma.  Egypt's foreign ministry has also requested that the European Union freeze any assets belonging to five key cabinet ministers suspected to widespread corruption.

Friday, February 11, 2011

This Is Not a Happy Camper

Ex-Egyptian vice president and torturer-in-chief Omar Suleiman doesn't look his cheery self as he announces both he and his boss are out of their jobs.   In fact, he looks just a little nervous.

I suppose Omar has an idea what might lie in store for him if he falls into the hands of the wrong people.

The Other Shoe Drops - Egyptian Military Sacks Cabinet, Will Dissolve Parliament

It seems the Egyptian government is no more.  In resigning, Hosni Mubarak supposedly transferred power to the Supreme Military Council although the constitutional basis for that is unknown.  However the Jerusalem Post reports the Egyptian military will cement the deal by immediately sacking the Mubarak cabinet and proceeding to dissolve Egypt's parliament.

Wiping the slate clean was always fundamental to prospects for genuine democratic reform and the decisiveness shown by the military council suggests they're serious about reform.

It remains to be seen whether the military will initiate some sort of "national reconciliation" scheme to absolve Mubarak and the NDP leadership of responsibility for any past excesses.

Now to fall back on the tag line of every hack reporter, I'll just say "time will tell."

"Off With Their Heads!" Two Down, Who's Next?

If we've learned one thing about Egypt it's that usually nothing is at it seems.  Hosni Mubarak has resigned.   Of itself that means very little.  The important thing is that he didn't just hand the reins to his vice president, Suleiman.   He transferred power to the Egyptian military.  It is what it is but I'm guessing what it's not is constitutional.  Presumably Egypt has some fixed provisions for succession in the event the chief executive becomes incapacitated.  In other words, Mubarak's resignation would automatically initiate his succession.   But in this case Hosni seems to have toppled his own government, sort of staged his own coup as it were.

This may well be the end of Mubarak's National Democratic Party.   That would be a good thing, perhaps even essential to the evolution of democracy in Egypt.   If the country is to go forward it needs a clean break between the military and civilian institutions, something that was never thought necessary in the  entire, post-Farouk era.   Now it will be up to the military to create a venue for organization of genuine political parties and the election of Egypt's first democracy.

Tunisia obviously lit Egypt's fuse but the toppling of Egypt's regime could well spill over into Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and possibly even Iran.   This poses no end of uncertainty and problems for the West and for Israel.  Nothing scares us more than when we can't buy our allies.


Al Jazeera reports that Hosni Mubarak has resigned.   Power is said to have been transferred to the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces.

Mubarak and family are said to have left Cairo.  His son and would-be successor is said to be in London.

With the army in power it would appear that the NDP government is at an end without having to be toppled in a coup.

Now we just get to sit back and watch how Mubarak extricates himself and his assets in the coming weeks.   I could be wrong but I'd be very surprised if Mubarak didn't secure some helpful terms before handing the government over to the military.


The Jerusalem Post reports that the Egyptian military is dismissing the entire Mubarak cabinet and dissolving parliament.  Al Jazeera quotes el Beradai as saying it could take a year to form political parties and organize a proper election.

Another Warning on Oil Prices

This must be music to ever Petro-pol's ears.  High oil prices are back and they're back for good.  Think of all that vast, unearned wealth just waiting to be boiled out of the ground in Athabasca.

The European Union energy czar, Guenther Oettinger, says $100 a barrel oil is here to stay.   Prices dropped considerably during the recession due to low demand but today's prices are going straight back up especially with increased demand from Asia, the political unrest in the Middle East and the warning that Saudi Arabia's reserves may have been overstated by as much as 40%.

The EU is actively trying to reduce oil consumption but Asian demand will more than make up for any European decrease.  

High world oil prices increase the pressure for more bitumen production in Athabasca and might put Alberta right back on top again, this time perhaps for a decade or two.  Whether that's a good thing for Alberta, for Canada or for the world is debatable.

It's a double edged sword.   Higher prices at the pump encourage the public to become more aware, more fuel efficient.   But those higher prices also mean higher windfalls for the politicians, provincial and federal, who are quite pleased to see Canada turn into another petro-state.  This includes the opposition leader who fawns over the Tar Sands as the beating heart of the Canadian economy for the 21st century.  Is that what we've become?  Have we been reduced to that?  Is our country so degraded that it cannot prosper without that revenue?  What an odious thought from such an odd man.

The pressure is on.   Some prominent Americans would like to see Tar Sands production increased five fold.   The ramifications of that are mind-boggling.  Leaving everything else aside, there is the issue of greenhouse gas emissions and the farcical notion of carbon sequestration.  The Tories have their dodge.  It's called sectoral emissions reductions.  Sector as in some sectors will have to cut their emissions a lot more so that another sector is taken off the hook.  And what sector do you think the Tories intend to coddle on emissions?  But Steve will tell you it's all for the good of the nation and if you doubt that his sidekick Mike will back him up.

Oh This Is Good. Palin Calls Rick Santorum a "Knuckle-Dragging Neanderthal"

And the race to the bottom is on.  So far Sarah Palin has a clear lead.   Do up your belts, this is going to be a wild ride.

Sarah Palin, possibly the most inept, inarticulate and ignorant contender to ever vie for the Republican presidential nomination, has come out swinging.  The GOP's annual Conservative Political Action Conference is underway in Washington and all the likely candidates are there except two - Sarah Palin and that Huckabee guy.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum took a swipe at Palin's absence.  He hinted she wasn't there because CPAC couldn't come up with Palin's standard appearance fee and because she was too busy just being a "mom."

 " I have a feeling she has some demands on her time. And a lot of them have financial benefits attached to them. So I'm sure that she's doing what's best for her and her family."

Palin quickly got up on her perch at Fox News to fire back.  " I will not call him the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal. I'll let his wife call him that instead."

I suppose Palin isn't really worried about attending the Conservative conference.  Those who would vote for her can't spell Washington much less find their way there.

If You Were Hosni

Who knew?  President AND a Shriner!
To many Westerners, Hosni Mubarak seems enigmatic, out of touch with reality, perhaps even irrational.  He seems all those things until you put yourself in his shoes.

Try to imagine Hosni Mubarak job hunting and sitting down to write his resume.  Under "job experience" I would suppose he'd write that he served Egypt, in uniform and out, for about 60-years.   In his early years he even flew Spitfires.  Then he got into politics, showed promise and moved on up the ranks.  He lived through every day of what could be called the Middle East modern era.  He served Nasser and Sadat and then did what neither of them could manage, he survived as Egypt's president for three decades.   He survived many assassination attempts and overcame constant challenges, internal as well as external, while enabling his immediate family to amass a fortune estimated at between 40 and 70-billion dollars.  He and Ronald Reagan became presidents in the same year, 1981.

So what sort of skillset does it take to do all that?  Above all else you've got to be a true survivor.  You've got to be nimble, shrewd, calculating, determined, cold, brutal and, when needed, ambiguous even unreadable.

Last night everyone expected Hosni to appear on TV to resign the presidency.  They were shocked, even outraged that he did the opposite.  Why?

If you were Hosni you would realize that it's over for you.   Your days in power are ending.  That can't be changed.   So what's second best?   That's obvious.  What Mubarak needs now is to salvage his National Democratic Party or get it on some sort of life support.  He's said he wants to live out the rest of his life in Egypt but I'm sure he doesn't want to spend those years behind bars.

If the NDP falls as it seems it must, Hosni is going to have to have some sort of amnesty in place first or else get the movers in.  Either way that takes time.  Moving or converting $70-billion in assets isn't something that's easy or quick to accomplish.  Getting family members resettled also takes a bit of time.  Hosni needs understandings with governments throughout Europe, the Middle East and in the United States.  A lot of these things will be far harder to pull off once he yields the presidency.  I'm pretty sure that while Omar is tending the shop, Hosni is working the phones.  He has to buy time and that will only become much harder once he steps down.    In the meantime the old bugger still has a few more cards to play.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Obama Whines, Mubarak Yawns

Barack Obama wasn't pleased with Hosni Mubarak's announcement today that he's not going to step down until next September.   That sent POTUS to the airwaves to insist the Egyptian government, "put forward a credible, concrete and unequivocal path toward genuine democracy."  Missing from Obama's rebuke was the "or else" part.

Or else what exactly?  America doesn't seem to be holding a strong hand.  It may be used to getting its way but this is the Middle East and Egypt borders Israel where the pols have been defying Washington at every turn for years.  If the White House tries to punish Mubarak by suspending aid to Egypt the King of Saud has promised to cover whatever is withheld.  Hosni already has two thugs in his pocket, King Abdullah and Benjamin Netanyahu, so he's pretty much away at the races.

The great mystery to these developments is why anyone in his right mind would expect Mubarak to go gently into the night.  If you were Hosni Mubarak, would you?

 You're 82 years old, not in the best of health, you're immensely wealthy, still very powerful, your friends are considerably outnumbered  by your enemies, you have a lot of skeletons in your closet for which you would rather not be held to account and, within just a few weeks, you've been overtaken by events that could just have you on the run or behind bars for the rest of your life.

So, do you step down graciously and place your own head in a noose or do you play for time, rely on your unindicted co-conspirators and tough it out?  I'm guessing most of us would play for time.  Time to weigh how much of the mob can be neutralized, what groups can be divided from others.  Time in which to see what deals are on the table, at home and abroad.   Time in which to review your assets, figure out what's safe, what needs to be moved or converted in form.  You'll need protection and immunities from people who can be relied upon to keep their promises.

While he clings to the presidency Mubarak continues to have time to work on his housekeeping.  And with up to $70-billion in family assets at stake, that's a lot of housekeeping.  Once he steps down it's time to run.

I'm not surprised that he's not leaving - yet.   But I will be surprised if he's not gone, along with his NDP, within a month.  In the meantime, unless Washington can figure out a way to get at Mubarak with surgical precision, some option that doesn't risk greater blowback later, America will remain the least of Hosni's problems.