Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Mess We're In

One of the more common themes in my recent writing is that, when it comes down to the challenges confronting our country and our people, we cannot depend on our political classes for leadership.  We entrust them exclusively with all the powers needed to confront the threats of the day and of tomorrow but they choose not to use them.   When it comes to the future, you and me and the rest of us are on our own.

This was borne out in a comment received today from a character calling himself "Tom Sangfroid."  I suspect TS might have created his Blogger identity specifically for the purpose of posting his remarks.  A quick check showed Sangfroid created his account just this month and I was the first to view his or her profile.

Tom identified himself as "working in politics."   He chided me for criticizing Jack Layton and Bob Rae in my previous post for their abject indifference to the perils posed to our country by climate change.

"...the failure of our political parties to behave the way you think they should is in part the result of our failure to mobilize the population effectively on said issue, coupled with the indifference and complacency of the larger population.

" matter what people tell pollsters, the larger Canadian public just doesn’t give a shit about climate change. The average person finds the arguments complex, and would sell their grandchildren’s ability to breathe clean air in the future for a properly targeted tax rebate today."

The cynicism is breathtaking yet it is consistent with the attitudes of Harper, Layton and Rae.   Tom then goes on to absolve Layton and Rae for their abject neglect.

"That’s the brute reality we operate in. And that this is so is not the fault of Jack Layton. Hell, it probably isn’t the fault of Bob Rae. The responsibility lies with us, and with our neighbours and fellow citizens."

So you see, it's quite simple.   We who truly don't have power must take the blame for the inaction of those who do.  It's not their failing, it's not their fault, it's ours.  What nerve for us to expect them to lead.  By what right do we expect them to mobilize public opinion?   We can't expect them to lead from the front but, instead, to follow a safe distance behind public opinion.

From what I have witnessed over the past decade, Tom is merely speaking the truth.   The politics of Ignatieff and Layton and Rae is an emasculated politics, form over substance, or as they say in Texas, "all hat and no cattle."   They want to rule but they don't want to lead.

Many years ago when David Frost extensively interviewed disgraced ex-president Richard Nixon there was a moment when Nixon said something for which I've admired him ever since.  He was asked to describe the essence of true political leadership.   Nixon replied that leadership was the ability to persuade the people to accept measures that are necessary but unpleasant, even unpopular.  People like Tom Sangfroid and the masters they serve can't grasp what even somebody like Nixon understood.

In my reply to Tom I characterized him and those of the same ilk as "useless shits."   The more I dwell on that, the less badly I feel about it.  They are, indeed, useless shits and until we are rid of them we have no hope of getting the leadership these troubled times so loudly call for.

Let's Build a Fire Under Layton and Rae

In the course of Western civilization we have a rich history of blundering into emergencies unprepared, a history that teaches us the consequences of neglect are often horrendous.  In most of these unfortunate situations we arrive at the moment of truth only to find that our best options are already foreclosed through opportunities squandered or what once appeared to be hard decisions left untaken.  We act if we must, when we must, if we still can.

It is the stock in trade of many popular historians to ask "what if?"   What if Britain and France had moved against Hitler when he moved against the Rhineland or declared anschluss with Austria?   What if American authorities had properly prepared New Orleans for a Katrina-scale hurricane?

Sometimes we have gotten it right, made the right decisions.   Sometimes we've just been very lucky and worst case scenarios haven't occurred.

Right now we're at one of those moments when we have to start making the right decisions or just hope we'll be very, very lucky in the very near future.   Did I mention "very near future"?  Over the last two days I've written about a Canadian Defence Department report warning that energy insecurity and resource (freshwater) shortages magnified by the impacts of climate change could put the world on the road to war by 2025.  There's nothing particularly new in the report's findings, just that it's the Canadian military warning the Canadian government of what's coming.   By every indication, the Harper government has opted for the hope that we'll be very, very lucky when 2025 rolls around.

But what about Moustache Jack and Bob Rae?   Surely they're going to raise proper Hell over this, aren't they?  Are they?  Ever since Harper (and Layton) pistol whipped Stephane Dion for his Green Shift initiative, nobody has wanted to consider much less make the hard decisions.   As far as these characters are concerned, Canada and the Canadian people are on their own on this one.

We need a truly progressive response to this gathering threat.   Indeed, climate change goes to the very heart of progressivism - fundamentals such as social justice, environmentalism, pluralism and human rights.  Liberals and New Democrats take it as an article of faith that their parties fully embrace these core attributes despite all the evidence that they do not or at least won't when that doesn't seem politically astute.

If the climate scientists are right and if the military analysts are right and if probable scenarios become certainty there can be only two responses and only one of them has any chance of being remotely progressive.   The trouble is that the progressive option is the most fragile, the choice likeliest to be closed off first.   If the progressive option slips through our fingers we'll be left with Stephen Harper's option and is that really what you want for your children and grandchildren?

The Canadian military's report has a stark warning for us all.  It proclaims that the future depends on policy decisions that must be taken by government today.  Today.  Now.

With Stephen Harper settling in to a comfy majority this will be very much an uphill battle.  It would be so much better if we didn't have to overcome the indifference of Jack Layton and Bob Rae along the way.   Write to them.   Tell them to get off their asses.  Let them know that, on this one, everybody has to take sides.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Canada's Venture Into America's Corporate Militarism Cabal, the F-35

In an alternate universe, let's call it Planet Sane, eyes would roll, heads would shake and tongues would wag over how a bloated project, like Lockheed's F-35 joint strike fighter didn't collapse under its own weight and simply die.

Fortunately for us, Lockheed itself furnishes a clear map of how something like this is structured to be on political life-support from Day One.   Lockheed, like every other major US defense contractor, has mastered the trick of spreading the wealth to every state and every key electoral district.  It's like an insurance policy - for the contractor.   What politician is going to risk killing a defense project and be blamed for the economic hit and loss of jobs his region suffers in the result?

Go to the map and roll your mouse over it, state by state, to let Lockheed show you what a terrific job it has done of spreading the grease.   As puts it:

Famed aerospace hubs Maine, Idaho, Wisconsin and  Puerto Rico? Yep, they’re all on there, with many millions of dollars at stake in the fighter program. Lockheed itself appears to be the source of these numbers, but as the prime builder of the jet, it does probably have the best picture of all the suppliers and money on this program. The aerospace industry learned how to do this with the V-22 Osprey, which, according to defense myth, was fabled to have at least one component from all 50 states, and as such was better able to survive its often painful two decades of gestation.

Now, as so many of you are fond of music videos, here's Lockheed's own musical tribute to the F-35.

Did Harper Suppress DND's Climate Change Warning?

A study prepared by Canada's Department of National Defence sounds the alarm on climate change.  The report concludes that energy shortages coupled with the rapidly spreading freshwater crisis and compounded by the impacts of climate change have put the world on the road to war that could be on us within fifteen years.

The study isn't remarkable for its findings.   They're quite similar to the conclusions of earlier reports released by the British Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon.   What is remarkable about the DND study is what it might say about the Harper government and about the NDP and Liberal opposition.

First off, the Department of National Defence didn't "release" this report.  It was pried out of them by PostMedia via an Access to Information demand.   PostMedia?  Really?

This report may be the most critical information to come through our civil and armed services in decades and we learn about it, almost by narrow chance, through a PostMedia Access to Information demand.   Which begs just a whole lot of questions, like:

-  What was the Harper government doing with this report?
-  When did the Harper government receive this report?
-  Why did the Harper government not release this report to the Canadian public?
-  What instructions did the Harper government give to the Department of National Defence in the     
    context of circulation or distribution of this report?

Those are just a few questions - for starters.  And there are as many questions for Layton and Rae.

-  What did you know about the existence of this report and its conclusions?
-  If you didn't know of it, why not?
-  If PostMedia can get its hands on this report why couldn't the NDP or Liberals?
-  What, if anything, do you intend to do to hold the Harper government accountable for keeping this
    report under wraps?
-  What measures do you intend to demand the Harper government take in response to this study?

This report envisions the very possible outbreak of major war within the ridiculously brief span of just fifteen years.   This doesn't have to be a "come as you are" predicament, the sort of thing we faced during the height of the Cold War.  We are going to be facing a gamut of threats and challenges, at least some of which we can meet with reasonable success if we begin preparing for them now.   The longer we wait, the worse become our prospects.

As the report's authors note in conclusion, our path depends on policy decisions made by governments today.   Will Layton and Rae finally stand up for our country and our people or will they ignore this warning as they've ignored all the warnings before.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Even Canada's Military Brass Get It - Finally!

We're on the war path, the actual road to war, and it's damned well time Messrs. Harper, Layton and Rae came to their senses.

Canada's Department of National Defence has run the numbers and, just like their counterparts at the Pentagon and British Ministry of Defence before them, concludes that energy shortages, water shortages and climate change could spark wars within the next 15-years.   Well, duh!

"Global reserves of crude oil could become problematic by 2025," wrote Maj. John Sheahan in a draft version of the report, Army 2040: First Look. "This implies that (barring the discovery of significant new reserves, and barring the adequate adoption of substitute fossil fuels or alternative fuel and energy sources) critical energy shortages will develop in the time frame of (and perhaps prior to) 2025."

The report noted that alternative fuels and energy may not be enough to respond to rising demand for energy that is forcing oil production to reach its capacity — a threat commonly referred to as "peak oil."

"There can be little doubt that unrestricted access to reliable energy supplies is a global strategic issue, one for which, recently, numerous nations have been willing to fight, and have indeed done so," said the report, released to Postmedia News through an Access to Information request. "Thus the trend that envisions depletion of fossil fuels such as crude oil in coming decades may also contribute to international tensions if not violent conflict."

Sheahan is part of a Canadian team of analysts led by Lt.-Col. Michael Rostek, who are researching long-term planning scenarios for the military. Members of the team said earlier this spring that they had submitted their analysis to senior military officials who are still reviewing the work.

The analysis also warns that, even under conservative estimates, up to 60 countries could fall into a category of water scarcity or stress by 2050, making the natural resource "a key source of power" or a "basis for future conflict."

The draft report said that despite some "vigorous debates" about the pace, cause, magnitude and impacts of global warming, there "can be no further debate that global climate change is occurring." It would turn the phenomenon into a "shock" and not just a driver of change, the report said.

Crop failures resulting in mass migrations and starvation, along with rising sea levels from melting ice caps and other factors, would be among the impacts.

"These sorts of changes could lead to impacts resulting in the abandonment of large urban and cropland areas, further aggravating a broad range of existing resource scarcities," said the report.

...]The report] predicted four possible scenarios for the future, including one in which Canada would be at the forefront of a prosperous green economy that favours clean energy, environmental protection and promotes improving living standards around the world.

But they said the path would depend on policy decisions made by governments today.
 There.   Now we have it from Canada's own military analysts.   Climate change is real and it's going to be a real killer and almost before you know it.   Canada is long overdue for some serious thinking, some serious planning and some serious adaptation strategies that pay heed to not only what is coming our way directly but impacts we will sustain in fallout from catastrophes elsewhere.   Our future depends "on policy decisions made by governments today."   As in today, now, not ten years from now, not when 'we get around to it.'   Now.   Today.
So please Steve, please Jack, please Bob - pull your self-satisfied thumbs out of your arses and start working for our country and our people.   We've already wasted time we couldn't afford to squander.   Invaluable time has been lost and in the process we've already foreclosed some adaptation opportunities we'll never get back.   You hacks want to govern as though Canada was still in the 80s.  You can't do that anymore and we can't let you.   We're in a new reality, one that ushers in truly existential threats for which we may pay dearly if we do not give this our full and immediate attention.

China Tapped Out - Told to Import Food

Chinese groundwater reserves are in peril and the country must cut domestic food production.

Zheng Chunmiao, director of the Water Research Centre at Peking University, said the world's most populous country will have to focus more on demand-side restraint because it is becoming more expensive and difficult to tap finite supplies below the surface.

"The government must adopt a new policy to reduce water consumption," Zheng told the Guardian. "The main thing is to reduce demand. We have relied too much on engineering projects, but the government realises this is not a long-term solution."

"The water situation in the North China plain does not allow much longer for irrigation," Zheng said. "We need to reduce food production even though it is politically difficult. It would be much more economical to import."

And there's the rub.  China is already locking up vast tracts of the best farmland in East Africa, an initiative it has already expanded into South America.  It may be "much more economical" indeed for China to import foodstuffs but that also places it in competition with the populations of poor countries for the food they need but sometimes can't afford to buy from their own homelands.

As Guardian enviroscribe Damian Carrington points out, China's water perils are shared in many other parts of our world where nations continue to get by only thanks to a resource Ponzi scheme.

It's a perfect storm  of water, food and energy crises and has arrived two decades sooner than even the most sober analysts expected. And while the Middle East is the first region to feel the wrath of that storm, across the world warning signs are flashing – from the sinking of Mexico City as its aquifers are sucked dry to the docking of freshwater tankers in Barcelona.

The world's population tripled in the 20th century, but the thirst for water grew six-fold, the large majority sprinkled on fields. The UN predicts that, by 2025, two-thirds of us will experience water shortages, with nearly two billion suffering severe shortfalls. Today China, struck by terrible droughts in its agricultural heartlands, is the world's biggest importer of "virtual water": the billions of tonnes of water used to produce the food and other goods brought into the world's most populous nation.

China, along with other water-stressed nations such as Saudi Arabia and South Korea, has sought to cut out the middlemen and acquire land in wetter places for themselves in order to grow and send food home. The so-called "land grabs" across the global south are the result.

From Australia to Hong Kong to India to Spain, nations caught between the stormy equator and the damp high latitudes are running out of water. Global warming will evaporate more moisture into the air, but in all likelihood this will fall in harder downpours in already wet areas rather than bring relief to arid lands. Increasingly, warming will lead to "global weirding" of the weather, with freak events uprooting thousands of years of farming knowledge.

2025, two-thirds of humanity facing water shortages.   A world in which it won't be just the impoverished nations that are scrambling for food.   Powerful countries will compete, head to head, for the basics of life - food and water.  And what of our political leaders?   What vision do they offer for protecting Canada in the world of 2025?   None, absolutely none.  Harper, Layton, Rae - not an idea among the three of them.  It's as though Canada itself is something for someone else to worry about.  When it comes to these duds, we're on our own.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

America the Mad

That's it!  The United States has gone terminally FUBAR.   Pregnant women who lose babies are actually being charged with murder.  This is madness, Christofascist lunacy.

Rennie Gibbs is accused of murder, but the crime she is alleged to have committed does not sound like an ordinary killing. Yet she faces life in prison in Mississippi over the death of her unborn child.

Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby's death – they charged her with the "depraved-heart murder" of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

Gibbs is the first woman in Mississippi to be charged with murder relating to the loss of her unborn baby. But her case is by no means isolated. Across the US more and more prosecutions are being brought that seek to turn pregnant women into criminals.

More Rancid Rightwing Ideology

Florida nursing home operators must have a powerful lobby.   State Republicans turned down federal grants to help remove patients from nursing homes and provide the same level of care to them in their own homes.

The free federal funding, about $38-million, would have allowed 1,700 mainly elderly Floridians to return to their homes.   Without the grants they'll remain well and truly incarcerated in their nursing homes.

Denise Grimsley who heads the Florida House Appropriations Committee said,
"I realize that they are federal dollars, but they are also taxpayer dollars."   If there is a god, I hope he's keeping a special place in hell for Denise and her cohorts.

Who Knew? Apparently We Won in Afghanistan.

It was just weeks ago that Steve Harper declared Canada's mission to Afghanistan a "great success."  Actually he couched it by saying we had to "consider" our military excursion a great success.  But any doubt was dispelled today by PostMedia's Matthew Fisher who actually uses the "V" word.

That's right, Fisher is proclaiming our victory over the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.   Unfortunately this scribe doesn't actually define what represents victory in this sort of war.   He's more of a cast bones and read entrails sort of guy.

...signs that the Afghan war has been won in Kandahar today are everywhere, from old Taliban haunts in the Horn of Panjwaii to the booming provincial capital.

The only thing the insurgents have been able to do lately is launch a few unsuccessful attacks on relatively soft targets and assassinate or randomly blow up government workers or civilians.

Most schools in Kandahar are now open. Most roads are free of improvised explosive devices.

Precious water has been sluicing through a network of canals repaired by the Canadian International Development Agency.

Even the number of women surviving childbirth is up.

TorStar's Rosie DiManno was apparently on the same press junket as Fisher and filed essentially the same "mission accomplished" piece.

Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner — Canada’s last commander of Task Force Kandahar — in a recent briefing for reporters added the startling assertion that there are no more than 30 insurgents left actively harassing Panjwaii, scuttling about ones and twos, planting IEDs and antagonizing the locals.

“If they go in big groups, we find them. We are killing Taliban almost daily in the battle space.

“The insurgents are survivors, we’ve learned that. But we’ve diminished their numbers and capabilities. They’re still out there but in numbers too small to have an impact on anything. They’re low on supplies, low on capabilities, low on leadership.’’

So, there it is you see.   Barely 30-insurgents left in Panjwai and we kill more almost daily.  On that basis we should have them completely exterminated by Canada Day and what a fitting present that would be.

As a credible journalist, like McClatchey's Jonathan Landay, would readily tell you, the Talibs move around and, at the moment, they're massed in the east and north and, of course, across the border in Pakistan.  Landay, unlike Fisher and DiManno, knows the Mujads going back to the years he spent running the hills with them while they fought the Soviets.

If, as Canada's generals claim and their willing NewsyDupes relay, the Talibs are washed up, it's more than curious that even the Americans now admit they're in separate negotiations with the insurgents.   So is Karzai.  So are the Pakistanis.  So is Iran.  In fact there doesn't seem to be a player in the region that's not lining up for an urgent parlay with the Taliban.   And with the Dutch gone and Canada, France and Germany ready to pull up stakes and Britain looking for the door, those Talib leaders must be feeling absolutely whipped, no?  I wouldn't bet on it.

What really got me in reading these reports was not the journos' naivety but the rank contrivance Rosie couldn't resist tossing into her piece.  Her fanciful story depicts Canada as having set up the American forces for victory, "If, that is, Obama's politically inspired draw-down hasn't set them up for failure, just as Afghanistan was teetering on the tipping point of salvation."  And that is about as cheesy a bit of Canadian journalism as I've seen since Mike Duffy was sent to the Senate.

Sure It's the Right Thing. But That Doesn't Matter in Harperland.

Another international disgrace for Canada - thanks to Greasy Steve Harper.

The Canadian delegation to a UN conference in Geneva agrees that chrysotile asbestos fully deserves to be labelled as "hazardous" but Harperland will veto even that basic protection.

Materials listed on this annex require "Prior Informed Consent" - meaning before countries export listed goods, they must inform importers of the risks and pre-cautionary measures for safe handling, to which importers must consent.

The Canadian delegation Thursday said the expert panel's guidance, which included its recommendation to list the carcinogen on Annex III, was "appropriate and the criteria for listing was met. Canada is not in a position to support the listing."

Gee, I wonder if they should list Athabasca bitumen on Annex III because it's also chock full of carcinogens.  Ah, forget it.  That's not the way our Ruler, Lardass, rolls.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Are The Hackers After Next? Maybe Your Pacemaker.

There are hundreds of thousands of people who are kept alive by pacemakers, heart defibrilators, brain stimulators and implanted drug pumps that may be vulnerable to hacker attacks.

The vulnerability comes from wireless connectivity that enables doctors to monitor patients' vital signs or revise treatment programmes. any wireless connection, there's now a risk that such devices could be vulnerable to attack. And unlike with PCs when a wireless hack means someone obtaining your personal details, the worse case scenario here is that an attacker - or money grabbing relative - could kill a victim by instructing an implantable device to deliver lethal doses of medication or electricity.

To try and protect people wearing the devices the boffins have come up with a new system, which uses a second transmitter to jam unauthorised signals in an implant's operating frequency. In short this means that only authorised users will be able to communicate with it. This is because the jamming transmitter, rather than the implant, would handle encryption and authentication. And its good news for existing users as the bods claim that the system could work even with existing implants.

Known as a "shield  " the jamming transmitter will be small enough to be disguised in a necklace or watch. It would be paired with a device authorized to access the implant, which would send encrypted instructions to the shield, which would decode and relay them.

However, they won't be built into the device as this could cause problems if there is an emergency. And whether medical-device companies will invest in these or if patients will be willing to carry shields around with them depends on how grave they consider the threat of attack to be.

 Great, just f--king great!  What's next?

Homeland Security Tests Mind Reading Sensors

According to the magazine Nature, the US Department of Homeland Security is conducting field trials of sensors they hope will be able to spot people thinking about committing terrorist acts.  That's right, just by looking at people, this hardware will supposedly spot would-be terrorists.

The gear apparently uses uses remote sensors to measure physiological properties, such as heart rate and eye movement.

It is all based on a form of witchdoctor psychology called behavioural science. These boffins have the cunning theory that someone with malintent may act strangely, show mannerisms out of the norm, or experience extreme physiological reactions based on the extent, time, and consequences of the event.

Homeland Security's FAST technology design so that coppers can basically arrest anyone who looks them funny. So no change there then.

The DHS claimed the machine was accurate 70 percent of the time the other 30 percent will probably get out of Guantanamo Bay in a couple of years.

However some boffins think the gear will give shedloads of false positives.

Will California Break the Fracking Veil of Secrecy?

With a little luck the world may soon discover just what natural gas frackers have actually been pumping underground, secrets they have fiercely guarded from public scrutiny.

California's Environmental Quality Committee is to consider a bill that would force oil and gas hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" companies to disclose what chemicals they use in their fracking solutions.

Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting rock formations with high-pressure water, sand and a combination of chemicals, to release tightly-packed hydrocarbons. It is used in the Monterey Shale Formation, which extends from Northern California to the Los Angeles area, including Kern, Ventura, Orange and Santa Barbara counties; it is also used in the Rocky Mountain West, Midwest, East Coast, Texas and Louisiana.

There is no law in California requiring companies to publicly disclose a list of all chemicals pumped in the ground during the fracking process. They include benzene, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde and methanol.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski’s bill, AB 591, aims to change that. The bill is part of the growing trend of states, including Wyoming, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas, that have approved or are in the process of approving legislation requiring companies to disclose where fracking occurs, how much water is used in the process and what chemicals are pumped into the ground, due to the fear that toxic materials could potentially contaminate water aquifers.

AB 591 will require drillers to note whether they are fracking near active fault lines,” said Pamela King Palitz, staff attorney at Environment California, and expose the issue of tremendous water use flowing to the Central Valley that most Californians think is going to irrigate crops.”

Other jurisdictions provide that fracking chemicals need not be disclosed if they are "trade secrets" which seems to skew the scales from protection of the public and the environment in favour of unconditional industrial licence.   With what the industry has at stake it probably won't be giving up its fracking secrets without a fierce and protracted fight.

On Climate Change, Obama No Better Than Bush

To Al Gore, Barack Obama isn't up to the job of tackling climate change.  In fact, Gore thinks Obama is no better than Big Oil's favourite pres, George w. Bush.

Mr Gore said that in the face of attacks from fossil-fuel industries and denial and delay from Republicans in Congress, Mr Obama had failed to act decisively to alter the nation's policies on climate change and energy.

Addressing climate change on national and international levels would require forceful US leadership, Mr Gore said.

''He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks.

''Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community - including our own National Academy - to bring the reality of the science before the public.''

It's hard to dispute Gore's criticisms.   Obama hasn't been willing to sacrifice much political capital on this fight.   That said, with America's "bought and paid for" Congress playing water carrier to the fossil fuel industries, it's hard to imagine how Obama could win.

If Only They Had Told Us the Truth

 Hmm.   What if they had said this to us back in 2001, after 9/11?

Okay folks, here's the deal.   Al Qaeda just crashed jetliners into two office towers and the Pentagon.  They killed about three thousand people.   The organization and its leaders are holed up in Afghanistan under the protection of the ruling extremists, the Taliban.  So, here's what we're going to do.

We're going to drive the Taliban and al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan and into neighbouring Pakistan where they'll hide out in the rugged hill country under the protection of the Pakistani military.   

Once they're gone, we're going to create a parliament and fill it mainly with the most corrupt and brutal warlords that we haven't driven out.   These warlords will tell their people how to vote, they'll rig administer the ballot boxes and voting stations and we'll call that democracy.

Any country, even Afghanistan, needs money so we'll let them go back to their traditional folk industries - narcotics.   We wouldn't be surprised if they can't turn their country into the world's largest opium producer in no time flat.

We want to restore a lot of old Afghan traditions that had been suppressed under those ruthless Talibs - a government run on bribes, police corruption, a fixed judiciary and, every warlord's favourite, open season on little boys' bums.

Now we're not saying we'll actually defeat al Qaeda or the Taliban.   Truth is, we're really not even gonna try.   Do you have any idea just how many soldiers that would take?  We'll never have even half enough soldiers for that job.   So, instead, we'll budget - oh, let's say ten years roughly - during which we'll bomb and shell the hell out of the countryside whenever we think we spot the bad guys.  When we do find'em, we'll drive them from Point A to Point B and then declare Point A a total victory - until they drift back in a couple of months.  In the meantime we'll send our soldiers out trolling for improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers.

Then, after about ten years, you voters at home will have had enough of high-tech   "Whack-a-Mole  " and will just want everybody brought home.   Then we'll simply hand the keys back to the guys in Kabul and they can get on with their unresolved civil war.

So, what'ya think?   Sound like a plan?   Good, we'll get back to you in 2011.

You see, if they had laid it all out just like that, then today these supposed leaders could actually claim victory as we pull our forces out of Afghanistan.   But, then again, if they had laid it out like that, we would have had their political heads for sending our soldiers into harm's way for nothing.

The fact is, that wasn't why any Western nation sent forces to Afghanistan.   Except for the Americans, the rest of us went there for one purpose that fairly quickly morphed into another and then another yet, each bigger than the previous mission.

At first we went in to safeguard Kabul while the government found its footing.  Fair enough.   Then Bush/Cheney got fixated on Iraq and it all went to hell.   Paul Martin authorized Phase Two and it's extremely important to understand what he actually approved.

Bush went to Iraq believing he'd be in and out of that place in a matter of months.  He'd take a big hunk of his Afghan force to Iraq.   We were to take on a direct combat role to fill in until all those American soldiers came back.  We were babysitting Kandahar and they promised to be back right after the show.

How do I know we were only babysitting?   That's obvious.  It's plain as day from the miniscule force we sent to Kandahar province.   2,500 soldiers out of which we could muster a combat group of about 1,000.   A mere thousand fighting troops for Kandahar province which, given its size And population, required a force of somewhere between 15,000 to 25,000 combat troops.

Now safely retired General Rick Hillier assured the Canadian people that our fighting force was going to Kandahar to "kill scumbags" that he told us were just "a few dozen" in numbers.   What happened next confirms what I said about babysitting.

After we were stuck in Kandahar the Talib force swelled from Hillier's "few dozen" into several thousand.   Now, if Canada was there to defeat those thousands of Talibs don't you think we would have reinforced our battle group accordingly?   But beyond adding a few hundred soldiers to the roster and deploying tanks, our force remained fairly static.

But in Martin's plan this didn't matter much.   We were there on a limited commitment.   When that was up, the Americans were supposed to come back in and take over.   We would punch our timecards and go home.  But then we got a change in management.

Under Cowboy Steve Harper, Canada sure wasn't going to cut'n run.  No siree.  We were there for the duration.   We were going to bring democracy and human rights and every other kind of good stuff to Afghanistan and we were going to destroy the Taliban, mop the floor with them.   To show that we at home meant business, we were going to wear red shirts on Thursdays and slap those magnetic ribbons on the trunk lids of our cars too.

And that's where it all fell apart.   Steve, being the ideologically-bound incompetent that he is (not to mention the brightest man in the room), was more concerned with form than substance.  He showboated a war in which Canadian soldiers lost life and limb.  He went out of his way to extract every ounce of publicity possible.

As the battle turned into quagmire, Steve revealed how, to him, our war in Afghanistan was really a political football by appointing a gaggle of hacks including John Manley, Paul Tellier, Derek Burney, Jake Epp and this obviously warlike lady:

to opine on the future of Canada's role in Afghanistan.   What did any of these types know of modern warfare?  Nothing at all.  Harper might as well have asked the opinions of five cab drivers at any Canadian airport.   It was no surprise that this coven of political shills came back endorsing an extension of the Canadian mission but only if the Americans came up with an extra thousand troops.

We'll never know how Steve received his epiphany and came to realize he was chewing on a giant shit sandwich.   We know when it happened.   It occurred when Steve fell abruptly silent on the war, refusing as much as possible to let the word "Afghanistan" cross his lips.  It was when the skulking coward stopped demeaning his critics' patriotism, when there was no more loud talk about "cut'n run."

So the last couple of years has just been biding our time, gradually winding the whole thing up and hoping no one will be looking too closely at just what we've left behind when we're gone from Afghanistan.  If anything I'll bet Cowboy Steve is quietly grateful that we're getting out second, following the Dutch.  It will distance him from what befalls Afghanistan in the next five or ten years.

Canada's troops have done a fine job in Afghanistan despite a lot of truly wretched failings by their political and military masters.   What did they buy with all their lives and limbs sacrificed over there?  The only honest answer is whatever you want to imagine they did.   There are no great victories, no decisive outcomes.   We had no Lundy's Lane or Crysler's Farm, no Paardeburg, no Vimy, no Falaise, no Kapyong, no battlefield edifice of any sort.   Perhaps the only good thing in our adventure in Afghanistan is that our casualties were about the lightest we've ever known in warfare, a death toll that would have been a bad night for Canada's Bomber Command in WWII.

The failure doesn't lie at the feet of the troops.   What Afghanistan has shown is that it scarcely matters how good your fighting soldiers are if they're not backed up with genuinely skilled, courageous and determined military and political leaders.   This failure belongs entirely in Ottawa.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The "Century of Hunger"?

The wealthiest nations are poised to condemn the peoples of the rest of the world to a "Century of Hunger" unless they agree to new rules governing food supply.   That warning was delivered by French agriculture minister, Bruno Le Maire, as the G20 AgMins gathered in Paris today.

France, which holds the G-20 presidency, wants a central database on crops, limits on export bans, international market regulation, emergency stockpiles and a plan to raise global output. 

“We don’t want to dilute the action plan,” Le Maire said. “Either the G-20 members are able to find consensus on something which would help us to fight against excessive volatility and to fight against hunger in the world,” or “it would be a failure,” he said. 

The choice is “international solidarity” or “egotism” if nations want to avert this becoming the “the century of hunger,” he told a meeting of 120 farmers groups in Paris last week. France is the European Union’s biggest farm producer. 

“People have taken food for granted, especially in the U.S., for so long that they’ve forgotten how important it is,” Carlson said. “I shudder to think what would happen, to the poorer countries especially, if we ran out of food. There would be just unrest like we can’t imagine.” 

Canada and countries that can still produce staple crops in high volume stand to gain a lot from the increasing market demand coupled with severe weather events elsewhere that sharply disrupt production and reduce competition.  In other words, their pain is our gain.

France is insisting that any G20 deal must provide for regulation of financial markets for agricultural commodities, a notion that the American congress is likely to reject.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This is "Eco-Friendly"?

The US Air Force, air demonstration team, The Thunderbirds, is going green, sort of.   Last month the squadron introduced biofuel in the form of a 50-50 blend of conventional jet fuel and the rest a fuel extracted from camelina.

Wiki offers this description of camelina: 

Camelina needs little water or nitrogen to flourish, it can be grown on marginal agricultural lands and does not compete with food crops. It may be used as a rotation crop for wheat, to increase the health of the soil.[1]

So, it sounds as though camelina isn't all bad.  It doesn't compete with food crops - supposedly.  It can be used to improve wheat fields when the need to be left fallow.  It doesn't consume much water or nitrogen - perhaps.

Can these numbers be maintained when the US Air Force and Navy begin consuming, between them, 700-million barrels of bio-fuel per year?   There are plenty of "ifs" in that question.  And what if commercial aviation develops an appetite for camelina?  The US military represents just 10% of the demand for aviation fuel in the United States.

A Current Affairs Quiz to Start Your Day

Just two simple questions this morning.

1.   Which continent is not essential for feeding mankind?

2.   Which continent is still not beset by the impacts of cyclical floods and droughts?

Bonus Question

3.    Name the continents that are now beset by cyclical floods and droughts?

Full points if you identified Antarctica as the only continent on earth not ravaged by cyclical floods and drought.   An extra 50-points if you got Asia, Europe, Africa, America North and South, and Australia on Question 3.

The point of the Quiz is to connect the dots.   Just two or three years ago these impacts were forecast to hit mankind in two, three or four decades hence.   These were dark events that our kids or grandkids might have to confront long after we were safely gone.  Well, the only thing that's "gone" is the breathing room we thought we had.   We, as a species, as a civilization, have been overtaken by events.

We were warned that, within just a generation, perhaps two, our oceans could be at the point of ecological collapse.  A report due to be released in just a few days chronicles how our oceans are already at the edge of a mass extinction.

"...we're seeing changes that are happening faster than we'd thought, or in ways that we didn't expect to see for hundreds of years."

Overtaken by events, again.  It's more than just making bad guesses.   When we get overtaken by these events it tends to come in the form of conditions that impact our societies.   Because we're overtaken by them, we're not adequately or even partially prepared for them.   They catch us napping, they take us unprepared.  Our indifference and neglect means they go up, needlessly, a notch or two or twenty in severity.  

Around the world we're dealing with "once in a century" events as though they still truly were once in a century rather than the new reality.   We will pay dearly for that indifference.   Yes, yes, yes - cognitive dissonance - I know.   All our lives we've been fed assumptions about the world we live in and we simply can't reconcile those beliefs with this new reality even though it is happening before our eyes.   It is undeniable, it is inescapable, it is tangible and palpable, it is visible unless you have your eyes squeezed tightly shut.   And, by turning our back on it, we're making it worse for ourselves.

But isn't this why we structure our societies around political leadership?  Okay, sure it is.   And shouldn't we expect our leaders to be on top of things this scary, things that could wreak havoc on our society, our civilization?   Oh, I suppose. 
And aren't our leaders alive to these challenges, especially the dangerous ones, and doing all they can to safeguard us?   Well, since you're pressing the issue, no.

Stephen Harper?  Oh please, he epitomizes a 20th century Petro-Pol.   All this stuff would destroy everything he believes in.   The funny thing is, it actually will.  Bob Rae?   Well he's got other things on his mind.  He's much too busy trying to resurrect a Liberal Party to notice that this situation is the very way to do it.  Well then what about our political WunderKind, Jack Layton? 
C'mon, really, are you serious?  Jack?  Hell, if he did, somebody might call him a "socialist."  Forget that.   Lizzy May?  Yeah, sure, but.

So to sum up.   We have a problem, call it a threat, okay call it an "existential threat" that is rapidly setting in on the land, across our atmosphere, throughout our oceans

and this threat is manifesting itself all around the world at once

and, bad as things are today, everyone who has analyzed this says it won't be getting any better tomorrow

and, here at home, it still isn't anywhere near the top of the agenda of our political leadership, any of them, save for one nice lady that nobody is listening to very much.

So why isn't this at the top of their agendas?  (okay, "agendae" - now are you happy?)   Well they can only speak for themselves but they won't but I will.  You see placing this at the top of the agenda invokes change, the scale of this change being dictated by the severity of the challenge, the threat.   That's a big, big change and, oh gosh, they thought they were going to be able to duck this one for twenty or thirty years.

In other words, they're not going to deal with this until you and I and all of us demand they act.   When it comes to leadership, they've given this one a pass.  So it's now up to you.  It's up to you to contact these people and demand action.  They can ignore me but they can't ignore all of you.   Contact the lot of them, Harper too.  That's your best shot.  Or you can sit back and wait until some cataclysmic culmination of events sends us all scurrying for whatever ugly options remain open to us by then.   Your choice.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Killing Off Our Oceans

In the coming decade we're in for a rude reminder of something we've forgotten - how dependent civilization is on our oceans.

A report will be released in a few days prepared by experts in a variety of scientific disciplines gathered to get an up to date look at the state of the world's oceans.  Their findings have been described as "shocking."

"The findings are shocking,  " said Alex Rogers, IPSO's scientific director and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University.

"As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the oceans, the implications became far worse than we had individually realised.

"We've sat in one forum and spoken to each other about what we're seeing, and we've ended up with a picture showing that almost right across the board we're seeing changes that are happening faster than we'd thought, or in ways that we didn't expect to see for hundreds of years ."

These  "accelerated " changes include melting of Arctic sea ice and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, sea level rise, and release of methane trapped in the sea bed.

But more worrying than this, the team noted, are the ways in which different issues act synergistically to increase threats to marine life.

Some pollutants, for example, stick to the surfaces of tiny plastic particles that are now found in the ocean bed.

This increases the amounts of these pollutants that are consumed by bottom-feeding fish.

Plastic particles also assist the transport of algae from place to place, increasing the occurrence of toxic algal blooms - which are also caused by the influx of nutrient-rich pollution from agricultural land.

In a wider sense, ocean acidification, warming, local pollution and overfishing are acting together to increase the threat to coral reefs - so much so that three-quarters of the world's reefs are at risk of severe decline.

The report also notes that previous mass extinction events have been associated with trends being observed now - disturbances of the carbon cycle, and acidification and hypoxia (depletion of oxygen) of seawater.

Levels of CO2 being absorbed by the oceans are already far greater than during the great extinction of marine species 55 million years ago (during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum), it concludes.

IPSO's immediate recommendations include:
  • stopping exploitative fishing now, with special emphasis on the high seas where currently there is little effective regulation
  • mapping and then reducing the input of pollutants including plastics, agricultural fertilisers and human waste
  • making sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon dioxide levels are now so high, it says, that ways of pulling the gas out of the atmosphere need to be researched urgently - but not using techniques, such as iron fertilisation, that lead to more CO2 entering the oceans.

It makes no difference whether you're Liberal or NDP or Conservative.  If you're supporting a political party that won't put the environmental calamity that's setting in around our world at the very top of their priorities, you and your party are failing our country and our people.  "Business as usual" is no longer acceptable.   The time for that has run out.   We can no longer afford placeholder leadership.   As Einstein said, the thinking that got us into these problems is not the thinking that can get us out of them.

Obama Impersonator Backfires On GOP

A Republican forum in Louisiana hoped to get a few shots in at the Democratic president by hiring an Obama impersonator.   It was all chuckles until the comic began making fun of Republicans at which point he was ushered offstage.

Let'em Eat - Geese

Urban areas in North America these days are plagued by masses of unwanted Canada geese - birds that have abandoned their migratory ways for the comforts or urban living.   They crap up our parks (literally), sometimes block our roads and have even been known to send jetliners crashlanding into the Hudson River.

That US Airways near disaster has spurred New York City airports into action.  They've decided to capture the unwanted geese, ship them to Pennsylvania and have them cleaned and cooked, transformed into free food for the needy.

Mass culls to clear the geese from the area were authorized after the National Transportation Safety Board positively identified the remains of Canada geese in the engine of the aircraft.

The city will pay for the capture and transport of the geese to facilities in Pennsylvania where they will be distributed to Pennsylvania food banks, a spokesman for the city's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said.

"Rather than disposing of them in landfills, we wanted to make sure they do not go to waste," the spokesman said.

A Gearhead in the 21st Century

I love driving, absolutely love it.   Not the trip to the mall or voyage to the in-laws sort of driving.  I'm talking about the sheer joy of negotiating an empty stretch of challenging mountain twisties sort of thing.

I've never owned a fire-breathing gas guzzler even though I grew up in the 60s.  My focus was always on the turn on a dime sort of car.   Raw speed I could handily get out of my motorcycles.  Besides how much skill does it really take to leadfoot a gas peddle?

Periodically I take a few minutes to glance through the motoring stories at TorStar's Wheels.Ca.   Usually there's a few "best cars/worst cars" stories or features on the latest supercar you'll never be able to afford.   Today, however, there were a few items that depicted what a chore driving has become in parts of Canada, what constitutes sensible driving and the perils of sitting behind the wheel.

The health issue first.   Driving a vehicle exposes your skin to excessive sunlight which leads to an enhanced risk of melanoma.  Well, duh!  What was remarkable was the commenters who dismissed this as junk science or alarmism. 

It's true, of course it is.   During my professional career I wound up with airline pilots as a segment of my clientelle.   Have you ever noticed the size of the array of side cockpit windows on an airliner?   They're massive.   Now imagine you're sitting in a chair beside that window array at high altitude for hours at a stretch as you cruise beneath a cloudless sky.   You're sitting there being irradiated by everything from light to gamma radiation and with very little atmospheric shielding because you're so damned high.   What do you get?  A markedly increased risk of melanoma, even brain tumors and other radiation-related afflictions.  So yeah, when you drive, wear long sleeves.

Then there was a story about "hyper-milers" a term used to describe motorists who coast up to red lights, apparently infuriating other drivers.   Coasting to a red light, of course, saves both fuel and brakes and, when done correctly, leaves you arriving at the light while you're still rolling instead of having to start all over again from a stop.   This too seems to infuriate a lot of commenters.

We figured this one out years ago in BC.   Along our highways we have light-change warning flashers about a hundred yards ahead of the actual traffic light.  These amber flashers go off to warn drivers that, at the posted speed, the light ahead will be changing before they get there so they might just as well slow down early.  It works.   People back off, gear down and begin coasting to the light.   It's really great for truckers who can avoid having to go through the gears needlessly  all over again.  It saves on gas (and GHG emissions), it saves on brakes, and it saves on intersection traffic accidents.   Smarten up, flat earthers.  These warning lights more than pay for themselves.

The final story was a lament on how it just isn't fun driving in Ontario today.  Having experienced it myself just a few years back you'll get no argument from me on that one.   Southern Ontario is a crappy place for driving. bloody awful.  I know because I live somewhere else, a place where driving is still great fun.

Once we flush the tourists out at the end of the season, the roads in central and northern Vancouver Island are magnificent.   Uphill, downhill, mountain twisties, coastal sweepers - they're really terrific once the flat earth crowd (everyone from central Alberta to Quebec) is finally gone.  It's not so much fun to find yourself sharing a mountain hairpin with an oncoming Saskatchewan tourist driving the biggest motorhome he could afford to rent.   They can make you practically yearn for an oncoming logging truck with no brakes or something else predictable to deal with.

So the summer driving season is upon us.   If you're going traveling, be as cautious about the sun as you would be if you were basking on a deckchair in the backyard.   Drive sensibly - easy on the brakes/easy on the gas.   And, if you're looking for fun driving realize it's a matter of getting yourself to the right place at the right time.

Causing Harm in the Name of Doing Good

Is the West taking away the best thing Afghans had going for them?

Retired US foreign service officer Patricial McArdle contends that well-intentioned Western aid programmes are undermining Afghanistan's locavore tradition.

...few realize that one of the most promising models for sustainable living is not to be found on organic farms in the United States, but in Afghanistan.   A majority of its 30 million citizens still grow and process most of the food they consume. They are the ultimate locavores.

...instead of building on Afghanistan’s traditional, labor-intensive agricultural and construction practices, the United States is using many of its aid dollars to transform this fragile agrarian society into a consumer-oriented, mechanized, fossil-fuel-based economy. 

...Sustainable development in Afghanistan has taken a back seat to “quick wins” that can be reported to Congress as indicators of success: tractors that farmers can’t repair and that require diesel fuel they can’t afford; cheaply built schools; and smooth but wafer-thin asphalt, which will never stand up to Afghanistan’s punishing climate without costly annual maintenance.

It's hard to argue with McArdle's claims but it's just as hard to see how Afghanistan could ever have preserved its pastoralism after a decade of Western intervention focusing world attention on that country's and its region's natural riches.   Afghanistan, it seems, is doomed to be dragged, kicking and screaming if need be, into the 21st century or at least some backward, feudal, fundamentalist echo of 21st century modernism.  It is lamentable that the country's mineral wealth is being opened up to exploitation while it is still saddled with a government considered by many to be a "criminal enterprise."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

John Edwards, Nancy Grace, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Texas Governor Perry

And there you have all the fodder needed for Bill Maher's latest "New Rules"

Fixing America's Economy In Under 2:15

I know this is beginning to sound like a broken record but, as Robert Reich explains in under 2 minutes, 15 seconds, America's economic future depends on restoring that country's middle class.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Piracy, Anyone?

What's in a name?  Very little.  Look at my own British Columbia.  Our province is governed by the Liberal Party of British Columbia.   Only there's nothing remotely "liberal" about it.

We used to be run by the Social Credit Party, a pretty rightwing bunch.   They were opposed by the provincial New Democrats.   Then along came a guy named Gordon Wilson who resuscitated the long dormant Liberal Party of British Columbia as what was to be a truly liberal party and people went nuts at the idea of actually being able to vote "for" something in BC politics.

The reborn Libs didn't win the next election but they did manage to send SS SoCred straight to the bottom.   And then all those scurvy, flailing SoCreds swam  over to the Liberals, bought memberships, and simply took over.  In no time at all they expunged any trace of liberalism from the provincial Liberal Party and the ghost of the SoCreds was back in business just under a new name.

Which brings me to our federal political scene and the NDP convention underway.  It gives me no pleasure to see dedicated socialists like Dr. Dawg agonize over their party's demise.   Well, in all honesty, I do get a bit of pleasure out of it after the way they flaunted their "victory".  

When the NDP trounced the Libs to become the Official Opposition, a lot of the party faithful thought they had actually gotten rid of the Libs.   Now the other shoe has dropped and, at last, they're coming to realize that what's being lost is the NDP's raison d'etre, the socialist cause.  The NDP is about to philosophically euthanize itself.   That old socialist nonsense has to go.   There'll be no more singing The Internationale.   Nope, that party - the one they so faithfully supported all these years - is taking a dirt nap.  They're ditching the factory floor coveralls for the Brooks Brothers pinstripe.

So, I was thinking.   Haven't I seen this before or something like it?  I know.  Why don't you lonely federal Liberals just switch to the NDP, take over the party and - Bingo! - business as usual.   The True Believers - Dawg and Thwap and LeftDog et al - will hurl their cookies and find some way to reconstitute what they lost - the New Democratic Party, the voice of Canadian socialism, the conscience of Parliament - everything that Layton's Neo-Democratic Party wants to dilute.  Canada will again be well served by their dedication and efforts.   And for the old Liberals, this would be a wonderful opportunity to embrace genuine progressivism again - the stuff that Iggy and his minions tried to ditch in their attempt to make the LPC the Democratic Party North.

Know something else?   If everybody this side of the Corporatist Party of Canada stops beating each other over the head trying to be the next centre-left party, they could probably find the common cause that once allowed them to get along cooperatively.

China's New Climate, And Yours

Southern China has been enduring the worst drought in half a century but not any longer.   Now the region is inundated by flood waters, it's newly engorged rivers, including the Yangtze, overflowing their banks.   550,000 people have already been relocated and further areas are expected to be evacuated.

Television channels that were only recently broadcasting images of dried-up lake beds are now carrying footage of flooded homes and boats plying their way through inundated streets. China Daily said 550,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.

The dramatic shift is in line with weather trends identified by the Beijing Climate Centre, which says rain is coming in shorter, fiercer bursts, interspersed by protracted periods of drought.

...Monitoring stations on 40 rivers have recorded water levels above the safety limit, including Asia's biggest waterway – the Yangtze – which is simultaneously suffering a flood downstream and a drought closer to its source.

This alternating "flood & drought" cycle appears to be setting in around the world from Asia to the United States, in Britain, in Europe and in parts of Latin America.  Other areas such as the Middle East, Russia and Africa seem to be spared the flooding but impacted by severe drought.

Just a few years ago the changes that are happening today were merely predictions of what might arrive in 2030 or 2050 - decades down the road.  Those warnings, that the bought and paid for denialists slammed as alarmist, now are shown to have been unduly optimistic, almost rosey.

What's yet to come?  Who knows?  We're only beginning to discover how mankind will respond to these changes.  We didn't foresee how the food price impacts of climate change would translate into popular revolt in the Arab world.  We're starting to witness the onset of climate migration, so far mainly out of Africa into Europe.  Perhaps much sooner than expected, the United States will have to fortify and defend its border with Mexico and its vulnerable Pacific, Caribbean and Atlantic coastlines as populations in Central America flee the ecological devastation of their homelands.  The Pentagon is very much alive to this reality.

And then there is the United States itself.  In the course of this century, climate change is expected to render some heavily populated regions of the US less habitable.   The East and Gulf coasts are particularly susceptible to sea level rise and the associated problem of storm surges.  As areas like parts of Florida dry up it tends to give rise to seawater inundation, contaminating what had been fresh groundwater resources.   The combined effect of these various impacts is predicted to be internal displacement of a portion of the American population.  People are going to have to be relocated which is a considerable social and economic burden for a nation already debt ridden.   This is not a nation that will be inclined to absorb large scale climate migration out of Central America.

Eventually and quite probably within the next ten years, climate change together with associated environmental challenges, will dominate the political agenda even here in Canada.   By all indications that won't be a transition of choice.  No political party in Canada, save the Greens, really takes this problem seriously and we (particularly our children and grandchildren) may pay dearly for their gross negligence.   This is one of those potentially existential challenges that, when you fall behind, proves enormously difficult to ever again catch up.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dumb As Paint

Today's Dumb as Paint award goes out to Brock Anton for helping Vancouver Police by confessing to assaulting a police officer and destruction of property.  Brock, be sure to ask if they have special cells for dummies.

Here's a better look at Brock - Facebook Brock and Street Riot Brock.  Makin' history.  Oh yeah.

Way to go Brock, you complete moron.

Defending Canadian Labour

We've been warned.   The Harper government's rash interventionism in Air Canada and Canada Post strikes has to be seen as a declaration of a war on organized labour in Canada.

I'm a left-leaning Liberal but not what, to the Canadian Left, would qualify as socialist.   My support for organized labour is genuine but it is also measured.

For most of my working life I belonged to some sort of union or guild or professional society.   Even lawyers and doctors have collective representation.

I value organized labour as an essential component to the maintenance of a healthy, robust and viable middle class which is the very backbone of our democracy.  A strong middle class is the very engine of social and economic mobility.   It is the ladder by which the poor can climb out of poverty and clears the path for them to ascend into the trades and professions.

The middle class operates as a buffer against extremism on the Right and the Left.  When it functions properly it provides people with hope and security, a vested interest in their society.

The middle class is not homogeneous.  There are layers or sub-classes within the class although the distinctions are usually vague.   These layers actually strengthen the middle class and make it more resilient to external forces.  Organized labour is an essential component of that, overlapping several of these layers.   Neutralize organized labour and you greatly weaken the middle class, sapping it of both strength and resilience.

As I wrote yesterday, the right to organize trade unions is specifically acknowledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   In signatories to that declaration, Canada included, it is a fundamental human right.   You cannot allow people to organize trade unions and deny them the right to strike for that deprives them of their fundamental human right.  And that, sadly, is just what Harper seems intent on doing.

Harper is trampling underfoot Canada's human rights obligations.   He is withholding from a group of Canadians what is their fundamental human right.  This is tyrannical.

We do ourselves and our cause a great disservice if we fail to recognize Harper's incremental ways.  He builds on small steps and acts as though his feet have not moved at all.   That is what makes his assault on labour so threatening.  Back to work legislation ought to be a last resort for any democratic government.  Yes, indeed, it may be necessary in some circumstances, eventually, when the strike remedy proves intractable and no longer a tool of consensus.  Then, perhaps, but not before.

Harper brushes all that aside.  You strike.  He orders you back to work, your demands and grievances nullified.  He dismantles what the Supreme Court of Canada described in 2007 as "the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers."

Mr. Rae and then Mr. Layton took Harper to task over this but Harper wouldn't listen to them when he was obliged to so he's hardly going to heed them now that he has his majority.   So, if Parliament is incapable of rectifying Harper's excesses, how is society to find redress?

In circumstances such as these there is really only one effective response and that is the general strike.   Labour walks out, shuts the place down, says "oh no you don't."  A general strike in defence of a fundamental human right is not excessive nor unjustified in a truly democratic society.

Corporatism, that has taken such a malignant hold in the United States, is setting into Canada also.   Harper is not genuinely conservative.   He is corporatist.  He bridles at what are, for him, the shackles of law and conventions and everything outside his very twisted and narrow notion of decency.   His actions this past week speak for themselves and we act at our peril if we don't listen.

A Night Made for a Riot

It was a night made for a riot.

By mid-afternoon radio stations were reporting throngs moving from the suburbs into downtown Vancouver.   Many employers let their workers off early for the event, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, Vancouver's best ever chance to win the cup.

Most of those who swarmed the city streets did not have tickets for the game.  Their event was simply being with the throng.

Precautions were taken.   Extra police patrolled the streets.   Liquor stores in the downtown area were closed early.  Streets were blocked off to traffic to accommodate revelers.

The game was played, poorly.   Boston took the Stanley Cup, the crowd was disappointed.

But lurking in the crowd, like so many malignant cells, were young men who intended to get what they came for, win or lose - a riot.   Fueled by booze and, I assume, drugs, they set out on a rampage, the throng even if unintentionally providing them cover.   With that they got to work smashing windows, looting stores, setting cars afire like so many buskers of wanton, senseless destruction.

Some were arrested, many more got away - for now.   But we'll see their faces again as images from masses of news and cell phone video are methodically matched to names.  Web sites have already sprung up where witnesses are invited to post images of the miscreants so that they can be "tagged."

For these punks, their anger was expended last night on burned cars, looted stores and street violence.   But today there's another anger, of a much more lasting sort, and this time it's directed at them.  It must be a troubling feeling to wake up this morning realizing you're now being hunted; that your photograph is on display and people you know are dialing the police to pass along your name, even your address. 

The cops won't get you right away.   This is going to take a while.  The sheer volume of their work guarantees that.  So you've got time to stew.   And, as you go back to school or back to work or as you hang out with your friends or have a drink in a familiar bar you'll be looking for faces that are looking at you just a little bit differently.

Sad really but, then again, it didn't have to be.   I'm reasonably sure that there weren't many of these criminals who went downtown without understanding they were at least willing to do these things if the opportunity arose.

We can clean up the streets, patch up the damage in just a couple of days.   Cleaning up our community will take a little longer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Liberal Take on Air Canada and Canada Post

"The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers by giving them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work... Collective bargaining is not simply an instrument for pursuing external ends…rather [it] is intrinsically valuable as an experience in self-government... Collective bargaining permits workers to achieve a form of workplace democracy and to ensure the rule of law in the workplace. Workers gain a voice to influence the establishment of rules that control a major aspect of their lives."
Facilities Subsector Bargaining Association v. British Columbia
Supreme Court of Canada, 2007 

The Harper government is moving to force striking Air Canada workers back to work with justifications as plausible as the Reichstag Fire and now they've got the same in store for striking Canada Post employees.

Canada once honoured its commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23 of which acknowledges the right to organize trade unions as a fundamental human right. 

Apparently Harper's thuggish corporatism now trumps even universal, fundamental human rights.  Harper and the greasy minds that follow him will, of course, argue that they're not impeding the right to organize trade unions.  No, indeed, all they're doing is cutting the legs off those unions once they seek to invoke collective bargaining.


Flaherty Issues "Stern Warning" To Americans

Harper minion, the Diminutive Jimbo Flaherty, is said by the Montreal Gazette to have given a "stern fiscal warning" to the United States.

Tiny Jim, to take a Dickensian liberty, told New York's business elite that America must tackle its deficit if financial markets are to retain confidence in America's ability to manage its debt.

Evidence that this was just more meaningless lipflap from Tiny Jim (copyright) was the noticeable absence of any suggestion that the US stop spending more than the rest of the world combined on military expenditures, wrap up a couple of its pointless wars or start taxing the rich like they were rich.  I guess it's okay to point out a nation's deficit but bad form to mention what lies behind it.   Way to go Jimbo.   Now, hurry back to Ottawa.   Steve wants his limo washed in time for the weekend so you've got some real work to do.

Simple Minds In a Complex World

We in the West like to keep things simple, especially when those things relate to countries on the other side of the world.  We like to reduce everything to basic math - i.e., Afghanistan + Insurgency = Taliban.   We've even based a decade of warfighting around it.

Yet when it comes to insurgencies - armed, violent nationalist movements - the Talibs share their region with several others.  Take the Balochs.   Like the Pashtun, the Taliban tribe, the Balochs have a traditional homeland divided by some Brit named Durand between Afghanistan and Pakistan.   You may not have heard much about it, but the Balochs have been waging their own insurgency against Pakistan for years.   Baluchistan has the richest store of minerals in Pakistan and Islamabad wants that wealth but the Balochs, long neglected or alternately set upon by the Punjabis and Sindhis, would rather be free.   So they've got an insurgency underway and America, at the moment, is sitting on the fence.

Meanwhile, in northern Afghanistan, other groups are on the prowl, outfits like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).  Uzbek insurgents have been linked to the late May attack that killed the Takhar province governor and the head of the Afghan National Police.  The IMU is said to be linked to both the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Just trying to keep track of these insurgent movements is like trying to herd cats.  Kyrgyzstan is complaining about a bunch called the Islamic Movement of Kyrgyzstan which is actually made up of minority Uzbek dissidents said to be currently training in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Then there's the Tajiks.  A five year civil war involving the United Tajik Opposition came to an end in 1997, sort of, but since then former UTO activists have been hunted down by government assassins, re-igniting the insurgency.

The point is that insurgency is virtually a pastime in this region.  It ebbs and flows across notional state boundaries with a broad cast of players who themselves come and go and are replaced in turn.   You can't bomb this mess into submission because there is no weapon yet invented that can resolve the underlying causes of these revolts.

We went into Afghanistan with an objective that was as fatally simplistic as it was unattainable.  We have achieved about as limited a defeat as we could have ever hoped for and that's about as good as it's ever going to get until they sort out their own problems.  We fought them off for about a decade and we kept Kabul from falling - and that's it.  We haven't changed Afghanistan.  It remains one of the worst "failed states" in the world.    Today it was proclaimed the very worst country in which to be born female.   What conceivable purpose is there for continuing to pour lives and treasure into such a place?  We did the math and came up with the wrong answer.  It's time to move on.

For Women, The Worst Countries On Earth

There are plenty of countries where it's no blessing to be born female but there are some where it's bloody awful.

The worst, the very worst country is - why it's our own rescued state, freshly-liberated Afghanistan.   Afghanistan is followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia.

The appearance of India, a country rapidly developing into an economic super-power, was unexpected. It is ranked as extremely hazardous because of the subcontinent's high level of female infanticide and sex trafficking.
Others were less surprised to be on the list. Informed about her country's inclusion, Somalia's women's minister, Maryan Qasim, responded:   "I thought Somalia would be first on the list, not fifth.  "

The survey has been compiled by the Thomson Reuters Foundation to mark the launch of a website, TrustLawWoman, aimed at providing free legal advice for women's groups around the world.

High maternal mortality rates, limited access to doctors and a   "near total lack of economic rights  " render Afghanistan such a threat to its female inhabitants.

"Continuing conflict, Nato airstrikes and cultural practices combine to make Afghanistan a very dangerous place for women,  " said Antonella Notari, head of Women Change Makers, a group that supports women social entrepreneurs around the world.

No word yet on Canada's standing but, then again, our Ayatollah and his Mullahs are still unpacking their majority tools.

First They Came For Our Slaves, Now They've Come For Our Coal.

Those goddamned Yankees!

Far right Republican jackass, Senator Mitch McConnell, says the federal government is at war in the South again.  "They have declared war, war on Kentucky's coal industry."

 The next day, state Rep. Jim Gooch, a Providence Democrat who heads the state House Natural Resources Committee, went even further as he complained about the EPA's efforts to make coal-fired power plants reduce their air and water pollution.

"This is a war on Kentucky," Gooch exclaimed during a hearing, "because what we're talking about is totally destroying our economy."

And don't forget Gov. Steve Beshear's tantrum against the EPA during his State of the Commonwealth address in February. "Get off our backs!" Beshear bellowed. "Get off our backs!"
Such is the state of politics in America today that, when its Environmental Protection Agency, does its job, it's an act of war.   Sounds like the sort of thing we might expect to hear bleating out of Alberta if Tar Sands Stevie wasn't running the country.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

America Shows Its Hand on Afghanistan

American negotiators are working out a deal that could allow US forces to remain in Afghanistan for decades.   All this nonsense about an American withdrawal by 2014 was always just that - nonsense.

The Pentagon wants a geopolitical military presence in the South Asia region anchored to a permanent military presence in the Persian Gulf region, preferably in Iraq.   At the moment it seems that Maliki and Karzai are both vulnerable enough to  go for such a deal.

According to The Guardian, Karzai is driving a hard bargain.  Karzai is said to be demanding a modern, combat-capable air force complete with jet aircraft.   So far the Americans are giving that a big "no."

There are at least five bases in Afghanistan which are likely candidates to house large contingents of American special forces, intelligence operatives, surveillance equipment and military hardware post-2014. In the heart of one of the most unstable regions in the world and close to the borders of Pakistan, Iran and China, as well as to central Asia and the Persian Gulf, the bases would be rare strategic assets.

News of the US-Afghan talks has sparked deep concern among powers in the region and beyond. Russia and India are understood to have made their concerns about a long-term US presence known to both Washington and Kabul. China, which has pursued a policy of strict non-intervention beyond economic affairs in Afghanistan, has also made its disquiet clear. During a recent visit, senior Pakistani officials were reported to have tried to convince their Afghan counterparts to look to China as a strategic partner, not the US.

American negotiators will arrive later this month in Kabul for a new round of talks. The Afghans rejected the Americans' first draft of a strategic partnership agreement in its entirety, preferring to draft their own proposal. This was submitted to Washington two weeks ago.

The Afghans are playing a delicate game, however. President Hamid Karzai and senior officials see an enduring American presence and broader strategic relationship as essential, in part to protect Afghanistan from its neighbours.

One thing the Americans want is the right to use US bases in Afghanistan to launch operations outside the country, perhaps into Iran or Pakistan.   Afghanistan has said it won't hear of the idea yet the Americans did stage their raid to kill bin Laden out of Afghanistan.

This is an excellent example of how NATO and America so often wind up at cross purposes.   The United States has an agenda for Afghanistan that is quite different than NATO's and the two simply cannot be reconciled.  It's why NATO has to stop playing the role of America's Foreign Legion.

Was It the 60-Year Age Difference?

25-year old Crystal Harris has called off her engagement to 85-year old Hugh Hefner.   They were to be married this Saturday but Crystal, it seems, changed her mind "after much deep reflection and thought."