Sunday, July 31, 2011

When You Don't Know Who to Blame - You're an American

You can't hope to change much when control of the narrative is what really matters.   In the United States today, it's not actions but perceptions upon which elections are won.   Many Americans, enough to shift control of one or both houses of Congress, vote not upon what is but on the strength of what they've been made to feel.

This is not to say that actions don't count.   Of course they do, big time.  Actions matter a great deal to those whom they're intended to benefit.   For example, gutting the EPA and repealing its regulations.  Those are powerful actions and they're worth hundreds of millions, in some cases billions, of dollars in profits to their lavishly generous beneficiaries.   Preserving public subsidies for oil companies is an action that likewise is worth many millions to a select few companies whose lobbyists ensure fitting rewards for the decision-makers.  Creating the conditions to permit an utterly felonious transfer of wealth from the working, middle class to the richest of the rich is an action to overshadow all others. Actions do count and there are plenty of them - for some.

For most, however, they're left to get by on a diet of narrative, spiced up as necessary with heavy applications of fear or anger or, when possible, both.   Narrative is the vehicle for getting people to reject what is actually in their best interests.   Public healthcare is bad because - because - because it's socialism and that's the same as communism and that means totalitarianism and the loss of their democratic freedom and some undeserving swine or welfare criminal or a family of Mexicans will be moving into their house.  And Saddam Hussein orchestrated the 9/11 attacks and had a vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that he was about to unleash on the shores of America itself, probably even in their own town.  And really, really rich people deserved enormous tax cuts because they were America's wealth generators and, without those big tax cuts, you and your wife might not keep all four of your jobs that you desperately need just to get by.  And all your problems will only get worse if the Elite had their way, the Elite being those know it alls, the people with fancy educations who keep studying stuff to keep living their middle class lives by pulling hoaxes on you.   And if we don't spend more than all the other nations combined on our military-industrial apparatus your daughter will be sold into marriage to some dirty Muslim and we'll all have to live under Sharia law.

It truly is "Mission Accomplished" once you have enough of the voting public engorged on narrative for the more they swallow the less room they have for things they don't need - like reason and doubt, logic and facts.   And without all those things they won't blame you for your actions but the other guy, who, their illusion-glutted instincts tell them, is the real source of all their problems.   And without all those things, chances are you're either North Korean or American.

Indian Women Push Back with Slutwalk.

It's often called the 'biggest democracy on earth' and it is, sort of, but India remains one of the five worst countries in which to be a woman - right alongside Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Congo and Somalia.  In India, a woman's lot often leads to sexual harassment, rape and abduction.   Now Indian women may have had enough.   One sign of this is the "Slutwalk" protest staged today in the Indian capital, Delhi.

The BBC's Mark Dummett in Delhi says the organisers are trying to challenge the mindset that the victims of sexual violence are to blame for the crimes committed against them.

He says Delhi can be a very difficult city for women, with sexual harassment commonplace, and rapes and abduction all too frequent.

And according to a recent survey, India remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women.

One protester told our correspondent: "Every girl has the right to wear whatever she wants, to do whatever she wants to do with her body. It's our lives, our decisions, unless it's harming you, you have no right to say anything."

Another protester said: "There are a lot of problems for women in Delhi because a lot of women do face sexual harassment and just a couple of weeks ago the chief of police of Delhi said that if a women was out after 0200 she was responsible for what happens to her, and I don't think that's the right attitude."
India recorded almost 22,000 rape cases in 2008, 18% up on 2004, the National Crime Records Bureau says.

"An Extraordinarily Dangerous Place" - Iraq on Eve of American Pullout

Washington's Iraq Special Inspector General for Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, has taken the measure of Iraq today and laments the deterioration of security in the country.

"Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work. It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago."

The report cited the deaths of 15 US soldiers in June - the bloodiest month for the American military in two years - but also said more Iraqi officials had been assassinated in the past few months than in any other recent period.

Bowen says the current wave of unrest seems to be the work of Shia militias.  The Shia seem to be nipping at the heels of American forces, presumably to reignite  American popular dissatisfaction with the Iraq war.

It was recently reported in The Guardian that the most influential player in Iraq today is an Iranian general, Qassem Suleimani.   The general heads Iran's elite al-Quds Force.

In Baghdad, no other name invokes the same sort of reaction among the nation's power base – discomfort, uncertainty and fear.

"He is the most powerful man in Iraq without question," Iraq's former national security minister, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, told the newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat in July 2010. "Nothing gets done without him."

So, with Iraq nominally under the influence of a shadowy Iranian general, whose own elite force is said to employ Iraqi Shia militia as surrogates, the step up in attacks on American soldiers in Iraq is hardly surprising.

It is said that Suleimani basically strongarmed Iranian legislators into accepting Maliki's second term in office.   Is it any wonder now that Maliki vacillates over Washington's offer/request to keep 10,000 US soldiers in Iraq after the December 31 deadline for their withdrawal?

We can probably expect to see a significant increase in violence bordering on an actual uprising in Iraq over the next five months while the issue of should the Americans go or stay is decided.   Iran bridles at the American military presence on its borders with Iraq and Afghanistan and it's hard to imagine Baghdad defying Tehran.  The US may be left no choice but to pack up their bags and get out in time for Christmas.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Our Libya Policy Is Just What Islamist Extremists Prayed For

The most important thing in the fight against Gaddafi was the one we ignored - getting the job done quickly.

Time was very much of the essence in this one.  In neighbouring Egypt, Mubarak had only recently been toppled but the face of the government that would ultimately succeed him was undetermined.  al Qaeda and other Islamist groups lurked in the wings and openly proclaimed they were waiting for the right moment to make their move.    They were looking for a window of chaos.

The Libyan uprising was just what the Islamist planners so badly wanted.  It would be much easier to establish their presence within Libya, on Egypt's border, than within Egypt itself if only the Libyan chaos would drag out.

In February I wrote of the urgent need to send Egyptian forces into Libya to rapidly send Gaddafi packing:

"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."

But, of course, that didn't happen.  Our Western leaders dawdled.  Eventually they fell back on their demonstrated political and military incompetence and decided an air war would do the trick.  And so they have brought to Libya the very same result they achieved so spectacularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Fools - the lot of them.

With the Islamists moving to fracture the Libyan uprising the country could be poised on the brink of the sort of civil war that the fundamentalists exploit so well.   At this point we may have almost as much to lose from a Libya without Gaddafi as a Libya under the dictator's iron rule.   We may have ensured the Libyan people will face a future of civil war even as we have enabled Islamist extremism to take hold on Egypt's extremely porous border. 

Obama - A Wall Street Democrat in Progressive Clothing

When we listened to his stirring speeches on the campaign trail, Barack Obama sounded genuinely progressive.   Then he won the presidency and got down to business - Wall Street business.

In  a campaign almost as frenzied as the effort to get Barack Obama into the White House, liberal groups are now mobilizing against the White House and reported deals that would cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. They accuse President Obama of being weak and willing to “cave” to corporate and conservative forces bent on cutting the social safety net while protecting the wealthy.

Those accusations are wrong.

The accusations imply that Obama is on our side. Or was on our side. And that the right wing is pushing him around.

But the evidence is clear that Obama is an often-willing servant of corporate interests -- not someone reluctantly doing their bidding, or serving their interests only because Republicans forced him to.
Since coming to Washington, Obama has allied himself with Wall Street Democrats who put corporate deregulation and greed ahead of the needs of most Americans...

...The sad truth that Obama had arrived at the White House looking to make cuts in benefits to the elderly. Two weeks before his inauguration, Obama echoed conservative scares about Social Security and Medicare by talking of “red ink as far as the eye can see.” He opened his doors to Social Security/Medicare cutters -- first trying to get Republican Senator Judd Gregg (“a leading voice for reining in entitlement spending,” wrote Politico) into his cabinet, and later appointing entitlement-foe Alan Simpson to co-chair his “Deficit Commission.” Obama’s top economic advisor, Larry Summers, came to the White House publicly telling Time magazine of needed Social Security cuts.

 At this late date, informed activists and voters who care about economic justice realize that President Obama is NOT “on our side.”

What a crushing disappointment.    Obama reveals how firmly Washington has embraced corporatism - from its shamelessly politicized Supreme Court to its "bought and paid for" Congress to the White House.   All three branches of American government, the vaunted checks and balances, are yoked into service of corporatist interests.   Something will fail but it's unclear now whether it will be America's perverted institutions or American democracy.

Robert Reich - Obama Falling Into Republican's Economic Death Spiral

One of the few, coherent voices on America's political-economic morass has been Robert Reich, the U.C. Berkley public policy professor who earlier served three White House administrations.   Reich has argued that America's disease has been misdiagnosed - deliberately - by the Republicans as debt when the truly fatal affliction is burgeoning inequality and the demise of the middle class.  Now, as Republicans and Democrats wrestle over debt ceilings and deficit cutting, Reich argues Obama has lost sight of the real problems and fallen for the Republicans' narrative:

The only way out of the vicious economic cycle is for government to adopt an expansionary fiscal policy — spending more in the short term in order to make up for the shortfall in consumer demand. This would create jobs, which will put money in peoples’ pockets, which they’d then spend, thereby persuading employers to do more hiring. The consequential job growth will also help reduce the long-term ratio of debt to GDP. It’s a win-win.

This is not rocket science. And it’s not difficult for government to do this — through a new WPA or Civilian Conservation Corps, an infrastructure bank, tax incentives for employers to hire, a two-year payroll tax holiday on the first $20K of income, and partial unemployment benefits for those who have lost part-time jobs.

Yet the parallel universe called Washington is moving in exactly the opposite direction. Republicans are proposing to cut the budget deficit this year and next, which will result in more job losses. And Democrats, from the President on down, seem unable or unwilling to present a bold jobs plan to reverse the vicious cycle of unemployment. Instead, they’re busily playing “I can cut the deficit more than you” — trying to hold their Democratic base by calling for $1 of tax increases (mostly on the wealthy) for every $3 of spending cuts. 

All of this is making the vicious economic cycle worse — and creating a vicious political cycle to accompany it.

As more and more Americans lose faith that their government can do anything to bring back jobs and wages, they are becoming more susceptible to the Republican’s oft-repeated lie that the problem is government — that if we shrink government, jobs will return, wages will rise, and it will be morning in America again. And as Democrats, from the President on down, refuse to talk about jobs and wages, but instead play the deficit-reduction game, they give even more legitimacy to this lie and more momentum to this vicious political cycle.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Could the Tea Party Be America's Salvation?

No seriously, just bear with me for a moment.  Tea Party members of America's House of Representatives appear intent on bringing their government down.   These excerpts from der Spiegel illustrate what's happening:

..the [US] system only works when all branches of government play the role designed for them. For almost 235 years, the system worked reasonably well. But, about a year ago, things started to go wrong in the US capital; the system began to melt down. The friction is no longer propelling the country to greatness, rather it is hastening its decline. Members of the right-wing conservative Tea Party movement, which is well represented in Congress since the last elections, want friction. But at the expense of results.
These lawmakers no longer view themselves as part of the political system. Instead, they identify themselves as its enemy. They see themselves as outsiders, even as they sit in Congress and enjoy the kinds of job benefits they would like to strip from their fellow Americans.

...Experts agree that America can only reduce its vast mountain of debt by both cutting expenditures and raising taxes -- at least a little. Tea Party politicians are eager to slash spending, but they are adamantly opposed to allowing the government to increase tax revenues. Their refusal to compromise has led economists to warn of " Armageddon " should the US become insolvent.

In response to such "fear mongering," the Tea Party group Campaign for Liberty wrote on its blog that, even if the debt ceiling isn't raised, "the sun will still rise in the East and set in the West, as it has for all time." What, after all, do the experts know?

As a result, America has come to a standstill . The branches of government were designed to both exercise and yield power. More than anything, though, they are supposed to work together. But working together would appear to be contrary to the Tea Party movement's creed. Members aren't interested in making Washington better, they want to annihilate it. Their Holy Grail is a stripped down state.

But maybe, just maybe, bringing the government crashing down would be the best thing for the American people.  It would certainly wake them up and make them look at what the radical right has been doing to their government.  They would see it and, more importantly, they would feel it.  Let  them see what this homegrown radical insurgency would do if it ever gained real power.

A greater threat to America might be some harebrained compromise bill that adds more federal debt but does nothing to cure the malignant madness of the nihilistic far right.   A compromise debt bill that simply buys time may actually empower the Tea Partiers, expand their base and then what?

America should be saved but not at any cost and if the cost demanded is extortionate then the country could be better off by hitting the "reset" button.   The real threat facing America, as pointed out in the Spiegel article, isn't fiscal but governmental.   It's a structural failing and one that a debt compromise may only perpetuate.

How Screwed Up Are the Republicans? This Screwed Up

The Center for American Progress has a report on one thing the Republicans will absolutely not accept cutting back - the US military budget.

Decline is a choice” is the mantra many conservatives are chanting to oppose any cuts to the defense budget as part of a deficit reduction deal. Reducing defense spending, they say, will drastically imperil the security of the United States even though defense spending is higher in real terms than at any time since World War II. But they are fine with cutting investments in infrastructure, education, and science and technology that make us a stronger nation.

Conservative members of Congress have vowed to “draw a line in the sand” against defense budget cuts, while former Bush administration Defense Department comptroller Dov Zakheim would rather the United States go into default than see the defense budget trimmed beyond the president’s proposals. The common conservative belief, summarized by Max Boot, is that “eviscerating” the defense budget will do the same for “the role of the United States in world affairs.”

"Eviscerating" the defence budget?   This is a defence budget funded virtually entirely on money borrowed from foreign lenders.  It is a defence budget that is greater than the total military budgets of every other nation on earth.

The American far right openly links their country's place in the world to its killing power.   They think that maintaining that killing power is the best, possibly only, way to avert their nation's decline.   It apparently hasn't occurred to them that their defence budget has been insanely bloated for a decade now but that hasn't prevented their steady decline one bit.

As Andrew Bacevich and others have chronicled, the 21st Century has been marked by the militarization of American foreign policy, evidenced by the ascendancy of the Pentagon and the decline of the State Department.   This was all in keeping with the delusional vision of The Project for the New American Century, which formulated the Magna Carta of Neo-Conservatism.   Yet America's "muscular foreign policy" (a term regrettably parroted by Harper and Ignatieff) was tried out and proven a failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan.   The world's sole superpower with its unrivaled military machine was brought low by primitive villagers armed with Korean-war vintage assault rifles and rocket launchers.

The trillions expended on America's military ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have purchased miserable failures, the prospect of perpetual blowback and other undesired consequences.   As if there was any shortage of proof for this, an article from today's Guardian reveals how the most influential leader in Iraq today is an Iranian general, Qassem Suleimani.   America's greatest enemy in the region has been the greatest beneficiary of America's military and political stupidity.

Unfortunately, facts are no longer relevant to today's Republicans for whom government itself has become "faith based."  Theirs is a dogma of beliefs fiercely upheld regardless of reality.   After three decades of repeated and utter failure, they still maintain that tax cuts for the rich stimulate their economy, are a vital key to America's wellbeing.  They believe that public healthcare is a fanciful, totalitarian notion.   They believe that the very engorged and out of control military/industrial machine that saps their strength actually makes them stronger, safeguards their place in the world, forestalls their decline.  They believe the mountain of scientific research and analysis on anthropogenic global warming is a hoax.

It's more than fair to say that today's Republicans exist in an alternate universe, one entirely independent of logic or reason.  Yet theirs is the hand that insists on steering their Thunderbird to the cliff, just like Thelma & Louise.

Australia May Ditch the F-35

The Australian government has revealed it may scrap its plan to buy 100 F-35s because of delivery delays and ongoing cost overruns.

Repeated delays and ballooning costs in the F-35 programme are now starting to rub against already generous delivery and cost limits set by the government and military planners, Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith said.
"We are running close up to those schedules, particularly on delivery. So I've made the point very clear that we are now monitoring very closely the delivery timetable and we are also monitoring very closely the cost," Smith told Australian radio after meeting defence officials in Washington.

Australia, which is helping develop the F-35, has committed to buying 14 of the stealth aircraft and had initially planned for first deliveries in 2011. That has now been pushed back to 2014 and even that date may be in jeopardy.

Australia recently took delivery of the first of 24 F/A-18F Super Hornet multi-role fighter aircraft manufactured by Boeing to replace ageing strike bombers. Smith said Canberra could consider buying more of these in place of the F-35. 

...The cost of each aircraft has rocketed from $69 million to $103 million apiece, with design and development flaws plaguing planners and worrying lawmakers.

By the way did you notice that Australia was planning to buy 100 F-35s?    Just as Holland is ordering 85 F-35s?   So what in hell good does Harper think a paltry 65 F-35s will be in defending a landmass as vast and remote as Canada's?  Seriously, the miniscule force that the Harper regime is planning to pick up is a giveaway that this is an entirely political instead of a defence driven purchase.

One outfit that's having no problem with the F-35 is its manufacturer, Lockheed.   According to Bloomberg, the F-35 programme has boosted Lockheed's profits by 3.9%.   The company is now forecasting 2011 revenues at $46-47 billion translating into earnings per share between $7.35 and 7.55.  America's government may be broke, its economy may be in peril, but it sure is nothing but smooth sailing for the warfare state.

How Did We Expect to Achieve Anything in Afghanistan by Partnering with Mobsters?

Of late the Taliban have been busy hauling out the trash.  They've been clearing out Hamid Karzai's support network in the Pashtun south by a series of targeted assassinations that featured the killing, in his Kandahar home, of Karzai's own brother, Ahmed.  Next up was the Mayor of Kandahar city.  Boom, gone.  A couple of days ago they targeted another prominent warlord in neighbouring Uruzgan province.  They didn't get him but it was close.  Next time.

The Talibs are after the kingpins who've been bleeding the people of southern Afghanistan.   Our commanders refer to them as "malign actors."   Yet, for all their excesses and predations of the Afghan civilians supposedly under our protection, ISAF and US forces threw in with them.  These gangsters became our partners in our war against the Taliban.

AWK's [Ahmed Karzai] power, according to the Financial Times, "lay in a mafia-style network of oligarchs and loyal elders, funded, according to U.S. media reports, by heroin trafficking." He was also on the CIA's payroll. No truck moved through the south without paying him a tax. No United Nations or North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) projects could be built without his okay. In case someone didn't get the message, his Kandahar Strike Force Militia explained it to them. Next to AWK, Al Capone was a small-time pickpocket.

And he was our guy.

So was Jan Mohammed Khan, assassinated July 17, a key ally and advisor to the Afghan president, and a man so corrupt that the Dutch expeditionary forces forced his removal as the governor of Uruzgan Province in 2006.

The entire U.S. endeavor in Afghanistan—from the initial 2001 invasion to the current withdrawal plan—has relied on a narrow group of criminal entrepreneurs, the very people whose unchecked greed set off the 1992-96 Afghan civil war and led to the victory of the Taliban.

AWK was a member of the Popalzai tribe, which along with the Alikozai and Barakzai tribes, has run the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand since the early 1990s, systematically excluding other tribes. According to the Guardian's Stephen Gray, "The formation of the Taliban was, in great measure, a revolt of the excluded." 

Just what did our military and political wizards expect to accomplish by falling in with the same gang engaging in the same corrupt and brutal practices that furnished the impetus for the Talibs to take over in the first place?   We allowed ourselves to become dependent on a malignancy that virtually ensures whatever good works and progress we have accomplished will be swept aside in the wake of our departure.   At the end of the day it's plain - the Taliban didn't defeat us, they didn't have to because we did that all on our own.

How to Transform a Democracy Into a Feudal State

High drama in Washington.  It's the sort of political theatre that is enormously riveting.  Congress is tossing about a ticking time bomb - supposedly - the US federal debt ceiling.   Either the Republicans and Democrats reach a deal or the American government defaults - supposedly - and Western civilization collapses in ruin.

The Republican leadership in the House thought they had a clever offer only to discover the Hezbollah contingent of Tea Party GOPers refused to go along pretty much with anything.   They seem stuck on "no" but, of course, appearances can be deceiving.   This might actually be a Republican ploy to make the Senate Dems frightened and grateful for anything the Repugs finally put on the table, no matter how awful.

If I was a Repug I'd know that will probably work.   The Dems are pussies.  They fold under pressure and the Republicans have learned how to maul them until they bleed.  Obama - pretty much the same.  Apparently he brought his ego from Chicago but left his courage behind.

That's one scenario.   The Repugs are ratcheting up the pressure on the Dems until it becomes unbearable.   That, of course, assumes this is all a carefully staged, tightly scripted performance by the Republican House leadership.

Then again.  This could be an indication of a terminal fracture in the Republican ranks, an in-house Tea Party insurrection aimed at sweeping the Old Guard aside to facilitate a takeover by the radicals.  Boehner does seem to be worried that his own political fortunes depend on appeasing the irrational right.

Recent polls seem to suggest the American public sees the debt ceiling standoff as more the doing of the Repubs than the Dems.   If the Republicans sense they're going to have to wear the fallout of a federal default, the sane bunch could be vulnerable to a wedge offer by Senate Democrats.  After all, Boehner can't get a Republican bill through the House yet the Dems can get their alternative through the Senate.   And, with enough House Republican support, the Democratic proposal could actually make it to Obama's desk.

My guess is that the Tea Party contingent are crazy but not quite suicidal.   They'll want the Republicans to have at least some debt ceiling relief bill on the table although they'll expect something far more onerous than Boehner's original attempt.   Even then they may keep their tantrum raging for another day or two.   An 11th hour, "take it or leave it" bill with no time left to negotiate further compromise, a bill that makes Obama wear the debt so deliberately crafted by the Republicans under Bush II, would suit their purposes perfectly.

For this isn't about debt or the solvency of America or protecting America's economy and their constituents' livelihoods.  This is about somebody else having to take the blame for the gross malfeasance of the Republican Congress and White House during the reign of Bush the Dimmer.   This is about preserving those tax cuts for the rich into perpetuity and sticking working class Americans and their kids and their grandkids with the bill while cutting their "entitlements."

This could just be the creation of a true American aristocracy and, worse, a true American peasantry.

 UPDATE - The New York Times columnist Ross Douhat suggests sane Republicans may want Boehner's House debt plan to fail - for their own sake.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

America's Fundamentalist Taliban

The dark face of America's religions fanaticism is finally coming into the light of day.   To get a look at America's own Taliban, check out this article from al Jazeera.   Also check here and here.

Until recently a fringe evangelical movement, warned against as deviant, "spiritual warfare" is rapidly positioning itself within America's mainstream political right. It's well past time for political journalists to start covering what this movement is up to.

As an example, leaders have bragged online about the destruction of Native American religious artifacts, which their twisted ideology somehow sees as a liberating act, promoting "reconciliation" between estranged groups of people. Critics, however, see it as reflecting an eliminationist mindset, while traditional conservative evangelicals have denounced the ideology as un-biblical. Some even claim it is actually a form of pagan practice dressed up in Christian clothes, according such artifacts a spiritual power that the Bible itself denies.

The ultimate goal is to replace secular democracy, both in America and around the world, with a Christian theocracy, an ideology known as "dominionism". The supposed purpose is to "purify" the world for Christ's return - again, strikingly similar to what the Taliban believe, but also significantly at odds with more common, long-standing Christian beliefs about the "end times", as well as the nature and purpose of prayer, and the roles of human and divine power.

It reminds me of this warning from Chris Hedges in his eye-opening book, "American Fascists":

The moral certitude of the state in wartime is a kind of fundamentalism. And this dangerous messianic brand of religion, one where self-doubt is minimal, has come increasingly to color the modern world of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Dr. James Luther Adams, my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, used to tell us that we would end our careers fighting an ascendant fundamentalist movement, or, as he liked to say, "the Christian fascists."

Murdoch Crew Caught In Yet Another Outrageous Hacking Scandal

This time the target was Sara Payne whose 8-year old daughter was murdered by a repeat sex offender in 2000.   Scotland Yard has now added Mrs. Payne to their list of probable phone hacking victims.

Murdoch's defunct News of the World, believed responsible for hacking Mrs. Payne's phone had earlier supported her bid for a law requiring parents to be warned if a child sex offender lived nearby.  It has been suggested the voice mail for the phone hacked was a cellular phone actually given to Mrs. Payne by NOTW CEO Rebekah Brooks.

European Union to Crack Down on Right Wing Extremism

The Norway massacre has pushed the European Union and the organization's police arm, Europol, into action against right wing extremists.

this week both European Union interior ministers and the European law enforcement agency Europol pledged to review the dangers posed by far-right extremists within the 27 member states. The topic of radicalization has been tacked on to the agenda for the late September meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, to which non-EU member Norway has now also been invited. Meanwhile, an EU anti-radicalization network already set in motion last year is set to take up its work earlier in the same month. 
In a blog entry announcing the new measures on Monday, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström referred to Breivik's 1,500-page online manifesto , saying that while it was clearly written by a disturbed individual, some of his sentiments were not uncommon to contemporary European political discourse.

"I have many times expressed my concern over xenophobic parties who build their unfortunately quite successful rhetoric on negative opinions on Islam and other so-called threats against society," she wrote. "This creates a very negative environment, and sadly there are too few leaders today who stand up for diversity and for the importance of having open, democratic and tolerant societies where everybody is welcome."

On Wednesday, the leader of Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), Sigmar Gabriel, said that precisely this atmosphere of intolerance had abetted the attacks in Oslo and on the island of Utøya. 

"In a society where anti-Islam and the discrimination of others has become acceptable again, and in which the middle class applauds the likes of (controversial author) Thilo Sarrazin , there will naturally be lunatics on the fringes of society who feel legitimized in taking stronger action," Gabriel told the German news agency DPA.

The Only Democracy In The Middle East

It's a common retort used whenever Israel comes in for criticism.  Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.   That, somehow, seems to entitle the Israeli government to a more lenient or favourable perspective on its actions than would be afforded other, as in Arab, countries in the region.

Are we to judge countries by their actions or by the mechanisms by which their leaders come to power?

By all accounts, Adolf Hitler was overwhelmingly popular with the German people.   There seems little doubt that, had he stood for election in, say, 1941 or even 1944, he would have been popularly, democratically elected.   Would that somehow have ameliorated his monstrous atrocities?  Would they be a bit less egregious by virtue of the mechanism by which he came to power?  Would it have made his massacre of so many millions of Russians less outrageous because he represented a democracy and they lived under totalitarian Stalin?  Of course not.

In an era when democracy is revealing its frailties and foibles the very institution is falling into disrepute.  In the self-proclaimed "greatest democracy on earth," the United States the government now comprises a politicized court of dubious legitimacy; a thoroughly bought and paid for Congress that does the bidding of affluent special interests instead of the voting public; and an executive that, by turns, shows itself to be indifferent to democracy or too feckless to defend it.  Is that a democracy?

Can a nation be a democracy domestically but an outlaw state internationally?  Of course it can.  That's why we ought not to read very much into proclamations of democracy for any country and, instead, take that nation's actions as the full measure of its legitimacy.

Why Religion Has No Place in Politics

An excellent op-ed in today's New York Times.

What is striking on the current American scene the extent to which people see certain political and economic positions  as required by their religious commitment.  We may understand — even if we do not accept — the thinking of those who condemn abortion on religious grounds. But many conservative religious groups  endorse a wide range of political and economic positions that have no religious basis.  For example, The Family Leader (the group that has called for presidential candidates sign a pledge supporting “family values”) has a Voter’s Guide that specifies the “attributes of a strong Christian leader.”    According to the guide, a strong Christian leader “understands key elements of God’s law,” which means that, for example, the leader “upholds the Biblical principles of responsibility and accountability in civil life, thereby limiting the size and cost of civil government”; “encourages an ethical and free enterprise system, and understands it is the only economic model in accord with Biblical principles”; and “understands the right to bear and keep arms” for defensive purposes.   The guide also specifies that strong Christian leaders must subscribe to various views about how to interpret the United States Constitution.

There is no honest line of argument from what the Bible says to substantive conclusions about the size of the United States government, the need for a free enterprise system, the right to bear arms or the proper interpretation of the Constitution.  Family Leader (and many other religious groups with a conservative political agenda) are disguising partisan political positions as religious convictions. This cripples efforts to have meaningful discussions about their political views.

Proponents of conservative views that require sober argument from empirical facts and generally accepted principles, instead merely assert them with religious fervor.  Opponents are understandably irritated by the irrationality of claims that distinctively modern questions about capitalist economics and democratic government were answered in the Bible 2000 years ahead of time.

In the run up to the 2012 US elections right wing candidates are being coerced by right wing religious organizations into signing some pretty controversial "pledges."  It's becoming a huge problem when fundamentalism, like corporatism, demands - and gets - front bench seats in our legislatures.

No, the Talibs Aren't Finished.

As Canada's combat mission in Kandahar ended, Canadian commanders were busy patting themselves on the back and proclaiming the Taliban insurgency in that province "flattened" due to their efforts.  Of course it was nonsense but it was greedily gobbled down by NewsyDupes like the Star's Dimanno and the Post's Blatchford and others and then regurgitated for Canadians willing to eat that sort of stuff.

At the time, credible analysts warned the Talibs had shifted their focus from engaging ISAF forces to targeted assassinations of top government officials.   In other words, they were out to decapitate Karzai's power structure in the Pashtun homeland.

They began by taking out Karzai's brother, Ahmed, considered the most powerful official in Kandahar province.   Then they got the mayor of Kandahar City.   Yesterday they attacked the compound of warlord Matiullah Khan in neighbouring Uruzgan province.  Khan survived but 6 attackers and 11 others were killed.

As The Guardian reveals, the characters the Talibs are targeting are "malign actors" that Western commanders revile yet depend upon:

Ahmed Wali, Jan Mohammad and Matiullah Khan have much in common. All three had been condemned as troublemakers by Nato chiefs who said their monopolisation of the south's booming war economy and the exclusion of other tribal groupings from power and wealth helped fuel anti-government resentment and Taliban recruitment.

They also all represent rival centres of power to official government institutions that have struggled to develop in the shadow of such powerful warlords.

Despite concerns over the impact of what Nato calls "malign actors", it has been unable to dislodge them in part because they play a vital role in supporting military operations.

Matiullah Khan's 2,000-man militia, for example, effectively controls the vital highway linking Kandahar to Tirin Kot. Without him crucial supplies would not be able to reach the Dutch, Australian and US troops who have all operated in the province over recent years.

Securing convoys has earned him a fortune in fees of up to $1,700 (£1,050) per truck, which he collects from logistics companies. His militia also won him the respect and support of US special forces, who conduct joint operations with Matiullah's men despite some reports that he has also co-operated with insurgents and drug traffickers.

What the latest shift in Taliban tactics reveals is that they retain the initiative in southern Afghanistan.  They still enjoy plenty of freedom to modify their strategy and tactics to exploit conditions on the ground as they change.   When they can get to Hamid Karzai's brother and the mayor of Kandahar undetected and unchallenged, we are not winning anything.

Our chest thumping?   We come along, locate a Taliban latrine and then proclaim that we scared the crap out of them.  Yippee, we won.

Today's Climate Change Quirk

It's another of those never-ending "once in a century" stories.   The heaviest rainfall in a century has triggered devastating floods and landslides in the Seoul area of South Korea.   The quirky bit is that the landslides have exposed land mines and other exploded ordinance left over from the  1950-53 Korean War.  Authorities are trying to figure out where that stuff ended up.   To make matters worse, a landslide collapsed an ammunition depot sweeping away explosive ordinance.   The South Korean military says it has recovered the ordinance that included dozens of landmines.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Diabolical Prime Minister Caught Muzzling Scientists - Again

The fundamentalist fiend is at it again.   Science to Steve Harper is the noonday sun to a vampire.   This time it was a federal fisheries expert muzzled by Harp's political commissars in the Privy Council Office to prevent her from speaking out publicly about why salmon stocks have been crashing on the West Coast.

...the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister's Office, stopped Kristi Miller from talking about one of the most significant discoveries to come out of a federal fisheries lab in years.Science, one of the world's top research journals, published Miller's findings in January. The journal considered the work so significant it notified "over 7,400" journalists worldwide about Miller's "Suffering Salmon" study.

Science told Miller to "please feel free to speak with journalists." It advised reporters to contact Diane Lake, a media officer with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Vancouver, "to set up interviews with Dr. Miller."

Miller heads a $6-million salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island.

The documents show major media outlets were soon lining up to speak with Miller, but the Privy Council Office said no to the interviews.

This born again bastard is positively despotic.  Just imagine what else his shadowy minions toil through the night to keep Canadians from discovering.

A Prisoner of Conscience - Banged Up for 2 Years By a Corrupt State

Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher has been sentenced to two years in prison. His crime? He attended a government auction where he bid on oil and gas leases to derail what was a manifestly illegal sale.

Before the judge put DeChristopher away the young man made what is unquestionably the greatest, most inspirational submission I have ever heard from a condemned defendant. Tim DeChristopher may have become the ultimate champion of civil disobedience. Do yourself a huge favour and read his remarks in which he puts his country's venal government and judicial system in the prisoners' dock.

What Makes Stephen Harper Tick?

Douglas Pratt in his paper "Terrorism and Religious Fundamentalism" explores aspects common to religious fundamentalist movements, whether Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Hindu - whatever.  He explains how these common features or traits provide the building blocks for terrorism.

I took a second read of the paper looking for insights into Stephen Harper's mean-spirited, authoritarian, secretive and divisive ideology.  It became plain that what Steve absorbs in the pew on Sunday very much informs his behaviour on Parliament Hill.

A fundamentalist perspective is inherently absolutist: all other relevant phenomena are explained on
its terms or viewed in a relativising way with reference to it. Fundamentalism, as a mindset, is first
and foremost a mentality that expresses the modernist project writ large: only one truth; one
authority; one authentic narrative that accounts for all; one right way to be. And, of course, that way
is my way, declares the fundamentalist. Further, a fundamentalist perspective deems itself
privileged in respect to this absolutism, for it implies superiority of knowledge and truth
. Indeed,
this is inherent to holding an absolutist perspective as such.

Allied to absolutism is the view that the grounding text – be it political manifesto or holy writ – is to
be read as conveying an immediate truth or value, without error; that is, it is inherently or effectively
inerrant. However, the assertion of the immediate inerrancy of the text – namely reading the text as
being immediately applicable and providing a non-mediated access to ultimate or divine truth – in
fact involves an implicit assertion that there is only one normative interpretive reading allowed: that
which is undertaken through the fundamentalist’s lens.

A fundamentalist perspective will exclude, virtually automatically, anything that relative to it appears ‘liberal’, that is, that admits of, for example, any limitation, provisionality, otherness, openness or change. Religious fundamentalism excludes religious liberalism. Similarly, secular fundamentalism often excludes religion per se on the same sorts of grounds. Ideological exclusivism works in multiple directions.

...the fundamentalism of a resurgent Islamist perspective naturally insists not just
that all Muslims should live according to Islamic Law, but that all members of the society in
question, irrespective of religion, should likewise submit to this Law Code – understood, of course,
to transcend human values and codes by virtue of being “God’s law”. The imperative force of this
element of fundamentalism means that all are expected automatically to submit – or be made so to
do. We hear of this call being made by activists from time to time in different parts of the Islamic
world; we may find some variant expressions of it closer to home, if only albeit wistfully, or merely
in principle, entertained. the development of a fundamentalist’s outlook the sense of self-affirmation and
confidence is such that the values of fundamentalism are actively and intentionally applied. And
these values are primarily two: the negation of otherness or alterity per se, and the corresponding
assertion of self-superiority over all opponents, real and putative. The negation of otherness is
perhaps critical at this juncture for the scene set by the third set of factors – contextualising
exclusivism and inclusivism – now emerge into a devaluing and dismissal of the ‘other’, whether in
terms of rival community or competing alterities, ideological or otherwise. Indeed, such alterities
may be – and in fact often are – demonised. The religiously ‘other’ on this view is often cast as
‘satanic’, or at least seriously and significantly labelled as a hostile opponent, and so hostilely

In the process of negating the other, the self is asserted as inherently superior. My God is greater
than your god. My Truth reigns over your ignorance. The authenticity of my faith contrasts with the
feeble delusion you entertain. My laws express the divine reality directly which is infinitely superior
to the laws which derive merely from human ideas.
The salvation offered by my faith is the real
thing by contrast to the lost way that you proclaim. And so we might go on. However it is expressed
or referenced, it will be clear enough that the fundamentalist is applying the key value set of
negativity to ‘otherness’ and a corresponding assertion of self-superiority. The scene is now well set
for the sixth and final set of factors I have analysed as the components of the paradigm of
fundamentalism – the rendering of an explicit justification not just for a viewpoint but also for
actions premised on that viewpoint.

...the eleventh factor sees the very imposition of the fundamentalist’s views and polity as,
in fact, sanctioned by a higher or greater authority – whether that authority is conceived in terms of
deity or the dynamics of historical necessity, or whatever. This reference transcends the local,
particular, ordinary taken-for-granted freedoms of everyday life with the requirement to be, live and
act, in accord with the fundamentalist’s ideological dictates.

It is not difficult to see Pratt's observations of fundamentalism in practice in Harper's rule.  At this point we should be enormously grateful for the political firewall Pierre Trudeau implemented in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The Charter and the Supreme Court of Canada, along with the FCC, operate as at least a hurdle to Harper's fundamentalist instincts.

Hey, Morons. Yeah, You.

To all my wonderful American friends wrestling with your country's debt and deficit crisis.  You're obviously incapable of seeing the forest for the trees so here's a FOX-free way to look at your problems.

When your government began running deficits in the very early Bush II days, you had a problem.  That man-chimp of a president and his Reagan-loving pals in your Congress decided they would just ignore that problem and yet launch two ruinously-expensive wars while handing out ruinously-large tax cuts for your richest of the rich.   How did they fund those wars?   They borrowed the money from foreign lenders.  But, here's the bitch, they also borrowed more trillions from those foreign lenders to cover those tax cuts for the rich.  That's right, chumps, they didn't have the money in house to fund those tax cuts.  They needed the money they left in the pockets of those rich folks.   So they pledged your good credit plus that of your children, probably your grandchildren too, to cover those dandy wars and those tax cuts for the rich.   Those rich folks are having a riot.   They've used their influence to transform America into a tax haven for the rich and, the best part, is that you're going to have to pay for it.

Now I understand you were much too busy back then to notice.  You were fixated on the fantasy that your homes were skyrocketing in price and would just keep on going - forever.  With fantastically low interest rates that meant that just about anyone could own a residential money mill and enjoy what you thought was the American Dream.   And that's why I call you "morons."   You were way beyond stupid, light years past that.   And don't think the guys who duped you didn't notice.   They gazed out upon all you sheeple and realized you were theirs for the fleecing as often as they wished.

Now that they've got so many of you "underwater," your fantasy homes anchored around your necks, holding you firmly on the bottom, they've figured out there are ways to get blood out of your rocks if they just squeeze hard enough.   What have you got left to lose?  That's easy - your "entitlements."  Listen up, morons.   An entitlement is, by its very definition, something deserved.   You earn your Social Security entitlements by all those payroll taxes you part with in your soon to be endless working lives.  That's your money.   That's why it's an "entitlement."   But the guys who want to just keep squeezing the life out of you have figured out that if they can get you to believe an entitlement is an undeserved handout they can take that too.

So who are these guys who are squeezing the very life out of you and your kids?   Why they're the very people you send to Washington, supposedly to represent your interests and do what's right for your country.  But if the past decade has proven anything it's that they don't represent your interests, they don't do what's right for your country.   So if they're not representing you, who are they working for?  That's not hard to figure out.   The ancient Romans had a saying, "cui bono?"   That's Latin for "who benefits?"  I think we covered that earlier.   The folks who've benefited from your Congress are the same folks who, long ago, bought and paid for your legislators - the richest of the rich.  They found that a little bit of cash (although what's little to them is an awful lot to you and me) can pay off big time when it's used to buy the votes needed to do their bidding in the House and Senate.  It's unquestionably the best investment they ever made, hands down.   The way they're going they'll soon be able to buy the dream world Dickens wrote of.    Welcome to the 18th century.  And no, you may not have another bowl of gruel.   Now, get back to work.   You have debts to pay, even if they're not really yours.

And, because you might not believe what I said about your boy, Bush, watch this.  In fact, hit the "replay" button and watch it again and again and again until it sinks in.

There, now doesn't that leave you feeling like a moron?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Glenn Beck Compares Dead Norwegian Kids to Hitler Youth

There is no form of life lower than Glenn Beck.

"...the rightwing US broadcaster and Tea Party favourite, has compared those who were massacred on the Norwegian island of Utøya to the Nazi party's youth wing.

"There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like the Hitler youth, or, whatever. I mean, who does a camp for kids that's all about politics. Disturbing."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Deadly Disease of Religious Fundamentalism, a Timely Warning

It's time we stopped treating religious fundamentalists - Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, whatever - as essentially benign and off limits under our democratic notions of freedom of religion.   Religious fundamentalism breeds violent extremism, terrorism.   It is imbued with characteristics and traits that both enable and encourage extremism.

Religious fundamentalism is not strictly religious, not at all.   It is also a social and political movement that seeks "imposative" reform.  It exists to impose a narrow religious, social and political order.   It is not interested in democracy.   It rejects tolerance and liberalism.  There are powerful reasons it takes root and flourishes in the far right.

I have been doing a fair bit of reading on religious fundamentalism and so it came as no surprise to learn of the handiwork of Anders Behring Breivik, a Christian fundamentalist.    It came as no surprise to read that a Christian fundamentalist had calmly butchered scores of innocents for nothing more than their peaceful beliefs.

You can learn more about creeping fundamentalism in books such as Phillips' American Theocracy, Bacevich's The New American Militarism, Hedges' American Fascists, McDonald's The Armageddon Factor, and many others.   However I think the best scholarly treatment of the causal link between radical religion and violent extremism is a paper by Douglass Pratt, Terrorism and Religious Fundamentalism:  Prospects for a Predictive Paradigm, 2006, published in the University of Marburg Journal of Religion which can be found, in PDF format, here.

At page 8, Pratt explores twelve key factors, common to all fundamentalist religions, that "...move a fundamentalist mindset from the quirky to the critical, from atavism to aggression,  from benign eccentricity to socially endangering activity."

Terrorism and Religious Fundamentalism is a genuine eye-opener and a must-read for any progressive.  It's only 15-pages in length and deserves to be read in its entirety.   Do yourself a favour and follow the link above.

In case the link isn't working, try this:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

FOX - Murdoch's Crown Jewel

 What do FOX News and North Korea have in common?   Possibly, quite a bit.

Rupert Murdoch's American crown jewel apparently has a very dark underbelly, at least according to Dan Cooper, FOX managing editor in 1996.   Dan Cooper spoke out in a 1997 article about Roger Ailes, FOX president.  He said FOX ran a "war room" where it conducted "counter-intelligence" on the network's enemies.

Another former senior executive said the channel ran a spying network on staff, reading their emails and making them “feel they were being watched”. 

And there are other accounts of Ailes spying on his employees.  Read more on FOX here, and here and here and here.

It's also being reported that the News International fiasco makes Roger Ailes a clear winner in his long-running rivalry with Murdoch's wife and children.

There are, practically speaking, now two factions inside of News Corp., Ailes and Fox News, and the Murdoch children—with Rupert caught between them. Ailes is the big money maker inside of News Corp.—all the more meaningful during a recession and when his boss, Rupert Murdoch, has hitched his star to the newspaper business and the failing Wall Street Journal—and Ailes’ power has risen accordingly (this summer and fall he helped push out COO Peter Chernin and Rupert’s flack and aide, Gary Ginsberg—both Democrats). But he can’t last against the enmity of Rupert’s children.

Murdoch sometimes tries to resist his children; he believes, for the sake of the dollar, he sometimes must. But he thinks they are the most brilliant people on earth and he is desperate to be loved and adored by them (as they are by him). And, what’s more, he’ll shortly be 79—and shortly the four votes of his four adult children will control the company (and Ailes’ fate). Also, his wife, Wendi, hates Ailes. Indeed, Rupert himself doesn’t like Ailes—except for the money he makes him.

Placing Murdoch - and Britain - In Perspective

David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch and all their minions are running a PR campaign on the News International scandal, telling people to keep it "in perspective."  It's not really a big deal or at least that's how they want the British public to see it.

The Guardian's Seumas Milne took up the Cameron/Murdoch challenge and wrote an excellent "perspective" piece on what this scandal really means:

As the cast of hacking victims, blaggers and blackmailers has lengthened, and the details of the incestuous payments and job-swapping between News International, government and Scotland Yard become more complex, it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture that is now emerging.
If it were not for the uncovering of this cesspit, the Cameron government would be preparing to nod through the outright takeover of BSkyB by News International, taking its dominance of Britain's media and political world into Silvio Berlusconi territory. But what has been exposed now goes well beyond the hacking of murder victims and dead soldiers' families – or even the media itself. The scandal has lifted the lid on how power is really exercised in 21st-century Britain – in which the unreformed City and its bankers play a central part.

Murdoch's overweening political influence has long been recognised, from well before Tony Blair flew to Australia in 1995 to pay public homage at his corporate court. What has been less well understood is how close-up and personal the pressure exerted by his organisation has been throughout public life. The fear that those who crossed him would be given the full tabloid treatment over their personal misdemeanours, real or imagined, has proved to be a powerful Mafia-like racket.

It was the warning that News International would target their personal lives that cowed members of the Commons culture and media committee over pressing their investigation into phone hacking too vigorously before the last election. Barely a fortnight ago, Ed Miliband was warned that Murdoch's papers would "make it personal" after he broke with the political-class omerta towards the company. The same vow of silence meant that when Rebekah Brooks told MPs in 2003 her organisation had "paid the police for information", the bribery admission sank like a stone.

The Sopranos style is deeply embedded in the Murdoch dynasty. When the New Labour culture secretary Tessa Jowell broke up with her husband in 2006 as he faced Berlusconi-linked corruption charges (he was later cleared), Brooks took her out, letting her cry on her shoulder – just as News International was hacking into the couple's phone.

...Murdoch is a case apart, not only because of his commanding position in both print and satellite TV, but because of the crucial part he played in cementing Margaret Thatcher's political power and then shaping a whole era of New Labour/Tory neoliberal consensus that delivered enfeebled unions, privatisation and the Iraq war. His role in breaking the print unions at Wapping in the 1980s by sacking 5,000 mostly low-paid workers is still hailed in parts of the media as a brave blow for quality journalism.

It was nothing of the kind. The golden age of new titles never materialised, and it's certainly no coincidence that journalists were prevailed upon to resort to systematic illegality in a company that has refused to recognise independent trade unions ever since. Over those years, News International has used its grip on the political class to rewrite media regulation in its own image. As we now know, it has also suborned politicians and the police and operated as a freelance security service – not to expose the abuse of power, but to carry it out.

These revelations should ram home the reality that Britain has become a far more corrupt country than many realise. Much of that has been driven by the privatisation-fuelled revolving door culture that gives former ministers and civil servants plum jobs in the companies they were previously regulating.

This Really Is the Pot Calling the Kettle BlackP

America's UN ambassador, Susan Rice, must have a bottomless well of gall, given the way she chastised other Security Council members cold to the idea of declaring climate change a security matter meriting the council's attention.

US ambassador Susan Rice said Washington strongly believed the council "has an essential responsibility to address the clear-cut peace and security implications of a changing climate," and should "start now."

Speaking while negotiations on the statement were still deadlocked, Rice charged that the message of the council's silence to countries threatened by climate-induced disasters would be "in effect, 'Tough luck' ".

"This is more than disappointing. It's pathetic. It's shortsighted, and frankly it's a dereliction of duty."

Psst, Sue.   You represent the United States of America, yeah - that America, the same America that has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, the same America that has a "bought and paid for" corporatist Congress intent on sabotaging any measures to cut those emissions - those characters who declare climate change a "hoax."   It's your country that, above all, is disappointing, pathetic, shortsighted and in dereliction of its duty to mankind.

Steve, Hurry Up With Those New Prisons While There Are Still Some Criminals Left

No, crime isn't going away but, even as Ruler Steve indulges his prison fetish, crime rates continue to go down - a lot.

StatsCan said police-reported crime rates fell a whopping 5 per cent last year from 2009, continuing a long-running trend.

Harper may claim to loathe Keynesian economics but, strip him down to his frillies and he's all Penal Keynesianism.

Ditch All Your Illusions About Privacy, All of Them, The Lot.

Imagine yourself among the thousands and thousands of people gathered for the final game of the Canucks/Bruins Stanley Cup.  It's easy to assume you're virtually invisible in the sea of faces.  It's not.   Click on this link and begin zeroing in on the crowd.  Be sure to click the "turn on GigaTag" link on the screen, click on the crowd with your mouse and use your mouse wheel to zoom in.

To get some idea of what this can mean to ordinary people in a residential setting, click on this link - Zoom in on any of the highrise apartment buildings, right into the apartments themselves.

Now, imagine the gigapixel technology suitably advanced and automated then slaved to modern face recognition software.

Welcome to the latest advance in our Surveillance Society.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Murdoch Squirms

Rupert Murdoch is in the hot seat as he is questioned by British MPs.  To keep up with it you should simply go to The Guardian for live coverage.

First impression is that Murdoch is squirming.   His spinmeisters have prepped him carefully and he seems to be trying to give responses that are oblique at best.   Rupe knows full well that this is a high stakes chat and that, today, he has no friends left.

Putting Population In Perspective

This line, from The Guardian, says it all.  The 21st century is not yet a dozen years old, and there are already 1 billion more people than in October 1999.

It took civilization until around 1804 to first amass a population of one billion.   By the 1930's we'd doubled that.   Just 30 more years and we topped 3 billion.   And now we're at 7 billion heading to a possible peak of between nine and 10.5 billion by 2050.  In the last 60-years the world has grown by 4.5 billion.  Of course overall numbers alone don't tell the tale.  They're massively compounded by our increase in individual consumption particularly over the past century.  Each of us consumes vastly more than our great, great, great, great, great grandfather could and did.  Think of us, in an overall sense, as 7 billion SuperConsumers.  If you don't find that mind-boggling, you're not thinking this through.

Our diets, our modes of moving, and our urge to keep interior temperatures close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit no matter what is happening outside — none of these make us awful people. It's just that collectively, these behaviors are moving basic planetary systems into danger zones.

...[China], having grown demographically for millennia, is home to 1.34 billion people. One reason the growth even of low-consuming populations is hazardous is that bursts of per-capita consumption have typically followed decades of rapid demographic growth that occurred while per-capita consumption rates were low. Examples include the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, China at the turn of the 21st, and India possibly in the coming decade. More immediately worrisome from an environmental perspective, of course, is that the United States and the industrialized world as a whole still have growing populations, despite recent slowdowns in the growth rate, while already living high up on the per-capita consumption ladder.

The United States has grown by more than 100-million since WWII but, with Americans' consumption rates, that represents about the same environmental footprint as one billion Indians.

...Fresh water is now shared so thinly that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) projects that in just 14 years two thirds of the world's population will be living in countries facing water scarcity or stress. Half of the world's original forests have been cleared for human land use, and UNEP warns that the world's fisheries will be effectively depleted by mid-century. The world's area of cultivated land has expanded by about 13 percent since its measurement began in 1961, but the doubling of world population since then means that each of us can count on just half as much land as in 1961 to produce the food we eat.

How we got to 7-billion is a story of conjuring acts on a whole civilization scale.  It is a story of how we overpopulated, over exploited, over contaminated our environment, our biosphere.  The Guardian article focuses on policies to address future population growth but, unless we do the things critical to living within our skin at 7-billion, it's really unclear that we'll ever reach anything approaching 9-billion much less the extreme estimate of 15-billion.

We are indeed ushering in the Athropocene, a new geological epoch characterized by a climate permanently altered solely by our species.   In many corners of the world, including mine and possibly your own, the impacts of climate change are visibly, tangibly, palpably setting in and we know that, even if we halted carbon emissions today, the world will continue to warm for at least the remainder of this century.   Yet the atmosphere is already too warm for us.   We already have too much water vapour in the hydrologic cycle;  water vapour that fuels severe storm events of increasing intensity and frequency; water vapour that changes precipitation patterns and delivers severe droughts and floods around the world.

It is pretty obvious now that we will ignore the warnings of the foremost climate scientists that we must wean ourselves from fossil fuels and that we have to give up coal and unconventional fossil fuels by 2015 - four years hence - if we're to have a reasonable chance of avoiding tipping points that will trigger runaway global warming.   Even Germany is turning to coal to replace its nuclear power generation.   Both India and China have massively expanding coal energy infrastructure.   America, likewise, seems unwilling to replace coal with low-emitting renewables.   And, in Canada, we continue to develop the filthiest, most environmentally ruinous fossil fuel on the planet - Alberta's and Saskatchewan's tar sands.

So it is unclear how we will ever stop overpopulating, over exploiting and over contaminating our environment on our own, somehow sustainable terms.   So long as we continue to accept the nihilistic leadership of people like Stephen Harper or the US presidency and congress or China and India or most of the rest of the developed world, we won't even seek much less implement the long overdue measures that could possibly preserve most of the world's habitability.   So the problem is not truly them - the Harpers, the McConnells, the Boehners and Obamas - it's us and our willingness to abide these types.   Do you see that changing anytime soon?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Another Player Tumbles, Cameron Calls for Parliament to Debate Phone Hacking Scandal

Yesterday it was Metropolitan Police commissioner Stephenson who fell on his sword.   Today  his second in command, assistant commissioner Paul Yates, also resigned.

Events are spinning out of control so quickly that Conservative prime minister David Cameron has cut short an African trip and ordered Parliament back to debate the News International scandal.

Speaking in South Africa, Mr. Cameron said Parliament would be extended beyond the start of its scheduled summer recess for an emergency session on Wednesday, a day after Mr. Murdoch, his son James and Ms. Brooks are set to testify to a parliamentary inquiry into the scandal. 

Labour leader, Ed Miliband appears to be reversing his party's fortunes by his handling of the scandal and he pulled no punches in taking Cameron to task for his involvement:

It is of great concern,” Mr. Miliband said in a speech, “that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was unable to discuss vital issues with the Prime Minister because he felt that David Cameron was himself compromised on this issue because of Andy Coulson.” 

He added: “It is also striking that Sir Paul Stephenson has taken responsibility and resigned over the employment of Mr. Coulson’s deputy, while the Prime Minister hasn’t even apologized for hiring Mr. Coulson.

The Conservatives cling to power only with the support of an increasingly disaffected Liberal Democrat caucus.  If they revolt, Cameron could fall.

Global Warming is Real, It's Lord Monckton Who's a Fake

Global warming denier, self-styled "Lord" Christopher Monckton has been warned by the British House of Lords to cease and desist his claims that he is a member of that body.

Monckton, who did inherit a peerage as Viscount of Brenchley, tells all who'll listen that he is a Lord, just without the right to sit or vote in the House of Lords.   To that extent, we're all probably Lords.

The HoL has had enough of Monckton's claptrap and published this notice on its web site:

"You are not and have never been a member of the House of Lords. Your assertion that you are a member, but without the right to sit or vote, is a contradiction in terms. No one denies that you are, by virtue of your letters patent, a peer. That is an entirely separate issue to membership of the House. This is borne out by the recent judgement in Baron Mereworth v Ministry of Justice (Crown Office)."

In 1999, all but 92 of Britain's 650 hereditary peers were debarred from the HoL, Monckton's dad among them.   Lord Monckton looked surprised at the news but, then again, he looks surprised at anything.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Murdoch's Magic Touch - The Ruination of the Wall Street Journal

Joe Nocera has an interesting op-ed piece in The New York Times in which he canvasses how Rupert Murdoch "Foxified" the once prestigious Wall Street Journal.

Within five months, Murdoch had fired the editor and installed his close friend Robert Thomson, fresh from a stint Fox-ifying The Times of London. The new publisher was Leslie Hinton, former boss of the division that published Murdoch’s British newspapers, including The News of the World. (He resigned on Friday.) Soon came the changes, swift and sure: shorter articles, less depth, an increased emphasis on politics and, weirdly, sometimes surprisingly unsophisticated coverage of business. 

Along with the transformation of a great paper into a mediocre one came a change that was both more subtle and more insidious. The political articles grew more and more slanted toward the Republican party line. The Journal sometimes took to using the word “Democrat” as an adjective instead of a noun, a usage favored by the right wing. In her book, “War at The Wall Street Journal,” Sarah Ellison recounts how editors inserted the phrase “assault on business” in an article about corporate taxes under President Obama. The Journal was turned into a propaganda vehicle for its owner’s conservative views.

If anything the critique seems understated.  Murdoch did take one of America's most prestigious papers and turned it into a birdcage liner of the same quality as our own National Post.

Scotland Yard Boss Falls on His Sword

The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, Sir Paul Stephenson has quit.  Embroiled in the Murdoch gang's phone hacking and police corruption scandal it was probably only a matter of time for Stephenson before he was handed the ceremonial pistol with one round.

In his parting statement, Stephenson said he had no knowledge of the extent of the Murdoch syndicate's phone hacking, whatever that really means.   No word on how much Sir Paul knew of the bribing of his officers by Murdoch crews.  Stephenson packed it in just hours after the arrest of former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks.

Well Then, Explain This, General

When someone says, "who could've known?" you're entitled to take that with a very large grain of salt.  Usually it's a way to dodge two other questions - who should have known, and, why didn't you know?

This seems to be a favourite excuse from Canadian leadership, political and military.   Harper used it when Canada got overtaken, totally unprepared, by the global recession.   Utterly dishonestly Furious Leader claimed no one saw it coming.  Bollocks, crap, bullshit.   Paul Krugman saw it coming.   Joe Stiglitz saw it coming.  Plenty of others did too and they were writing and talking about it and warning anyone who would listen.   Harper was just too deafened by his stupid ideology to hear them.

But now it's Canada's military brass who are playing this same disingenuous game.   Commenting on how Canada's Afghan mission fared so poorly, General Walter Natynczyk, successor to safely retired General Rick Hillier, said, "I don't think anyone fully expected the kind of counter-insurgency fight we faced here.

Okay, Walt, but who should have expected this and why didn't they have this figured out?  How about your former boss, that swaggering buffoon who boasted to reporters that his troops were going to Kandahar to "kill scumbags" that he estimated to be a "few dozen" strong?   Did he just pull that out of his ass?

We weren't the first into Kandahar.   We took over from the Americans.   What exactly did they tell us about the place?  Did they pull a fast one on the Big Cod?   Or was Kandahar really more of a transformative opportunity for Hillier, a chance to seismically shift the Canadian Forces from peace keepers to war fighters, real soldiers?

And no one is asking Walt why, if we didn't expect the fight we got in Kandahar, if the enemy was much stronger than he imagined when he and Hillier decided on a 2,500-strong force, why didn't we send in thousands of reinforcements?   One candid combat officer told a Canadian reporter that, in the early years, Canadian forces struggled just to avoid being defeated and run out of Kandahar by a gang of religious fanatics and farmers with Korean-war vintage rifles and grenade launchers.  How did our soldiers ever come to the brink of a Dien Bien Phu moment?   Who allowed that to happen?

Apparently Natynczyk told Canadian press that the fight in southern Afghanistan was 'almost unavoidable.'   Of course it was.  That's why we went there.   Hillier said as much.   Does that now take him by surprise?

"We're not the only ones to have gone through this kind of discovery because intelligence is never perfect," said Natynczyk.   Now blame the intelligence, Walt.   Did Don Rumsfeld write this script?

"Our guys worked very, very hard with intelligence, but the fact is you cannot assess all of the factors, or understand all of the ingredients that go into a counter-insurgency."

Natynczyk said he has been asked over the years why the army didn't have "a perfect" assessment.

"Well, that's a dream, in the same way we could not predict just what occurred in Tunisia, Egypt or now in Libya."   Really?  It was predicted, especially Libya.

Hillier and Natynczyk have a lot to answer for.   Their good luck is that no one - in the media or on Parliament Hill - is going to ask the questions.   And that's a damned shame.  157 Canadian soldiers gave their lives in this fiasco, hundreds of more will live with horrible wounds for the rest of theirs.  They deserve for those questions to be asked - and answered.

I Hate Your Heat Wave

Yeah, that's right,  your heatwave.   It's the way things work these days, what The Guardian calls "global weirding."   You swelter while out here on the left coast we're stuck with jackets and umbrellas.  Bloody cold and bloody wet.   When the skies do finally clear for a day or two out here, people go embarrassingly hyperactive.

But that's the way it is today.  Drought here, flood there, drought here and flood yet again over there.  La Nina hot bunking with El Nino.   One area roasts, another shivers in the damp.   I suppose we'd better get used to it because it seems to be the new "normal."

So I'm jealous of you for your heat wave but, then again, I'm probably the one better off.  I can get comfy by throwing on a wool shirt.   But I'd be happier if I didn't have to do that as August nears.

Police Closing In - Murdoch Exec Rebekah Brooks Arrested

That was quick.   British police have arrested former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks.  Her arrest came just two days following her resignation.   Police say the 43-year old is being detained in connection with the phone hacking operation and payments made to corrupt cops.

Who's next?   Judging by his resignation from The Washington Post and Dow Jones, it could be the previous News International CEO, Les Hinton.

Bad news for Ol'Rupe Murdoch.   The more of his close lieutenants get swept up, the greater the chance one of them will tell investigators everything and, at this point, the chase keeps heading ever upward.,

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Conspiracy to Pervert the Course of Justice

Poor ol' Rupe Murdoch.   The old geezer is trying hard but he keeps falling behind the unfolding of events that could bring down his whole rotten enterprise.

The latest is word in The Telegraph that News International executives, including Rebekah Brooks and Rupe's boy, James, are subjects of an investigation into whether they were involved in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The source said: “News International appears to have covered up this scandal. That is potentially a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. It would have to be proved that James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks or any other senior executive knew the information handed over in 2011 was actually in the system in 2006 and suppressed it.

The way they are sacking people at the moment, you can’t rule out further information coming out.” 
News International has confirmed that a series of emails had been read by senior executives – a source declined to say who – before being sent in 2007 to an outside law firm where they remained for four years before being handed to police. 

Labour leader Ed Miliband wants all party agreement on new media ownership laws.

"I think that we've got to look at the situation whereby one person can own more than 20% of the newspaper market, the Sky platform and Sky News.  ...I think it's unhealthy because that amount of power in one person's hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation. If you want to minimize the abuses of power then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous."
Before this is over, we may all owe a debt of gratitude to News Corp, the Murdochs and their crews for shining a powerful light on the perils of corporatist media and the abuses of power that attend a mass media beset by concentration of ownership and media cross-ownership.   We have these very problems in Canada and the standards of Canadian journalism have decayed in the result.  Break up the media cartels, force divestiture.   Put the media back where it belongs, in many hands, for that is the only way to ensure that the Canadian public have access to the widest range of political opinion.  That is the only way to force the media to again serve the public as the watchdog of government instead of serving as the lapdog of favoured political movements.   The Opposition ought to harangue Harper for that, badger him incessantly.   Let the Canadian public know that the Murdochs may not be here but we have our own Murdoch clones.

How Scotland Yard May Have Colluded With News International to Conceal Phone Hacking

It may take Scotland Yard years to notify all the victims of the Murdoch crews' "industrial strength" phone hacking operation.  An eye opening article in The New York Times claims that Scotland Yard just sat on "six overstuffed plastic bags" of evidence.

Inside was a treasure-trove of evidence: 11,000 pages of handwritten notes listing nearly 4,000 celebrities, politicians, sports stars, police officials and crime victims whose phones may have been hacked by The News of the World, a now defunct British tabloid newspaper.

The Metropolitan Police Service had evidence of 4,000 likely victims and yet it sat on it, notifying just a handful and most of them only when they inquired.

During that same time, senior Scotland Yard officials assured Parliament, judges, lawyers, potential hacking victims, the news media and the public that there was no evidence of widespread hacking by the tabloid. They steadfastly maintained that their original inquiry, which led to the conviction of one reporter and one private investigator, had put an end to what they called an isolated incident. 

...At best, former Scotland Yard senior officers acknowledged in interviews, the police have been lazy, incompetent and too cozy with the people they should have regarded as suspects. At worst, they said, some officers might be guilty of crimes themselves. 

Members of Parliament said in interviews that they were troubled by a “revolving door” between the police and News International, which included a former top editor at The News of the World at the time of the hacking who went on to work as a media strategist for Scotland Yard.

On Friday, The New York Times learned that the former editor, Neil Wallis, was reporting back to News International while he was working for the police on the hacking case

...“This is stunning,” a senior Scotland Yard official who retired within the past few years said when informed about Mr. Wallis’s secret dual role. “It appears to be collusion. It has left a terrible odor around the Yard.”