Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Anonymous Strikes Deep

If only we didn't have the attention span of house flies.

Some 50-groups are now wading through over 5-million e-mails obtained from the self-proclaimed 'shadow CIA' intelligence company, Stratfor.   The documents were distributed by WikiLeaks on behalf of Anonymous.

One recipient was the Yes Men, a loose collaboration of some 300 imposters who infiltrate corporations, often with hilarious results.  They're only just starting to wade through this mountain of documents but they're already coming up with gold.

Just as Wall Street has at times let slip their fear of the Occupy Wall Street movement, these leaks seem to show that corporate power is most afraid of whatever reveals "the larger whole" and "broader issues," i.e. whatever brings systemic criminal behavior to light. 

"Systemic critique could lead to policy changes that would challenge corporate power and profits in a really major way," noted Joseph Huff-Hannon, recently-promoted Director of Policy Analysis for the Yes Lab.

Among the millions of other leaked Stratfor emails are some that reveal dubious financial practices, including an apparent insider trading scheme with Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz, who joined Stratfor's board of directors and invested "substantially" more than $4 million in the scheme, called StratCap. "What StratCap will do is use our Stratfor's intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments," wrote Stratfor CEO George Friedman in September 2011. StratCap was designed through a complex offshore share structure to appear legally independent, but Friedman assured Stratfor staff otherwise: "Do not think of StratCap as an outside organisation. It will be integral... It will be useful to you... We are already working on mock portfolios and trades." (StratCap has been due to launch in 2012, though that could now change.)

Other emails show Stratfor techniques of a truly creepy Spy vs. Spy sort: "[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control," wrote CEO Friedman recently to an employee, Reva Bhalla, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on Chavez's cancer. (Stratfor's "confidential intelligence services" clients include, besides Dow and Union Carbide, the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines, the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon.)

Perhaps most entertainingly of all, the email trove reveals that Stratfor's "Confederation Partners"—an unethical alliance between Stratfor and a number of mainstream journalists—are referred to informally within Stratfor as its "Confed Fuck House." (Another discovery: Coca Cola was spying on PETA. More such gems are sure to surface as operatives sift through the 5.5 million emails.)

I understand WikiLeaks distributing the documents on such a wide basis to make suppression more difficult, perhaps even impossible.  But this time the dissemination appears chaotic, disjointed.  It's going to be harder for outsiders to monitor the revelations over the considerable time required to process this volume of information.

And yet these documents may offer us an extremely valuable window into the spread and influence of corporatism today and how they operate.

Heartland Institute Associate Got Inside Carleton University

A prominent associate of the US based Heartland Institute managed to teach a climate change course at Carleton University from 2009 to 2011.   An audit found the course, taught by Tom Harris, contained 140 "false, biased and misleading claims about climate science."

 A team of scientists, who reviewed the videotapes of Harris's lectures provided by the university, found 142 false, biased and misleading claims. The course, which is not intended for science majors, may for many students be the only academic exposure they have to climate change while earning their undergraduate degree.

The report found the course under Harris's direction systematically deviated from the scientific mainstream on climate change, embracing extreme opinion.

"The content of this particular course is heavily biased against the scientific consensus concerning the anthropogenic causes of dangerous climate change," the report from the Canadian Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Scepticism said. "The unbalanced nature of the course, the lack of peer-reviewed literature cited, and the non-science audience mean that the course fails to constitute 'promotion of debate' and instead merely presents a biased and inaccurate portrayal of contemporary climate science."

...Some of the false or misleading material singled out by the Cass review are classic talking points among those who dismiss the existence of man-made climate change. They include lines like: "The only constant about climate is change" and "carbon dioxide is plant food".

Other points are just plain wrong, like Harris's assertion that there is only one weather station in the Canadian Arctic – when there are more than 40, that the Amazon jungle is a relatively new formation, in geological terms, or that urban weather stations do not show consistent warming.

Harris in his lectures also ventured into hyperbole, saying of the weather-caster and prominent climate doubter blogger Anthony Watts, that he "deserves a Nobel prize or a prize of some sort".

"It was fairly shocking really," said Chris Hassall, one of the team that wrote the report. "To look through some of the claims and to find that he was spinning those things as either a scientific debate, or muddying the waters on the extent of the consensus in scientific literature, or providing theories that really lacked empirical evidence – it happened time and time again and we document it extensively."

Confronted with the audit, Carleton University weaseled out, citing "academic freedom."

Could Irish Voters Scuttle Europe's Austerity Madness?

The Irish public may be charting the next round in the battle over European austerity politics.   The coalition government in Dublin reluctantly yielded to overwhelming public pressure demanding a referendum on the latest Eurozone fiscal treaty.

Former Citibank senior international economist Michael Burke writes that angry Europeans are turning on their austerity-minded governments and with good reason.

It is hardly surprising that "austerity" is unpopular. It is nothing other than a transfer of incomes from labour and the poor to capital and the rich. One of the greatest fallacies of the current crisis is that "there is no money left". This is wholly untrue. Companies are sitting on cash mountains all across Europe. And the profit share of national income has risen. This is why stock markets are rising – corporate incomes (profits) are rising.

In some cases, such as Ireland, the total level of profits is rising, even while household incomes are declining and the slump in business investment actually exceeds the total contraction in GDP.

 All recent history suggests that Irish voters will come under intense pressure to vote yes. They will be accused of wrecking the euro if they vote no, and that all sorts of calamities will follow.

But those wrecking the European economy and potentially the euro are the politicians who allow capital to flow freely within the eurozone when it is allocated by bondholders, and refuse to allow the state to reallocate capital on the basis of what is economically rational. return for bailing out Greece's creditors, the troika of EU, ECB and IMF insist only on more austerity, that is, more transfer of incomes from labour to capital. The treaty provides a clampdown on "structural deficits" whose nebulous existence allows unelected technocrats to impose any cuts they can get away with. Of course this will apply to all countries adopting the treaty. In this way, "austerity" will become the norm in the core as well as the periphery.

Yet these policies clearly aren't working and now the talk is of setting Greece loose, having imposed a policy of reparations that harks back to Versailles.

If Irish voters do reject the treaty, they will be performing a great service to the population of Europe. It could mark a turning point in the EU and beyond, pulling the brake on the austerity express before it hits the buffers.

...In Ireland, political circumstances mean there is a possibility of a real political blow against the disastrous and undemocratic policies that have been pursued since the crisis began. A yes vote means the continuation of the nightmare. A no vote would be a blow in favour of all the victims of austerity and for all democrats across Europe.

Doctors Don't Always Get to Bury Their Mistakes

One question - who allowed this to happen?  "This" is the oxycontin addiction plague that has swept through northern native communities and may leave enormous suffering in its wake when the drug is abruptly removed from distribution next month.  Oxycontin, the so-called "hillbilly heroin", drug of choice of addicts like Rush Limbaugh.

It is reported that some northern communities have oxycontin addiction rates in excess of 50% of the population.   Imagine half a village facing opioid withdrawal at once.

Getting doctors to prescribe opioids more appropriately needs to be part of the solution, because many of them may just unwittingly switch their patients to other equally addictive drugs, such as hydromorph contin, fentanyl or morphine, said [Dr. Meldon Kahan, medical director of addiction medicine service at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto] .

Hydromorph contin, for example, provides a sustained release of hydromorphone, which like OxyContin can be crushed, injected and is fully covered under the Ontario drug benefit plan. 

“This is a very unusual public health crisis because it was generated by the medical system,” said Kahan. “Doctors' knowledge of this is not very high, because they don’t get much training on it.”

Say what?   Don't these doctors read newspapers or watch shows like 60 Minutes that has run exposes on OxyContin abuse?  If the general public knows the perils of this drug any doctor who claims he doesn't is either incompetent or a liar.

Affixing blame is necessary to prevent this happening again.  It's part of fixing a system that is very plainly broken.   That said, someone has to take responsibility for the addiction nightmare that will be sweeping the north in just a few weeks.  If we have any claim to being a civilized society, we just cannot leave these addicts to their fate.

Maybe it's time the medical profession took responsibility for the failure of its own members.   They want to be a self-governing profession.   That privilege comes with responsibilities to society including overseeing the standards of practice and the continuing education of members.   It was members of the medical profession who earned fees writing these prescriptions and we expected them to act responsibly when we granted them that authority.   A good many of them obviously abused that privilege and now they and the profession that failed to regulate them should make good the suffering in the north.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

And I Thought Harper Could Only Blow Hot Air

It seems Steve can blow cold air too.  He's quick to talk big about his commitment to the Arctic but talk is cheap, even big talk.  It's when it comes to things like climate change and money that Harpo's true colours come through.

Take, for example, Canada's most northerly research station, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory at Eureka, Ellesmere Island.  That is being shut down on April 30th because Harper won't fund it.

"When you run out of money, there's no alternative but to close the lab," Jim Drummond, a Dalhousie University researcher who is the principal investigator for PEARL, said Tuesday.

Drummond said the network has since applied for various government funding programs and has been turned down for all of them, despite the government's frequent assertion that the Arctic is a priority for Canada.

PEARL is the biggest lab in Canada's High Arctic and, at 80 degrees north latitude, one of the closest in the world to the North Pole.

"Shutting it down causes a big gap in the measurements," Drummond said. "We're losing the ability to know what's going on up there."

Shuttering Canada's window on the far north comes at the very time when the link has been made connecting recent severe winter storm events in Europe and eastern North America to changing air currents in the Arctic due to, you guessed it, climate change and the retreat of polar ice caps.

Democrats for Santorum

Recognizing that there's just not enough hilarity these days:

But, don't forget Detroit Republicans for Romney

And If You Still Can't Believe America is Crazy

Consider this bill now working its way through the Wyoming legislature.

On Friday, the Wyoming House of Representatives advanced a bill to set up a task force to prepare for the total economic and political collapse of the United States. Per the bill, the panel would investigate things like food storage options and metals-based currencies, to be implemented in the event of a major catastrophe.

Then it goes three steps further. An amendment by GOP state rep. Kermit Brown*, calls on the task force to examine "Conditions under which the state of Wyoming should implement a draft, raise a standing army, marine corps, navy and air force and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier." As Miller explained to the Casper Star-Tribune, "Things happen quickly sometimes."

I wonder if Kermit has figured out how quickly Wyoming could become a coastal state, the sort of place that could, arguably, use an aircraft carrier.   It seems like Idaho and Oregon might stand in its way.

Europe Remains "A Question of War and Peace"

Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl warns today's crop of European leaders not to forget the lessons of Europe's bloody past.

"The current discussion in Europe and the crisis in Greece mustn't lead us to lose sight of or even question or retreat from the goal of a united Europe," Kohl wrote in a guest commentary published in Germany's best-selling daily, Bild, on Tuesday. 

Kohl repeated his mantra that the euro was about nothing less than preventing war. That view, he argued, still applied despite the decades of peace Europe has enjoyed.
"The evil spirits of the past have by no means been banished, they can always return. That means: Europe remains a question of war and peace and the desire for peace remains the driving force behind European integration," wrote Kohl.

He made a swipe at the new generation of European leaders who, unlike him, were born after World War II.

"For those who didn't live through this themselves and who especially now in the crisis are asking what benefits Europe's unity brings, the answer despite the unprecedented European period of peace lasting more than 65 years and despite the problems and difficulties we must still overcome is: peace."

Kohl served as German Chancellor for 16 years, the longest term since Otto von Bismark.   He presided through the end of the Cold War and the reunification of East and West Germany.  Kohl lost a brother in WWII.  He was drafted in the final weeks of the war.

Don't Buy That New Atlas Just Yet

Somewhere down in the crawlspace is my highschool atlas from the 60's.  I have kept it as I have the four or five 'updated' atlases I picked up over the intervening years.  It's a lot of fun to go back and see maps of countries that are no more, empires that have broken up.

We may be needing another update soon if Asia Times is right.  It's the latest voice to suggest we'll soon see a new face on the Middle East.

National borders from the eastern Mediterranean to the Iranian border were made after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. Britain and France, with little consideration for sectarian or ethnic realities, drew lines across the area and established the new countries of Iraq and Syria.

As authoritarian regimes disappear under the weight of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and the ongoing uprising in Syria, regional boundaries may be redrawn by indigenous peoples and regional powers. Five new states could emerge: Shi'ite Iraq, Sunni Iraq, Sunni Syria, Greater Kurdistan, and Shi'ite Syria.

It's a good article with detailed explanations of  how and why Syria and Iraq could soon fracture along traditional ethnic lines.  A similar breakup may be in the cards, eventually, for Muslim South Asia where the Balochs and Pashtun may seek to breakaway from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Deja vu.  I just discovered that I first used the title of this post back in September, 2008.  Hmm... could it be that change is the one thing that never changes?

Why Heartland Inc. Needs to Be Taken Down

Our youth, as the radical right wants them to be

This Just In - Rich People Lie & Cheat

Rich people are more likely to lie and cheat than ordinary stiffs like you.  A study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences began when a PhD candidate, Paul Piff, wanted to explore whether higher social class was linked to higher ideals.

The answer Piff found after conducting seven different experiments is: no. The pursuit of self-interest is a “fundamental motive among society’s elite, and the increased want associated with greater wealth and status can promote wrongdoing,” Piff and his colleagues wrote yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The “upper class,” as defined by the study, were more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiation, cheat to raise their odds of winning a prize and endorse unethical behavior at work, the research found. The solution, Piff said, is to find a way to increase empathy among wealthier people.

“It’s not that the rich are innately bad, but as you rise in the ranks -- whether as a person or a nonhuman primate -- you become more self-focused,” Piff said.

Bah, Humbug!

Wiki-Anon, The New Empire Busters?

The dynamics of this duo promise to be earth-shaking.  WikiLeaks joining forces with Anonymous.  As Cole Stryker writes over at, we may be on the brink in a new era of guerrilla  transparency:

This is huge; it’s the first time Anonymous has ever cooperated with an aboveground entity, lending an unprecedented amount of political legitimacy to the often inscrutable group. But why? What do these strange bedfellows have to gain from collaboration? With this new collaboration, Anonymous has obtained new credibility, and WikiLeaks has obtained a hugely valuable new source. This potentially powerful alliance could point to the future of the leak economy, and this awkward symbiosis provides each party with exactly what they need to move forward. A new age of transparency activism may have just begun.

Is this an insurgency?  Yes, of sorts.  It's also in its infancy and the direction and distance it will travel is very uncertain.   It strikes at the very heart of today's authoritarian and corporatist movements that are dependent on being able to operate free of prying eyes.  Read that last sentence again only, this time, think of Stephen Harper.

Like any threat to authoritarian order, it would be unimaginable that the instruments of state power would not be deployed to push back and the resilience of Anonymous will soon be put to the test.  Yet I suspect they'll probably be difficult, perhaps impossible to take down.   The stakes are high for both sides but, like any insurgency, Anonymous need only survive to win.

It's That Time Again. Care To Place A Bet?

The Oscars are over.   Now we turn our attention to the Republican presidential campaign and possible running mates for the frontrunners.

There should be a coffee table book of Republican hopefuls and their running mates.  It would be a mixed horror/comedy theme.  Ike had Nixon who led the pogrom against supposed communists.  Nixon, in turn, had Spiro Agnew, a corrupt road builder who virtually insured Nixon would never meet the same fate as his nemesis, John Kennedy.

Gerald Ford, of course, had Bob Dole as his veep candidate but they lost Ford's one and only election campaign to Jimmy Carter.

Ronald Reagan had George H.W. Bush, a shady character whose true background has never been plumbed even to this day.  When Bush Sr. got his shot he chose the first of the great comic running mates, Dan Quayle.  When Ol' Bush got dispatched by Clinton, Quayle was pretty much finished.

Bob Dole arguably had the best Republican running mate in post-war American history, Jack Kemp.   But, of course, Clinton trounced them too so no reason to dwell on that.

A new millennium ushered in Bush the Younger and his self-appointed sidekick, Amerika's original vice-presidential Darth Vader, Dick Cheney.  Together this Dysfunctional Duo ushered in two hopeless foreign wars, the collapse of America's economy and the beginning of the end of its global dominance.

Then, of course, we had John McCain and his truly bizarre pick, the endlessly weird Sarah Palin.   If anything she has proved that there is life after death, at least in the realm of politics.

But surely now it's time for some comic relief again.

At this point it looks like Mitt Romney will edge out Rick Santorum and the Lizard King, Newt Gingrich.   Even if Santorum did best Romney, it's too much to contemplate who would be willing to serve as his understudy.   Perhaps the Vatican might come up with somebody.

But who will stand mitt Mitt?  Santorum?  Nah, he just burned that bridge with his robocalls.  Besides he's a rank Papist.  Newt Gingrich?  Nope, Romney could never feel safe with Newt at his back.   Michelle Bachmann?  Maybe, although she is almost as crazy as Santorum.   For Establishment Republicans, it doesn't seem to matter.

...if there was ever a political moment for the GOP to select a vice-president who makes little-to-no sense, this is it. Philip Klein, a senior editorial writer for the Washington Examiner, has a "sacrificial lamb theory". He says that there's an argument – made by those pessimistic about the chances of beating Obama – for the eventual nominee to not "waste one of the good guys this time around". Plenty of politicos on both sides have noted that while the Republicans have a poor slate of actual presidential candidates, they have a deep bench of up-and-coming leaders. Would it be good for the party to burn one of them with the legacy of a failed campaign? Or, as Klein said, "Do you really want Marco Rubio to spend September and October defending Romneycare?"

...Whoever winds up rounding out the Republican slate, the people I talked to believed that the logic that gave us Sarah Palin is no longer operating the decision system. Klein summed it up this way:
"They went with rock star appeal in 2008 and it was a disaster. Now, maybe, we'll go with a dork who knows what he's doing."

Rupe Murdoch's Morally Bankrupt News Crews

E-mails are surfacing that show how extensively Rupert Murdoch's operators in the UK corrupted government and police officials.  News International had claimed that the voicemail hacking was a "rogue" operation.   Apparently not.

The head of the police inquiry into phone hacking, Detective Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, said police were investigating ''a network of corrupt officials'', some of whom had been placed on retainer by The Sun.

She said payments were authorised at a senior level on the paper and emails indicated journalists recognised it was illegal, ''reference being made to staff 'risking losing their pension or job', to the need for 'care' and to the need for 'cash payments'. There is also an indication of 'tradecraft', by hiding cash payments to 'sources' through making them to a friend or relative of the source.''

She said that nearly all of the payments to public officials related not to stories in the public interest but to ''salacious gossip'' and breaches of trust and privacy.

...The critical email that reveals News International was leaked information about the police inquiry into its malpractices undermines the company's initial claim that hacking was confined to a single rogue reporter.

The email was written by the head of legal affairs, Tom Crone, to the News of the World editor Andy Coulson on September 15, 2006, and was based on what Mr Crone had been told by Rebekah Wade (later Rebekah Brooks), then editor of The Sun, who had been given a police briefing.
News International is beginning to take on the appearance of a true criminal organization.   From the top down they seemed to have known what they were doing, that it was illegal, and that they should even employ 'tradecraft' techniques to conceal their activities.  They sought out and then corrupted public officials including police officials.

Britain Secures Escape Route Out of Afghanistan

Britain has cut a deal with Kazakhstan to let it extract six billion dollars worth of equipment, including tanks and armoured personnel carriers, safely out of Afghanistan.   The Brits were scrambling for an exit after Pakistan closed the supply route via Karachi.

The plan is to get British vehicles and equipment to Kazakhstan and then by rail to the Baltic for shipment by sea back to the UK.

“When planning a military expedition into Pashtun tribal areas, the first thing you must plan is your retreat. All expeditions into this area sooner or later end in retreat under fire.”
So wrote British general, Andrew Skeen, in the early 1900s in his guide to military operations in the Pashtun tribal belt.  I guess some things never change.

But it's not only Western forces that are eyeing the exits.   A telling sign is the exodus of Afghans who don't want to be around when the Taliban return.   Getting out isn't easy.   Pakistan has begun forcing Afghan refugees back to their homeland.

There are a number of eerie similarities between our Afghan war and America's Vietnam war.   Are we beginning to see parallels in the way this one ends?

And The Leaks Just Keep On Coming

Wikileaks rocks - at least if you're part of the US intelligence community.  They've just released a dump of e-mails from American security outfit, Stratfor, sometimes described as the "shadow CIA."   Julian Assange calls the company a "private intelligence Enron."

Among the zingers is the revelation that Osama bin Laden was in "routine" contact with top officials of Pakistan's military intelligence service while he was hiding in their country.

Stratfor, "...was shown the information papers collected from bin Laden's Abbottabad compound after the US special forces attack last May that resulted in his death. The email, from a Stratfor analyst, suggested up to 12 officials in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency knew of the al-Qaeda leader's safe house.

"The internal email did not name the Pakistani officials involved but said the US could use the information as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Islamabad after the raid." 

In other words the most powerful agency in Pakistan knew where America's all-time most wanted was hiding and, for years, gave him refuge.   Documents taken from bin Laden's compound confirm what the Americans suspected all along.  It's quite likely the Americans also had other sources of corroboration.

All of us who have participated in Washington's Afghanistan follies now know that this same Pakistan intelligence service is still aiding and abetting the Taliban insurgency that seems a sure bet to shoot its way to power once we finally come to our senses and get the hell out of there in 2014.

"Afghans hate us, and we don't trust them. We have never felt safe around them," said a U.S. military officer who works on Afghanistan policy, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

So far this year, Afghan troops have killed at least 10 U.S. service members who were training them, including the four last week. Two weeks ago, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Afghan troops had killed 70 American service members in 46 incidents since 2007; half of those had occurred since May 2009.

The majority of those attacks were by Afghans who were frustrated with their trainers, not Taliban insurgents infiltrating bases, according to military officials. By comparison, over nearly nine years in Iraq, where the U.S. military presence was greater, Iraqi forces killed about half a dozen American troops who were training them, the Pentagon said. 

Read more here:
We know desertions have spiked in the Afghan army and security services as our departure nears.   We know the insurgents have effectively infiltrated the Afghan army, security services and government.   We know from recent killings of American personnel that our people aren't safe when we're training their people or even when we're in their facilities so we've even pulled back there.  What is there left for us but to leave and, having reached this point, what conceivable purpose is there to delay our departure?

We have but one reason for remaining in Afghanistan.  That's to postpone the day on which our political and military leadership will have to own up to their pathetic failures and incompetence.   That's the day on which they're going to have to explain why they squandered invaluable lives to accomplish absolutely nothing, why they kept this farce going long after our initial commitment expired, why they handed Canada our first real defeat in war.   Why?  What was it all for?

We are not leaving Afghanistan a better place than it was when we arrived.  What we have accomplished isn't permanent.  Perhaps our legacy will be that we took a country that was destabilized when we arrived and and then managed to destabilize the entire region.  Mission accomplished.

Monday, February 27, 2012

No, No, These Are Primaries, Not Primates

I just can't understand why Republican presidential candidates don't get evolution.  After all, they've mastered the ability to reverse it.

The Dead Wolves of Athabasca

The next victims of Steve Harper's bitumen fetish are to be thousands of grey or timber wolves.   Harper passed a death sentence on them, slaughtering one species supposedly to take himself off the hook for endangering another.

Expanding Tar Sands production is contributing to the decline of caribou herds.  Harper's solution is to again alter nature and take out the caribou's natural predator, the wolf.   Emulating the practices of Harper's dream gal, Sarah Palin, part of the wolf cull will see helicopter hunting.   Other wolves will be felled with strychnine-laced baits.  The wolf kill programme is expected to last five years.

Harper EnviroShill Peter Kent says he finds the kill off regrettable but necessary.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Security for Oil

"Nice country ya got here.  It'd be a real shame if something happened to it."

Britain is hot to trot for Somalia or, to be specific, Somalia's oil.   And, it's trying to get a leg up on the competition by offering the country humanitarian aid and security assistance.  In particular the Brits are offering Somalia help in suppressing Islamist insurgents.

"Riven by two decades of conflict that have seen the emergence of a dangerous Islamic insurgency, Somalia is routinely described as the world's most comprehensively "failed" state, as well as one of its poorest. Its coastline has become a haven for pirates preying on international shipping in the Indian Ocean.

...Somali prime minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said his government had little choice but to entice western companies to Somalia by offering a slice of the country's natural resources, which include oil, gas and large reserves of uranium. "The only way we can pay [western companies] is to pay them in kind, we can pay with natural resources at the fair market value."

British commanders are currently evaluating the prospects for RAF air strikes against Somalian insurgents.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gas Prices Soaring? Care to Speculate Why?

An eye-opening analysis from McClatchey Newspapers.   As in Canada, American pump prices are soaring.  Republican candidates are jumping aboard to blame Obama.

But the newspaper points out to two facts that point to the real culprit.  Fact one - Americans' demand for gasoline is trending downward.  Fact two - so far has American demand lagged behind production that, wait for it, the US has become an exporter of gasoline.

What's driving the increases, McClatchey concludes, are the omnipresent speculators:

Financial speculators are piling into the market, torquing the Iranian fear factor into ever-higher prices.

"Speculation is now part of the DNA of oil prices. You cannot separate the two anymore. There is no demarcation," said Fadel Gheit, a 30-year veteran of energy markets and an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. "I still remain convinced oil prices are inflated."

Consider that light, sweet crude trading on the NYMEX changed hands at $79.20 a barrel just four months ago, but soared past $106 a barrel Tuesday afternoon, partly on news that Iran would halt shipment of oil to Britain and France. But those countries already had stopped buying Iranian oil. And Didier Houssin, the International Energy Agency's director for energy markets and security, said that "there are alternative supplies that can make up for any loss of Iranian exports," The Wall Street Journal reported.

Still, oil's price shot up because it trades in financial markets, where Wall Street firms and other big financial players dominate the trading of oil, even though they have no intention of ever taking possession of the oil whose contracts they are trading.

And that is a look into the dark, enormously destructive forces behind predatory free market power.   It's the inevitable follow-on once perpetual growth hits a wall.  It is why Goldman Sachs is perhaps the major contributor to the now permanent global food price crisis.  It is what is quietly happening to the multinationals working to corner world water markets.  These characters are now speculating on peoples' very survival and the stability of nations.

This shit has to stop.

Read more here:

Hamas Flips, Turns on Assad, Backs Revolt

The Palestinian Islamic movement, Hamas, has had a long relationship with Syrian president Bashar al Assad.  That's now over.  Hamas has switched sides and now supports the Syrian revolt to overthrow Assad.

Hamas went public after nearly a year of equivocating as Assad's army, largely led by fellow members of the president's Alawite sect, has crushed mainly Sunni protesters and rebels.

In a Middle East split along sectarian lines between Shi'ite and Sunni Islam, the public abandonment of Assad casts immediate questions over Hamas's future ties with its principal backer Iran, which has stuck by its ally Assad, as well as with Iran's fellow Shi'ite allies in Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

"I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform," Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, visiting Egypt from the Gaza Strip, told thousands of Friday worshippers at Cairo's al-Azhar mosque.

The move is seen by some as Hamas changing course to ally itself with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood instead of Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Definition of a Conservative

A Conservative is an angry old white man sitting on his porch yelling at the Future to get off his lawn.

I wish I could remember where I read that.   I think I found it on  It stuck in my mind ever since and I thought I should share it with you.   It pretty much sums it up nicely.

The Peril of the Authoritarian Mind

"They would march America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result.... And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going away."

- Robert Altemeyer, "The Authoritarians" 

There was a time when fundamentalists were considered quirky types who assembled in their covens on Sundays in their Sunday-Go-to-Meetin' clothes for a dose of Revivalism.   That was, of course, before they began their rise to the top levels of political power.

Our own Stephen Harper is a fundamentalist and there's a sprinkling of like-minded in his caucus.   Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think there are a lot of fundamentalists in the Liberal or NDP ranks.

There's an interesting essay in AlterNet on the rise of authoritarianism in politics and the role fundamentalism plays in that.   Mike Lofgren, a former Republican Senate Congressional staffer, seeks to explain why right-wingers have so little compassion.   Lofgren says that, to make sense of them, we must  "leave conventional political theory and enter the realm of psychopathology."   He notes how today's right wingers are driven by religious fundamentalists who make up 40 per cent of  Republican voters.  Lofgren claims this hard-core base welcomes authoritarianism.

"An observer of the right-wing phenomenon must explain the paradox of followers who would escape from freedom even as they incessantly invoke the word freedom as if it were a mantra. But freedom so defined does not mean ordinary civil liberties like the prohibition of illegal government search and seizure, the right of due process, or the right not to be tortured. The hard right has never protested the de facto abrogation of much of the Bill of Rights during the last decade. In the right-wing id, freedom is the emotional release that a hostile and psychologically repressed person feels when he is finally able to lash out at the objects of his resentment. Freedom is his prerogative to rid himself of people who are different, or who unsettle him. Freedom is merging into a like-minded herd. Right-wing alchemy transforms freedom into authoritarianism."

Lofgren cites Canadian psychologist Bob Altemeyer's study of fundamentalism and the far right from the book "The Authoritarians".
"They are highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide. They are fearful and self-righteous and have a lot of hostility in them that they readily direct toward various out-groups. They are easily incited, easily led, rather un-inclined to think for themselves, largely impervious to facts and reason and rely instead on social support to maintain their beliefs. They bring strong loyalty to their in-groups, have thick-walled, highly compartmentalized minds, use a lot of double standards in their judgments, are surprisingly unprincipled at times and are often hypocrites.

"...Probably about 20 to 25 percent of the adult American population is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed, so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds."

In politics today where winning or losing is commonly a difference of a few percent of the overall vote, this minority is easily large enough to swing elections.   As John McCain learned, if you're not saying what they need to hear, they'll just stay home on voting day.  It's an object lesson powerfully understood by those riding the clown car in the Republican presidential race today.

As progressives, we need to start taking heed of fundamentalist authoritarianism and its practice within the ranks of our government and institutions.   Steve Harper rides this bus.   His authoritarian instincts are at the very core of his administration and erupt like pustules at the mention of reproductive rights or capital punishment.  Steve is a shrewd bugger, an accomplished dissembler and concealer.  He knows to drive Canada into his corral he must move incrementally because small steps invariably appear less threatening than seismic shifts.  But he and his are radicals and they are authoritarians and "nothing you can say or do will change their minds."

By the way, if you would like to plumb the depths of your inner fascist instincts, there's a fun test here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Modern Right - Either They Get Toppled or We're All Going Down

It's time we stopped treating the chasm between the right and left as a legitimate difference of opinion.   It's not and that's very dangerous - for them and for us.

It seems counter-intuitive that, even as scientific research steadily pours in corroborating the theory of global warming,  the gap between believers and deniers has widened dangerously.

For a long time I've given the right the benefit of the doubt and assumed most of the rejectniks were the ill-educated, the ignorant.  That made me hopeful that, with just a little more education, better information, they would  understand and accept the scientific consensus.  Turns out I had it wrong.

Chris Mooney, author of "The Republican Brain - The Science of Why They Deny Science - and Reality" has made a case that is, and should be, disturbing - ignorance has nothing to do with the right's rejection of climate science.   Mooney explores a 2008 Pew Research report documenting the partisan divide over global warming.

Buried in the Pew report was a little chart showing the relationship between one’s political party affiliation, one’s acceptance that humans are causing global warming, and one’s level of education. And here’s the mind-blowing surprise: For Republicans, having a college degree didn’t appear to make one any more open to what scientists have to say. On the contrary, better-educated Republicans were more skeptical of modern climate science than their less educated brethren. Only 19 percent of college-educated Republicans agreed that the planet is warming due to human actions, versus 31 percent of non-college-educated Republicans.

 For Democrats and Independents, the opposite was the case. More education correlated with being more accepting of climate science—among Democrats, dramatically so. The difference in acceptance between more and less educated Democrats was 23 percentage points.

This was my first encounter with what I now like to call the “smart idiots” effect: The fact that politically sophisticated or knowledgeable people are often more biased, and less persuadable, than the ignorant. It’s a reality that generates endless frustration for many scientists—and indeed, for many well-educated, reasonable people.

...liberals and progressives are absolutely outraged by partisan misinformation. Lies about “death panels.” People seriously thinking that President Obama is a Muslim, not born in the United States. Climate-change denial. Debt ceiling denial. These things drive us crazy, in large part because we can’t comprehend how such intellectual abominations could possibly exist.

And not only are we enraged by lies and misinformation; we want to refute them—to argue, argue, argue about why we’re right and Republicans are wrong. Indeed, we often act as though right-wing misinformation’s defeat is nigh, if we could only make people wiser and more educated (just like us) and get them the medicine that is correct information.

...the rapidly growing social scientific literature on the resistance to global warming (see for examples here and here) says so pretty unequivocally. Again and again, Republicans or conservatives who say they know more about the topic, or are more educated, are shown to be more in denial, and often more sure of themselves as well—and are confident they don’t need any more information on the issue.

But Mooney points to research that reveals liberals, for all our flaws, aren't particularly susceptible to the "smart idiot effect." 

...with liberals, there is something else going on. Liberals, to quote George Lakoff, subscribe to a view that might be dubbed “Old Enlightenment reason.” They really do seem to like facts; it seems to be part of who they are. And fascinatingly, in Kahan’s study liberals did not act like smart idiots when the question posed was about the safety of nuclear power.
Nuclear power is a classic test case for liberal biases—kind of the flipside of the global warming issue--for the following reason. It’s well known that liberals tend to start out distrustful of nuclear energy: There’s a long history of this on the left. But this impulse puts them at odds with the views of the scientific community on the matter (scientists tend to think nuclear power risks are overblown, especially in light of the dangers of other energy sources, like coal).

So are liberals “smart idiots” on nukes? Not in Kahan’s study. As members of the “egalitarian communitarian” group in the study—people with more liberal values--knew more science and math, they did not become more worried, overall, about the risks of nuclear power. Rather, they moved in the opposite direction from where these initial impulses would have taken them. They become less worried—and, I might add, closer to the opinion of the scientific community on the matter.

Mooney's conclusion is that trying to appeal to reason with conservative types on "hot button" issues like global warming is a waste of time and effort that ought to be directed elsewhere.  It doesn't make any difference how many facts you have, you're talking to a closed mind.   The more intelligent, the better educated the conservative, the more likely they are to have that mind tightly shut.

The Perversion of Canada's Military

Since he clawed his way into power, Steve Harper has wasted little time turning Canada's public and armed services into political agencies of the prime minister's office.   He began by gagging the public service and the armed forces.  Under Harper's iron fist communications policy, the public were not allowed direct contact with public servants or members of the military.   Communications commissars in the PMO were appointed to ride herd, filtering requests for information, deciding what could be or wouldn't be answered, and then doctoring the response to ensure it conformed to Stevie's message.   Undemocratic?  You bet your ass.  Authoritarian?  Ditto.

Now further evidence of the political perversion of the armed forces has emerged.   When Harper defmin Peter MacKay ran into controversy for his personal use of an armed forces Cormorant helicopter, he instructed military officers to dig up dirt on a Liberal MP, Scott Simms.

The Toronto Star got its hands on some military e-mails from Major Byron Johnson in Gander, MacKay's appointed sleuth.    The first e-mail reported that, “Staff continuing search but nothing found thus far placing MP Simms aboard Cormorant. Will advise if something located.”

In a follow-up e-mail, Gumshoe Johnson exclaimed "Found it."  He noted that Simms had in fact spent a whole day aboard a Cormorant.  Johnson then sleuthed into who requested the flight and whether Simms had reimbursed DND for its costs.

It has now surfaced that Simms was aboard the helo at the suggestion of MacKay's office in order to learn about the search and rescue role of the Cormorant.  He wasn't using it as an aerial taxi to ferry him from a luxury fishing resort to a political appearance.

Was Major Johnson acting on behalf of the RCAF or the Conservative Party in trying to get the goods on Simms?  It's pretty obvious it wasn't the RCAF that had a dog in that fight.   And Johnson's "found it" exclamation seems to bear that out.

Byron Johnson crossed the line.  It is a cardinal rule that military personnel must never, ever dabble in political matters.   They serve the country not some political party.   Was Johnson (and his staff) serving the country?  No.   Was he serving the RCAF?  No.   Was he serving his minister and the Conservative Party?  Yes, on both counts.

We need a zero tolerance approach to this sort of thing.   What's going on today in the United States makes that plain.  We've seen American generals like Petraeus and McChrystal freely intrude into the political sphere, even to the point of challenging their Commander in Chief, president Obama.   The impertinence these two clowns displayed played no small measure in the failed fiasco that is Afghanistan today.

We've had our taste of that too.   Now safely retired general Dick Hillier, the architect of Canada's hapless Kandahar mission, used his celebrity to slag the Liberal Party.   Under Harper, Hillier talked about the restoration of the Canadian Armed Forces and made pointed reference to the "dark days" of cutbacks under the Liberals.

What the Rancid Cod deliberately overlooked is that Canada was in a fight back when the military budget was cut.   It was a fight, by Chretien and Martin, to wrestle the country's finances back under control, to restore balanced budgets, to pay down the national debt.  Everybody in Canada felt some effects of that, made some sacrifices, and there was absolutely no reason that the military should have objected to doing their share too.  But, with Harper constantly patting his back, Hillier felt quite comfortable getting into politics and taking his cheap shot.

Professor, author and retired US Army colonel Andrew Bacevich has chronicled the politicization of his own country's military in The New American Militarism.   He reveals how, in a very direct, political manner, America's military leadership has forged a compact with the radical right, the bloated military-industrial complex, and radical Christian fundamentalists.   Bacevich contends that, with this political, industrial and religious backing, top generals at times even challenge their Commander in Chief to implement political policy of their own making.

The Canadian military increasingly appears to be emulating their American counterparts.  That's hardly surprising given that we train with the Americans, we follow common procedures and tactics and we equip our forces with their weapons.  And, more importantly, when we do get to use all that training and all those weapons, it's always in conjunction with the much larger American military, sort of as America's Foreign Legion.  It's as though Canadians are embedded with their American Big Brothers.

We don't need a politicized military in Canada.  If we don't want that we need to ensure that the American military contagion doesn't sweep north.  One way to do that is to make damned sure that officers like Major Johnson understand the line they must never cross and that nothing good lies in store for them if they forget it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Election Fraud Traced to Edmonton Firm with Tory Ties

Election fraud?  The Harper Conservatives?  Oh, say it ain't so, Joe.  But apparently it is so, very much so.

Elections Canada launched its investigation after it was inundated with complaints about election day calls in Guelph, Ont., one of 18 ridings across the country where voters were targeted by harassing or deceptive phone messages in an apparent effort to discourage Liberal supporters from voting.

In Guelph, a riding the Conservatives hoped to take from the Liberals, voters received recorded calls pretending to be from Elections Canada, telling them their polling stations had been moved. The calls led to a chaotic scene at one polling station, and likely led some voters to give up on voting.

...the Conservatives are conducting an internal probe. A party lawyer is interviewing campaign workers to find who was behind the deceptive “robocalls.”

...Elections Canada traced the calls to Racknine Inc., a small Edmonton call centre that worked for the party’s national campaign and those of at least nine Conservative candidates, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s own campaign in Calgary Southwest.

Using telephone billing records and Racknine server logs, Elections Canada investigators identified the Racknine account holder who sent out the calls.

Matt Meier, owner of Racknine, said he was unaware one of his customers was involved in the calls until contacted by Elections Canada in November.

He said he knows whose account was used for the calls, but could not reveal the owner, because of client confidentiality and concerns about interfering with the investigation. He said it was someone “down East” — meaning Ontario or Quebec.

In a party whose leader wants so desperately to emulate his American idols in the Republican Party, scummy and even criminal tricks like this aimed at perverting Canadian democracy probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise.   After all, everyone knows how much democracy means to Stephen Harper and he sets the tone for everyone else in that fetid organization.

F-35 News, This Week's Fiasco

Barely two months ago, F-35 boosters were thumping their chests as Japan announced plans to buy about 50 of the aircraft.  That "done deal", they argued, virtually ensured other prospective buyers would set aside their reservations and also take the leap.

Now it seems the Japanese are getting F-35-itis.   Japanese officials are warning the Americans that they're not interested in delays and cost overruns which may be the only two things the F-35 can deliver and in spades.

The comments from Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura come after Japan’s Sankei newspaper cited unidentified U.S. government officials as saying that Japan had threatened that it may even cancel its orders if prices climbed. Japan picked the F-35 as its next mainstay fighter in December, choosing it over combat-proven but less stealthy rivals.

 “When we were selecting the fighter, we asked those making the proposals to strictly observe their proposed prices and supply schedules. Japan has conveyed this to the U.S. from time to time,” Fujimura told a news conference.

It sounds like the Japanese are going to play hardball with the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin on both price and delivery.  They know, when it comes to the F-35, it's very much a buyer's market. 

Lockheed needs Japan more than the Japanese need the F-35.  If the Japanese walk it could turn into a stampede taking Australia and other prospective buyers with it.

So, if the Japanese can play hardball, why is Harper still stretched out over Lockheed's barrel with his pants down?  Just askin'

Yeah, Right Mounty Monty

RCMP Corporal Monty Robinson, of Robert Dziekanski killing fame, says he wasn't trying to obstruct justice when, after striking and killing a motorcyclist, he drove home and got into the vodka.

Mounty Monty was driving his kids home from a Halloween party at which he'd quaffed five beers.  He's testified he can't remember the events just before and following the moment his Jeep struck the motorcycle being ridden by 21-year old Orion Hutchinson.

Robinson's evidence is that he got out of his Jeep, walked over close enough to see bystanders apparently tending to Hutchinson, handed his driver's licence to an onlooker, gathered up his kids and simply walked them the two-blocks distance to their home.   Then he hit the vodka.

He said it never crossed his mind to guzzle hard liquor to screw up any chance of investigating whether he was drunk when he hit the motorcycle.   He did admit that he'd taken a course three years earlier where that very tactic had been taught.  It just never crossed his mind.  Yeah, right.

Robinson has said that his participation in the killing of Robert Dziekanski drove him to drink more frequently.  Yeah, right.

What Shows Up in Our E-Mail

As an avid motorcyclist I get plenty of e-mail from suppliers of bike parts and accessories.   Some of them throw in freebie teasers.   Today I got a taser teaser.  Really.

California based A&S Powersports is offering a combo-flashlight/stun gun free with any order over - wait for it - twenty bucks.

I'm pretty sure possessing this sort of thing is completely illegal in Canada but, hey, twenty lousy bucks and you get this damned thing free?   Then again the flashlight probably isn't very good.

Judge Lenient Because 11-Year Old Rape Victim Was "Willing"

When is this madness going to stop?  This time it's Britain.   There Judge David Farrell sentenced two men convicted of raping an 11-year old to just 40-months imprisonment.   The judge accepted their claim that she "looked 14" and gave them a reduced sentence on finding the child was a "willing participant" even though she was five years shy of the age of consent.

Judge Farrell said there were exceptional features to the case which led him to reduce the sentences to 40 months.

The two men had maintained they believed the girl was at least 14, and, after viewing evidence, the judge agreed she appeared that age.

He said the prosecution accepted that the girl had not objected to what was happening, and the men had pleaded guilty at the earliest stage and did not have previous convictions for sexual offences.

Farrell, you moron, she was ELEVEN years old.   You even found the crime was "aggravated" by the rapists recorded it on their cellphones  and that there was evidence that the recording had been circulated.

Well, This Is Awkward

Israeli F-16 Showing Seven Syrian Aerial Victories and the Bombing of Iraq's Osirik Reactor.  

Iran has warned it may strike pre-emptively in the face of persistent threats of imminent attack by Israeli or the United States' forces.

It sort of sounds like George w. Bush's reasoning when he attacked and temporarily conquered Iraq under the smokescreen of danger of imminent attack from Iraqi WMDs that, of course, were non-existent. 

The big difference here is that those menacing Tehran do have plenty of WMDs, both of them, and there's even been talk of using such weapons to take out Iranian nuclear facilities deep underground.   There's also the possibility that destruction of Iran's nuclear installations could itself release nuclear contamination upon Iranian cities.
Israeli Air Force Symbol for Strike on Nuclear Facility

Have Israel and the U.S. given Iran the sort of provocation that could justify an Iranian pre-emptive attack?   Both have a history of attacking other states, often by surprise or unannounced attack.  Israel has twice taken out nuclear facilities in Arab states.  Both have WMDs.  Both have repeatedly stated they're contemplating the bombing of Iranian facilities.   That sure sounds like plenty of provocation, but...

What is there that Iran could attack that would improve its position?  It's hard to imagine Iran being able to knock out the Israeli air force and harder still to see how Iran could do much to cripple the United States.  Then again...

If you have concluded that there's a very real probability you will be attacked, you have to weigh the costs of waiting around for it to happen.  Do nothing and you merely surrender the advantage of initiative.   If your aggressors attack first, they may and probably will begin by taking out your defences before they move on to their main target.   They'll do everything they can to take out anything you have that could close off the Gulf or strike Israel.   What it may come down to is that you either have to use that capability yourself pre-emptively or lose it altogether.

The Israelis have already said it could take a hundred or more bombing missions to eliminate Iran's military capacity and take out its nuclear installations.   That's one hell of an air war.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Timeless - Sarah Palin's Stupidity

When it comes to rank stupidity, Sarah Palin takes even Dan Quayle off the hook.  In the runup to the release of the HBO docudrama "Game Change" based on John McCain's decision to revitalize his flagging presidential campaign by naming Palin as his running mate, new morsels of Palin ignorance are floating to the surface.

Palin, for example, believed Queen Elizabeth, not prime minister Gordon Brown called the shots on Britain's military force in Iraq.

 Mrs Palin's confusion emerged during a coaching session with Steve Schmidt, a McCain adviser who asked her what she would do if Britain began to waver in its commitment to the Iraq war.
In one of the many rambling responses that eroded her credibility, Mrs Palin reportedly replied she would ''continue to have an open dialogue'' with the Queen. A horrified Mr Schmidt informed her the prime minister, then Gordon Brown, would be responsible for the decision. She also mistakenly believed Saddam Hussein ordered the September 11 attacks.

[The book] describes panicked cramming sessions during the campaign, with aides beginning history lessons with the Spanish Civil War and carrying through to post-September 11. Mrs Palin was initially enthusiastic, making notes on hundreds of coloured flash cards, but became increasingly sullen and was described by tutors as going into a ''catatonic stupor''.
Now, can somebody explain to me again why this Sarah Palin isn't contesting the Republican presidential nomination?

The Republicans' Unlikely Champion or The Lord Blesses Obama

Judge Not that Ye Be Not Judged - Matthew 7:1.

Apparently Rick Santorum somehow missed that sermon.   The current Republican nomination frontrunner positively delights in judging, and invariably condemning, his fellow Americans for conduct that doesn't meet his medieval standards.

The only thing that has propelled this religious nutjob to the top is the backing of America's Christian fundamentalists.   So far they've been willing to overlook Santorum's catholicism.   That may be about to change thanks to remarks Rick made in 2008 about Protestant America:

"...we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is a shambles.   It is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it."

Rick, did you just call all these supporters "heathens"?   Did you really?  Moron.

Crime & Punishment - Schoolyard Edition

There have been several news accounts lately of a new trend in US law enforcement.   Police officers arresting juveniles on criminal charges for typical childish schoolyard misbehaviour including swearing, wearing inappropriate clothes or even being late for school.   Now The Guardian has released video of what this actually looks like.   A 14-year old girl in Allentown, Pennsylvania is being arrested by a cop for swearing.   She raises her arms in surrender but the cop tasers her in the groin anyway.


Harper's Dirty Little Tar Sands Warning

Steve Harper has been warned - the Athabasca Tar Sands pose a "significant environmental and financial risk" to Alberta.

That warning came in a secret report prepared for Wayne Routers, the clerk of the Privy Council Office, the federal government's top civil servant.

The industry has suggested that a shift in oilsands extraction to use steam to remove synthetic crude oil from natural bitumen deposits on site can reduce land disruption and provide for reductions in energy and emissions. But the memo, prepared for Wayne Wouters, the clerk of the Privy Council Office — the lead department in the federal government's bureaucracy — said this shift is actually accelerating the industry's impact on climate change, with emissions growth projected to be greater over the next decade than all other Canadian economic sectors combined.

"While the industry has taken steps to reduce emissions, the shift from mining to in-situ production, which is almost three times as emissions intensive as mining, is resulting in a continued acceleration of emissions from this sector," said the memo.

"The industry's approach to tailings, meanwhile, has been widely criticized, including in a recent Royal Society of Canada report, as representing a significant environmental and financial risk to the province of Alberta."

The memo to Wouters noted the oilsands sector extracted six billion barrels in its first 40 years of commercial production, from 1967 to 2007, while it is expected to match that total production in the coming decade. It said this rapid growth "has shed light on the significant environmental challenges associated with this economically important sector," including the greenhouse gas emissions, tailings management, and habitat degradation and loss.

"The oilsands are the fastest-growing source of GHG emissions in Canada," said the memo to Wouters. "According to Environment Canada's emissions trends, emissions from the oil-and-gas sector could increase by 30 per cent between 2005 and 2020, driven by a more than 200 per cent increase in emissions from the oilsand sectors. By 2020, oilsands GHG emissions could total 92 million tonnes a year, up from about 31 in 2005. This increase of 61 million tonnes is greater than the projected emissions growth for all other sectors combined."

Harper has had this report since March of last year.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Tar Sands - Environmentally Inconsequential

University of Victoria professor Andrew Weaver has supposedly dropped a bombshell - the Athabasca Tar Sands are inconsequential to the problem of global warming.   Or that is at least what the reporter who crafted the story wants you to believe.

I have linked to the story from the Globe & Mail and I'll let you come to your own conclusions.   I was struck as much by what was left out of the report as what was actually said and how even that was pretty obviously spun.

What it does seem to claim is that coal is far more worrisome in terms of carbon emissions than oil.   Well, duh.   And, perhaps, that Weaver thinks the Tar Sands problems are limited to carbon emissions which I think is a viewpoint the Canadian Press reporter chose to spin.

Anyway, there it is.   For me the article was a bit like one of those coffee shop flyers with the "spot the differences" cartoon.  If you want a bit of fun, go through it yourself and see how many issues and questions are missing from the piece that might otherwise alter the tone of the article.

Were Woodware & Bernstein Played by a Man With An Axe To Grind?

Washington Post scribes Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have, for decades, been widely credited with taking down Richard Nixon.   The popular narrative goes that they were fed their story by a shadowy informant they called "Deep Throat" who wanted to stop a corrupt president and his aides.

A new story emerging claims that Woodward and Bernstein were played by their source, Mark Felt, who fed them truths, half-truths and outright fabrications not to bring down Nixon but to knock out his rival at the FBI and clear the way for his own ascendancy to the top job.

Felt began systematically leaking material from the FBI’s Watergate investigation. He knew Nixon, whose paranoia about leaks was legendary in Washington, would figure out that the source was somewhere in the FBI. Gray would be blamed, lose his job (he hadn’t yet been confirmed by the Senate and was officially only acting director) and Felt would be the logical replacement.

Felt played the Washington media like a mighty Wurlitzer, planting his leaks not just with the Post but Time magazine, the Washington Daily News and anybody else who would take them. As his scheme began to work, with Nixon pressing Gray hard to plug the leaks, Felt stood smugly by as other FBI officials were demoted or threatened with the loss of their jobs.

Contrary to the heroic myth that he always pointed reporters in the right direction, Felt’s leaks were often either carelessly inaccurate or maliciously false.

At this point in their careers, Woodward and Bernstein have already long gotten just about everything career advancing they could have out of Watergate.  Yet Woodward will be compelled to respond to the allegations that he and his partner, along with their newspaper, were played and that the account they spun afterward simply wasn't true.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What? Grandpa Hitler?

Adolf Hitler's son may be dead but his grandkids are alive and well and living in France.  It's all the result of a romantic interlude when Adolf was a German soldier in France in WWI.

Here's Adolf Jr. and dad:

Greece a Goner But What Is the Lesson for Us?

In all likelihood the 21st century will be marked by a succession of dramatic upheavals.   The rise of radical conservatism and the true warfare state followed by a decade of democratic suppression and futile conflicts was the opener.  The same gang hatched the era of casino capitalism that, despite the crash of 2008, churns along today albeit in slightly different guises.  The Arab Spring and an era of revolution are just getting started.  The rise and fall of phoney economic miracles from Iceland to Ireland, Italy to Spain and, of course, Greece are rocking the bastion of Western Europe.  And we haven't even gotten to the environmental calamities yet.

But, in the spotlight at the moment is Greece.   For months Greece has been struggling to cope with its own national insolvency while its partners in the Eurozone have pondered rescue or bailout schemes.   After all we're talking about a Western European country here, the cradle of democracy.

The nature of the Greek crisis and the attempts to resolve it are much too complex for this discussion.   It appears that the Euro states have finally accepted that, bailout or no, Greece is a goner.  The Greek people are simply unwilling to endure the severe austerity measures a workable bailout will demand.   Powerful support is said to be already building for radical right and radical left-wing movements in Greece, a formula for a European brand of social upheaval that sometimes turns very deadly.

The important question is whether it was actually debt at the root of the Greek collapse or was that debt merely a symptom of a much greater and widespread malady that imperils much of the developed world?

The Greek problem didn't pop up out of nowhere.   It was the accumulated result of a succession of "kick it down the road" governments.   The Greek government actually claimed there were barely 5,000 citizens earning 100,000 euros or more annually and collected taxes as though that was true.   The trigger may have been pulled by Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street vultures but they merely took advantage of an opportunity presented by governmental malpractice.

There, I said it - governmental malpractice.   The critical failure of governments to do their job.   A run of Greek governments were woefully negligent in their duties to the rank and file, ordinary Greek citizen.  They allowed the rich and powerful to shirk their tax obligations and hide their money, making good that default only by reckless borrowings.   Then they set out to hold ordinary Greeks liable to bear the brunt of the pain of their own negligence only it hasn't worked.

These governments don't set out to destroy their countries.  Most of them have very sensible, short-term programmes and operate as if that was all that should be expected of them.   They don't look back and they don't look ahead, at least not much past the next electoral cycle.  It's this failure to treat themselves as part of a continuum that can create nation-destroying crises.  This is the result of excluding posterity as an essential element of government planning.   If a predecessor hasn't provided for you and you, in turn, don't provide for your successor, these long-wave length problems can behave much like a tsunami.   They're really nothing to worry about as they cross thousands of miles of ocean.  It's only when they reach that last half-mile approach to the beach that all hell breaks loose.

Governmental malpractice isn't limited to fiscal policy either.   Governmental malpractice is occurring on a massive scale today on the problem of global warming.   Climate change is another long-wave problem.  It builds gradually which can make it appear deceptively benign especially to those who prefer to neglect or scoff at the whole thing.  Yet, if the models are right, global warming has its own tsunami-like characteristic, one or more "tipping points" at which climate change goes from being a more or less manageable problem and switches into runaway global warming as our planet's own feedback mechanisms are triggered.   And we've been warned, repeatedly, that we'll probably go right through those tipping points before we actually realize what we've done.  (Isn't it curious how the subject of "tipping points" has been all but completely scrubbed from the climate change debate?)

Greece should serve as an invaluable object lesson to us all.  It should show us that the faith we put in western democracy should be less the measure of the institution than of the weakness or strength of our leadership.  If they fail the institution itself becomes an historical collection of lofty ideals discarded to convenience.

We need to change our political discourse, to expand it beyond next year or where we will be five years hence.   We need to demand political leadership that talks plainly and convincingly about where our country will be thirty, forty, even fifty years ahead and what they're doing to shape that reality.   Imagine if the Greeks had forced their leadership into that same conversation thirty or even fifteen years ago.


Sorry this is so disjointed.  It's what often happens here when a train-of-thought moment occurs.

Is Vic Toews Blowing a Smoke Screen?

Vic Toews, apparently desperate to divert attention from his lurid past, is now saying that he's been the victim of "criminal acts and threats of future criminal acts" against him.  He subsequently expanded that to include his brand new wife and his new child too, the one he sowed while still with his old wife and his old family.   Toews assured his constituents that these threats would not dissuade him from carrying out his duties as Minister of Public Surveillance and Family Values.

Threats against Vic Toews and (new) family?  I suppose anything is possible and the sanctimonious little prick does get under a lot of peoples' skin but, then again, Toews and his parliamentary companions were awfully quick to falsely claim disclosure of information from court records was "criminal" when it was nothing of the sort.   And Toews is from the government that, rightly as it turned out, assessed the Canadian public stupid enough to believe that a Liberal-NDP coalition would be an unconstitutional coup d'etat.  In other words, the HarperCons have demonstrated a deep and abiding faith that one can never go wrong by underestimating the intelligence of their supporters.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Scientists Attack Harper Ventriloquist Act

A convention of scientists has asked our Furious Leader to be less of an authoritarian, undemocratic asshole.  There, I said it.

In an open letter to His Majesty, King Steve, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has asked that he stop muzzling federal researchers.

"Despite promises that your majority government would follow principles of accountability and transparency, federal scientists in Canada are still not allowed to speak to reporters without the 'consent' of media relations officers," the letter read.

...The Prime Minister's Office referred questions Friday to the office of Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology.

In an email, spokesperson Jay Jacobson said the government's communications policy is designed to ensure that "interviews or technical information on specialized subjects, are directed to knowledgeable managers or staff designated to speak as official representatives."

[Postmedia science writer, Margaret] Munro described how, in the past, reporters could get interviews with government scientists within an hour of submitting a request.

That began to change in late 2007, she said, when Environment Canada issued a new "media relations protocol" that required scientists to refer media inquiries first to communications officers, who would help craft responses to reporters' questions.

Yes, that's "craft" as in filter and direct.  Harper's communications commissars determine which questions may be answered, which questions shall not, and how the answer is to be framed to comport with government policy.   In other words, the Harper government has neatly transformed the public service into a political agency of the prime minister's office.  It's a ventriloquist's act and nothing more.