Thursday, May 31, 2012

Arms Race Update - US Space Drone Returns

Drones in space?   The US Air Force is preparing for the return of its automated space craft after 453-days and counting in orbit.   Here it is, the X-37.

The robotic X-37B, which resembles a miniature space shuttle, is due to land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California sometime in early to mid-June, depending on weather and other technical factors.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 2, or OTV-2, launched March 5, 2011. That means it’s been in orbit for more than twice the duration of the orbit-hopping inaugural mission of its predecessor, OTV-1. 
It’s also been up there much longer than anyone anticipated — the mission was originally planned for 270 days, only a few weeks longer than the 225-day mission of the first flight. Why so long? Some have speculated that it might be spying on the Chinese space station Tiangong. Or maybe the Air Force is just trying to squeeze out all possible value from an experimental spacecraft in a time of relative budget austerity.

We still don’t know what the 29-foot-long X-37B has been doing up there. In the wake of the first X-37B mission, and with its pickup-bed-sized payload bay, analysts theorized it could be a commando transport, a bomber or an orbital spy. It could launch, repair or reposition U.S. satellites in low orbit. It could carry sensors. It could even sneak up and disable or steal enemy satellites.

More F-35 Troubles Loom

One of the ongoing controversies plaguing the F-35 has been what powers it.   There was early backing for two engines to be developed but Congress angrily quashed that in favour of but one, Pratt & Whitney's F-135 power plant.

Now the P&W backers, including Senator Joe Lieberman, are up in arms over a project underway by GE and Rolls Royce, the privately funded F-136 Adaptive Engine Technology Development project.  The AETD option is gaining support at the Pentagon because of its promise to deliver 25% better fuel economy.   With the F-35 already coming under criticism because of its poor range performance, the AETD engine would seem just the ticket.   But to P&W and those in its pocket, the new engine is an enormous threat, not to mention an inconveniently timed embarrassment. 

Legislating Against Sea Level Rise - What Crazy People Do in Government

North Carolina is firmly Republican and its legislature is just as firmly crazy.   Crazy as in detached from reality, liberated from reason, unhinged.  From Scientific American:

"...the meter or so of sea level rise predicted for the NC Coastal Resources Commission by a state-appointed board of scientists is extremely inconvenient for counties along the coast. So the NC-20 types have decided that we can escape sea level rise – in North Carolina, anyhow – by making it against the law. 

Here’s a link to the circulated Replacement House Bill 819. The key language is in section 2, paragraph e, talking about rates of sea level rise: “These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly. …” It goes on, but there’s the core: North Carolina legislators have decided that the way to make exponential increases in sea level rise – caused by those inconvenient feedback loops we keep hearing about from scientists – go away is to make it against the law to extrapolate exponential; we can only extrapolate along a line predicted by previous sea level rises.

So, even if the state's scientific advisors and coastal commission turn out to be right on the money, it doesn't matter.   The government has decreed that sea level rise in North Carolina by 2100 will be a maximum of 8-inches - or else.  Who are you lookin' at, boy?

Canada's Age of Glum

Suddenly, Stephen Harper doesn't seem all that out of place.  The latest from pollster Nik Nanos is that many Canadians are pessimistic about the future that awaits our youth.

"...the low expectations for the future are not confined to Quebec. Everywhere in the country, except for the prairies, people told the polling company they believe the next generation is facing an economic decline.

"'I think what we are seeing is a grinding effect of a prolonged period without significant growth and it’s just wearing people down,' said Mr. Nanos, who said he did not believe a survey conducted five years ago would have obtained similar results.

There’s no real end to the economic downturn in sight, he said. 'On top of that, you’ve got record levels of personal debt, an unstable economy, and governments looking at controlling the costs of many of the services and benefits that they provide.'"

The actual numbers were just 37% of respondents who believed the next generation is hooped while 25% said they think our youth will actually be better off.  Who's right?  Until we ditch the Petro-Pols of Parliament Hill, I think the 37% are a safe bet.   So long as we have governments so beholden to a primarily foreign resource industry that they're prepared to gut environmental protections, seemingly at whim, we're living under governments that don't serve us.

For our youth, this government is malevolent.   They're the population segment most harmed by its "slash and burn" policies, by its lack of commitment to their education and health care, by its refusal to intervene to reverse the growing gap between rich and poor and the inevitable ascent of class divide and inter-generational tensions.

Today's youth will face enormous challenges, individually and collectively, as this century progresses.   While, directly, Canada will be one of just a handful of nations blessed to be the "last and least" impacted by environmental change already setting in through the most vulnerable regions of our planet, we will not be immune to the repercussions and what is coming our way will be immensely challenging.

How Canada responds to the challenges of the 21st century depends on circumstances some beyond and others within our control and there must lie our focus, the circumstances we can shape.   As perhaps never before it will be critical that we have a strong, educated, confident society.   To bear the strains we absolutely must have a cohesive society that can only be achieved, in the context of democracy, by the maintenance of a strong, robust and broad-based middle class.  Education and health care are the building blocks of that middle class but so are the narrowing of income and wealth inequality and the promotion of equality of opportunity.

It's time we proclaimed that digging sludge out of the ground is not the answer to our country's future; that our youth are the answer and that they, not bitumen, must be our priority.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Obama's Mortal Sin - Normalizing Extremism

Guantanamo remains open.   Drones strike far afield.   American citizens are being liquidated by their own government without trial or even charge.  Is this the legacy of Barack Obama, the normalization of the radical extremism of Bush-Cheney?

Will a Vancouver Island Company Save the Buffalo?

It's been 23-years since the last de Havilland Twin Otter rolled out of the company's plant in Ontario.   But a fine Canadian airplane isn't that easy to kill off and they're still coming off the production line at Viking Air of Victoria, B.C.

When de Havilland stopped production on the Beaver, Otter, Twin Otter, Caribou and Buffalo aircraft, Viking bought the type certificates for the entire DHC-1 to DHC-7 line from Bombardier.  The company is now working on number 17 of 80-Twin Otter orders it has already booked.

Now Viking is hoping to bring back another De Havilland classic, the DHC-5 Buffalo, the Buffalo NG (next generation), to become the RCAF's next search and rescue aircraft.

Similar to Twin Otters, Buffalo aircraft are known as work horses. They are renowned for their ability to handle short take off and landings, useful in emergency situations. A Buffalo can carry a payload of 18,000 pounds and has a rear ramp, allowing vehicles to drive inside, Mauracher said. It can also accommodate NATO-size metal palettes to transport cargo.

He expects manufacturing would take place in Canada. "Right now all our employment is in Canada.

Everything we do is in Canada. I don't see that changing," Mauracher said. "Until we see what comes out, it's kind of hard to say which way we are going to go with our proposal but right now everything we do is all Canadian-based."

The old Buffalo/Caribou in its yellow and red SAR livery is a common sight flying over Vancouver Island.   That it's still in regular service is a testament to its ruggedness and fitness for the at times difficult search and rescue role.

Anyone in doubt about just how good the vintage de Havilland designs remain need only look into buying the single-engine DHC-2 Beaver that remains the backbone of bush flying from Oregon to Alaska.  They fetch between $300,000 to $700,000 a copy.

Former Ministers, PC & Lib, Call Harper Out

They're challenging Stephen Harper to come clean.

An open letter from four former fisheries ministers, two Tories, two Libs, demands some explanations from the Prince of Darkness about just why he's gutting west coast fisheries protections.   They specifically challenge Harper to reveal whether he's behind this or if he's catering to "special interests," perhaps with names like Enbridge.

Former Progressive Conservative fisheries ministers Tom Siddon and John Fraser and former Liberal ministers David Anderson and Herb Dhaliwal have written an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper lashing out at the omnibus budget bill that contains Fisheries Act changes they say will inevitably weaken habitat protection provisions.

Despite the significance of the changes and public concern, there has been no explanation from government on the need for the amendments or on the unusual process being used, the letter says.

"Quite frankly, Canadians are entitled to know whether these changes were written, or insisted upon, by the Minister of Fisheries or by interest groups outside the government. If the latter is true, exactly who are they?" the former ministers ask.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Harper's Environment Campaign Ad

Does Ottawa Really See Canadians as Useless?

This is directed mainly at the Conservatives but it applies to the Libs too.   Tar Sands boosters, which includes most of our MPs on both sides of the floor of the Commons, routinely cite bitumen as vital to the Canadian economy.   Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff referred to the Tar Sands as the "beating heart of the Canadian economy" throughout the 21st century.


What then is this "beating heart" and what would Canada and the Canadian people be without it?

If there was ever a case of going for the low-hanging fruit, petroleum extraction is it.   Nobody has to create the resource or nurture or defend it.   Nature and circumstance created it millions of years ago in various spots around the world, some that are now deep beneath the seas.   So we don't get any credit for creating the resource.

We don't get any credit for discovering it either.   Long before Euros got here, native Americans were using the stuff to waterproof their canoes.   It was right there on the surface.   We did work out ways of extracting and upgrading it but that hardly ranks up there with mapping the human genome.   And, besides, a lot of that wasn't even done by Canadians but by Big Oil.

It doesn't help that this "beating heart" comes with potentially defective valves.   Things like direct and indirect carbon emissions, consumption and contamination of surface and groundwater resources, deferred costs and subsidies and a host of unresolved and potentially unresolvable environmental impacts.

In fact, it's unclear that the Tar Sands are even that beneficial to anyone except the multinationals that exploit them and their foreign customers.   Put a realistic price on Tar Sands carbon emissions (direct and indirect) and on the water used and toxic waste water accumulated and on the general environmental contamination and costs of genuine reclamation and factor in the costs of bitumen pipeline spills and, worst of all, a tanker catastrophe or two on the British Columbia coast and the bottom line, especially for Canada, sinks to the seabed.   It's only by keeping these costs off the books, by ignoring freebee giveaways, subsidies, deferrals and never-never indulgences that the Tar Sands can be made to look particularly lucrative.

If the Tar Sands, laid bare, are a marginal proposition at best, a beating but diseased heart, what about the rest of the Canadian economy?   What about the "Dutch Disease" that even researchers hired by the Harper government had to acknowledge as real?   We're already skimming the take on the Tar Sands but what of the negative impacts bitumen inflicts on the rest of the economy?  Our government and Alberta's dismiss that as nonsense but it's not a problem they can dare admit without putting their own necks on the Headsman's block.

It may not be until an environmental catastrophe hits the BC coast or the MacKenzie watershed (the world's third largest), and until the massive deferred costs go unmet and the Alberta government winds up, yet again, destitute that we come to realize that Athabasca's Black Gold was actually Fool's Gold and that we were very deliberately, meticulously Conned.   Where will we be then?  What will we be?  I expect we'll be a deeply fractured society in no end of trouble at the very moment we and the rest of the world will be facing turbulent change.  And that seems to be the future ordained for us by the Petro-Pols of Parliament Hill.

Maybe there's another strain of "Dutch Disease" - one that targets political leadership.   Why work formulating complex, time-consuming and even politically risky policies and measures to give your public the education and skills required for the future and to stimulate long-term economic activity beneficial to the nation when you can simply invite foreigners in to mine your lands in exchange for modest royalty handouts?  And why not keep real costs and impacts off the books when that pimps up the bottom line for  both the resource giants and their political beneficiaries?  And, besides, all those deferred costs and consequences will be kicked well down the road for distant leaders to confront.

Maybe it's not that Ottawa sees Canadians as useless as much as they see us as profoundly stupid.   And maybe we should start seeing them as profoundly lazy and criminally self-serving betrayers of the public trust.

Germany Nears 50% Solar Record

Germany is going into solar power in a big way.   On Friday and Saturday, the country's new solar grid put out 22-gigawatts of electricity, the equivalent of 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity, and  nearly half of the country's electrical demand.

"Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity," Allnoch told Reuters. "Germany came close to the 20 gigawatt mark a few times in recent weeks. But this was the first time we made it over."

The record-breaking amount of solar power shows one of the world's leading industrial nations was able to meet a third of its electricity needs on a work day, Friday, and nearly half on Saturday when factories and offices were closed.

Government-mandated support for renewables has helped Germany became a world leader in renewable energy and the country gets about 20 percent of its overall annual electricity from those sources.

Germany has nearly as much installed solar power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets about four percent of its overall annual electricity needs from the sun alone. It aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020.

Income Inequality - Visible From Space

Looking down on Earth from space, it's easy to spot where the rich people live and where the poor don't.

The picture below, published at, illustrates the point.

That's low-income, West Oakland, at the top and high-income, Piedmont, beneath it.   The rich folks get more space and an awful lot more green, trees.  Po' folk get to bake while rich folk get lovely shade. also published this graphic from the Center for Disease Control illustrating how fast food hamburgers have grown three times in size since the 50's while, over the same period, soft drinks have gotten up to six times larger.   Ain't life grand?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sometimes a Video Speaks for Itself

Courtesy The Tyee.

The Bean Counter Government

Andrew Coyne has discerned, finally, what the Harper government is all about - of late, anyway - the economy.

The government's agenda thus has three broad objectives:  One, curb (somewhat) the growth in transfers to the elderly, whether for pensions or, via federal transfers to the provinces, for health care.

Two, increase the supply of labour. Bring in more immigrants, encourage people to work longer, be less tolerant of idling.

Three, raise productivity, mostly by putting more competitive heat on business - that is to say, by opening the borders to competition from with-out - but also by raising national savings, providing the wherewithal for productive investment. Hence the cuts in taxes on savings, and hence, again, the greater openness to foreign investment.

Not only does this show signs of unaccustomed coherence in this government, but it represents a marked shift in emphasis. In the minority government years, and in the first months of the majority, the Conservatives preferred to cast themselves in the "guardian" role: strong on defence, tough on crime, vigilant against threats to public security or national sovereignty. For a variety of reasons, those messages have tended to have less resonance of late, or at any rate have been downplayed.

So Harper has, to use the term currently in vogue, pivoted from tough guy to bean counter.  Probably just as well.   Steve always looked just a tad preposterous when he dressed up to play Commando.   I hope Coyne is right, that Harper has indeed changed course, but I somehow doubt it.   Harper, experiences teaches us, is all about bullying someone, some way over something that he either dislikes or really wants.   His order is imposed, not founded on consensus.

While managing the economy is essential and something for which the Libs venerate people like Paul Martin, bean counting has to be harnessed to serve the country, the people and their future.   And you can't plan for the future if you don't look for it.   And this is where Harper falls far short of the mark.

When it comes to leading a nation, preparing it for the future, Harper is bound by stunted instincts.  We cannot replay the 20th century through the 21st.    There are great changes in store for the world this century and, while Canada may be spared the worst of the immediate impacts, it won't be immune to the repercussions that follow.   None of this, however, is on Harper's radar screen.

Climate change, for example, is not integral to Harper's agenda.   Yet how can you chart a nation's economic future if you omit a force that may, quite easily, overwhelm your objectives and render them obsolete?   If you seek the reins of power you must be prepared to steer the wagon around obstacles in the road.

Likewise, Harper is unwilling to grasp that the challenges ahead also afford a variety of  rich opportunities.  You'll have the bad either way but you'll only have the good if you reach for it in time.  Harper can't see that, which explains why he ignores these difficult problems, kicking them down the road to some successor for whom the opportunities may, by then, be long foreclosed.

Canada needs a leader.   Instead we're stuck with the department head from Accounts Receivable.

And This is Surprising, How?

Disability claims are flooding in from surviving veterans of America's failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   The Associated Press reports that about 45% of these vets have filed claims.

The news has sent those for whom these wars were spectorial into some decidedly unseemly speculation as to what lies behind the phenomenon, why these veterans have so many more disability claims than vets in previous wars.

"It's unclear how much worse off these new veterans are than their predecessors. Many factors are driving the dramatic increase in claims - the weak economy, more troops surviving wounds, and more awareness of problems such as concussions and PTSD. Almost one-third have been granted disability so far."

What's completely omitted from the assessments is what must be the greatest contributory factor - compulsory, multiple deployments.    Soldiers getting sent back to war again and again and again.   There's a reason why America has only 1.6-million veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars.  That's because the American public and their Congressional leadership refused to accept the need to reinstate the draft.  That meant the burden of these wars, including the disabling wounds, were shouldered by a small number of personnel who were constantly recycled through war zones.

In Vietnam, a draftee served a single, 12-month combat tour.   D-Day to the collapse of the Third Reich took about 10-months.   Afghanistan will be 13-years of futility before it winds down.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Israel's Race Riots

To us, they're "refugees."   To many Israeli's, including Netnayahu, they're "infiltrators."   In Israel's Knesset, refugees and asylum-seekers are derided as "cancer."

Demonstrators have attacked African migrants in Tel Aviv in a protest against refugees and asylum-seekers that indicates an increasingly volatile mood in Israel over what it terms as "infiltrators".
Miri Regev, a member of the Israeli parliament, told the crowd "the Sudanese are a cancer in our body". The vast majority of asylum-seekers in Israel are from Sudan and Eritrea.

Around 1,000 demonstrators took part in the demonstration on Wednesday night, waving signs saying: "Infiltrators, get out of our homes" and "Our streets are no longer safe for our children." A car containing Africans was attacked and shops serving the refugee community were looted. Seventeen people were arrested.

A reporter for the Israeli daily Maariv described it as an "unbridled rampage" and explosion of "pent-up rage".

"Suddenly one of [the protesters] noticed that in one of the cars waiting for traffic to move were two young dark-skinned men, apparently foreign workers. For the hundreds of inflamed and enraged young people, that was all they needed. Within minutes, they dismantled – there is no other word to describe it – the car and its passengers. Some of them smashed the windows with their hands and rocks, others kicked the car, bent the plastic parts and tried to attack the people inside. 'I'm not from Sudan, I'm not from Sudan,' the driver tried to tell the assailants, but nobody was listening at that stage."

The protest followed a claim on Sunday by the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, that "illegal infiltrators [were] flooding the country" and threatening the security and identity of the Jewish state. "This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity," he said.

Racist?  You betcha.

An Argument Even Albertans Should Understand

Even today, simply mentioning the Trudeau-era "National Energy Programme" or NEP to an Albertan is putting a match to gasoline.

Yet, in yesterday's Edmonton Journal,  the argument was made that it's now Alberta inflicting the same injustice on British Columbia with its bitumen pipelines.

"For the use of our province's land and resources, we are told we will receive a net benefit of about 500 full-time, ongoing jobs. In exchange, we must accept the risk of pipeline leaks and spills (Enbridge averages about 70 a year on their existing infrastructure), and the risk of a catastrophic tanker disaster, with losses in the tens of billions of dollars.

"We are told we should accept this project "for the good of the country." From what we can see, the only major beneficiaries of this project will be the Alberta government and the large conglomerates providing the oil. Assessments on the project indicate it is not financially viable based on phantom numbers provided by Enbridge, including an 85-cent dollar over the next 30 years.

"As a former Albertan, I remember Pierre Trudeau and his National Energy Program. Albertans, I gather, still speak of the NEP with great disdain and bitterness.

"Consider these startling similarities between the Northern Gateway pipeline and Trudeau's scheme:

"One province is told (not asked) that they should take a major hit "for the good of the country."
The province directly affected is not consulted, and concerns put forth are met with arrogance from the government and hints that opponents are not true Canadians.

"The project is forced through without any kind of a plebiscite and without any effort to negotiate an agreement between both sides."

There are similarities but it's the differences that matter even more.  The National Energy Programme never exposed Alberta to effectively permanent, ecological catastrophe.   It never threatened Alberta's major city.  Once instituted it was relatively easy to rescind.   What this Born Again Fiend is hatching carries impacts far greater than anything envisioned by Pierre Trudeau.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Amerika Exposed

We can thank Chris Hedges and his colleagues for this. They had the guts to sue Obama and Panetta to challenge the constitutionality of the National Defence Authorization Act and, at least in the initial ruling, they beat the government. Hedges provides a look into today's America that we should all find dark and disturbing.  

We filed the lawsuit, worked for hours on the affidavits, carried out the tedious depositions, prepared the case and went to trial because we did not want to be passive in the face of another egregious assault on basic civil liberties, because resistance is a moral imperative, and because, at the very least, we hoped we could draw attention to the injustice of the law. None of us thought we would win. But every once in a while the gods smile on the damned. 

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, in a 68-page opinion, ruled Wednesday that Section 1021 of the NDAA was unconstitutional. It was a stunning and monumental victory. With her ruling she returned us to a country where—as it was before Obama signed this act into law Dec. 31—the government cannot strip a U.S. citizen of due process or use the military to arrest him or her and then hold him or her in military prison indefinitely. She categorically rejected the government’s claims that the plaintiffs did not have the standing to bring the case to trial because none of us had been indefinitely detained, that lack of imminent enforcement against us meant there was no need for an injunction and that the NDAA simply codified what had previously been set down in the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act. The ruling was a huge victory for the protection of free speech. Judge Forrest struck down language in the law that she said gave the government the ability to incarcerate people based on what they said or wrote. Maybe the ruling won’t last. Maybe it will be overturned. But we and other Americans are freer today than we were a week ago. And there is something in this. 

The government lawyers, despite being asked five times by the judge to guarantee that we plaintiffs would not be charged under the law for our activities, refused to give any assurances. They did not provide assurances because under the law there were none. We could, even they tacitly admitted, be subject to these coercive measures. We too could be swept away into a black hole. And this, I think, decided the case.

...This law was, after all, not about foreign terrorism.  It was about domestic dissent.  If the state could link Occupy and other legitimate protest movements with terrorist groups (US Day of Rage suffered such an attempt), then the provisions in the NDAA could, in a period of instability, be used to "disappear" U.S. citizens into military gulags, including the government's offshore penal colonies.  And once there, stripped of due process, detainees could be held until, in the language of the law, "the end of hostilities."  In an age of permanent war that would be a lifetime.

Human existence, as I witnessed in war, is precarious and often very short.   The battles that must be fought may never be won in our lifetime.  And there will always be new battles to define our struggle.  Resistance to tyranny and evil is never ending.  It is a way, rather, of defining our brief sojourn on the planet.  Revolt, as Albert Camus reminded us, is the only acceptable definition of the moral life.  Revolt, he wrote, is "a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity.  ...It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope.  That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.'"

I think Hedges' and Camus' beliefs speak well of the challenges that face us and, particularly, our children and grandchildren in this 21st century.   Institutions we have too often taken for granted, including our very democracy, are suffering as such things inevitably do when taken for granted for too long.   Our perceived indifference to our rights and our freedoms is seen, in some quiet corners, as licence to deprive us of them, opportunity to replace them with alternatives not of our own choosing, not in our interests.   This underlies the decline of democracy and the ascendance of oligarchy marked by the fierce suppression of the middle class and the relentless expansion of the gap between rich and poor.   It is the hallmark of the evolution of corporatism and the corporatist state.   What we believe to be our rights and freedoms and what is emerging in their place cannot co-exist.  It will fall to today's young people and their children in turn to either repel these advances or else submit to them.

Well, That Was Awkward

The Olympic Torch continues to wend its way to London to open the 2012 Summer Games, sort of.  Problems began at the lighting ceremony in Greece where it blew out shortly after it was lit.  They had a backup so there was no problem.   But then, as the torch was being taken through Devon, this:

I guess they should have packed an extra can of  Sterno.

Afghan War "As We Understand It" Ends in 2014

Or at least it does according to president Obama fresh from the NATO leaders summit in Chicago.

Gen. John Allen, commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, told reporters that the recruiting of Afghan security forces is “several months ahead of schedule.” He said that would lead to a full Afghan national security force by the end of this year and a transition to Afghan forces taking the lead role in 2013.

U.S. and NATO combat troops will remain through 2014, in a supporting role but still exposed to possible combat, though the number of troops remains undecided.

For Obama, the timetable allowed him to boast that the alliance was unified behind a vision of a future after 2014 “in which we have ended our combat role, the Afghan war as we understand it is over, but our commitment to friendship and partnership with Afghanistan continues.”

But, hasn't that always been our problem, our woeful inability to understand the Afghan war?   Can't we understand that the Afghan army and the country's security forces are severely limited in their effectiveness and future prospects by the wobbly viability of the central government hunkered down in Kabul?   Can't we grasp that the very notion of central government is farcical in the face of the country's sharp ethnic divisions - Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek, Tajik, Baloch, Turkmen and others - reflected in a parallel and often conflicting and competing structure of tribalism and warlordism?   Can't we get that?    Can't we fathom that a rigged government structured on a bureaucracy, judicial system and security services that are inherently corrupt and predatory of their own people cannot bring peace to a country?  Can't we admit that Afghanistan is an utterly failed state dependent on a narco-economy that results in what Chatham House has called a "criminal nexus" of government, the drug lords and the insurgents, all drinking from the same well?  Can't we realize that, even if we had a magic wand to cure the tribalism, the warlordism, and all the malignancies that beset the central government, Afghanistan's future will be determined as much by externalities, notably Pakistan, China and Iran, as anything within the country?

The Afghan war as we understand it will indeed be over by 2014, as we understand it.

Update - for the latest on Afghanistan's opium crisis, click here.

Read more here:

It's Hard to Dance Well When You've Just Shot Yourself in the Foot

The far-right wing "think tank", the Heartland Institute, has fallen victim to its own excesses.    It crossed a critical line when it put up a billboard tying global warming belief to serial killer, Ted Kaczynski.

The billboard was taken down within a day but the damage was done - to Heartland itself.

...what had been a gradual collapse gathered pace when Heartland advertised its climate conference with a billboard on a Chicago expressway comparing believers in climate science to the Unabomber.

The slow trickle of departing corporate donors turned into a gusher.

Even Heartland insiders, such as Eli Lehrer, who headed the organisation's Washington group, found the billboard too extreme. Lehrer, who headed the biggest project within Heartland, on insurance, immediately announced his departure along with six other staff.

"The ad was ill advised," he said. "I'm a free-market conservative with a long rightwing resumé and most, if not all, of my team fits the same description and of us found it very problematic. Staying with Heartland was simply not workable in the wake of this billboard."

"It didn't reflect the seriousness which I want to bring to public policy," Lehrer said in the telephone interview. "As somebody who deals mostly with insurance I believe all risk have to be taken seriously and there certainly are some important climate and global warming related risks that must be taken account of in the insurance market. Trivialising them is not consistent with free-market thought.
Suggesting they are only thought about by people who are crazy is not good for the free market."

Other Heartland allies came to a similar conclusion. In a letter to Heartland announcing he was backing out from the conference, Ross McKitrick, a Canadian economist wrote: "You can not simultaneously say that you want to promote a debate while equating the other side to terrorists and mass murderers."

So, what's a shill think tank to do when the faithful jump ship?   Well, like many a fallen woman, Heartland took to the street corner and dropped her drawers for Big Coal and other far-right wing outfits like the Heritage Foundation.    Thus ends Heartland's boastful and persistent lie that it was not in bed with anyone.

BTW, nice to see The Guardian acknowledge one of our own, Big City Lib, for his work in chronicling Heartland's backers.

Mining Groundwater Triggering Sea Level Rise

Around the world agriculture has boomed due to groundwater irrigation.  It's a major part of how we've been keeping our mortally bloated population fed.   How much water have we been bringing to the surface from deep underground?   Trillions of tonnes of it.    And we've been pumping it up far faster than nature has been refilling, "recharging", those underground reservoirs or aquifers.   And where does it wind up?   In our oceans.

Water is a constant.   It's always somewhere, in some form, doing some thing or another.  It's been estimated that every refreshing glass of water you draw from the tap passed through some dinosaur at least four times eons ago.   Today water is held in the soil, in the air, in vegetation and other organisms or concentrated in oceans, lakes, rivers and, yes, aquifers.   

"'The water being taken from deep wells is geologically old – there is no replenishment and so it is a one way transfer into the ocean,' said sea level expert Prof Robert Nicholls, at the University of Southampton. 'In the long run, I would still be more concerned about the impact of climate change, but this work shows that even if we stabilise the climate, we might still get sea level rise due to how we use water.' He said the sea level would rise 10 metres or more if all the world's groundwater was pumped out, though he said removing every drop was unlikely because some aquifers contain salt water. The sea level is predicted to rise by 30-100cm by 2100, putting many coasts at risk, by increasing the number of storm surges that swamp cities.

"The new research was led by Yadu Pokhrel, at the University of Tokyo, and published in Nature Geoscience. 'Our study is based on a state-of-the-art model which we have extensively validated in our previous works,' he said. 'It suggests groundwater is a major contributor to the observed sea level rise.' The team's results also neatly fill a gap scientists had identified between the rise in sea level observed by tide gauges and the contribution calculated to come from melting ice.

"The drawing of water from deep wells has caused the sea to rise by an average of a millimetre every year since 1961, the researchers concluded. The storing of freshwater in reservoirs has offset about 40% of that, but the scientists warn that this effect is diminishing.

"...The researchers compared the contribution of groundwater withdrawal and reservoir storage to the more familiar causes of rising sea level: ice melted by global warming and the expansion of the ocean as it warms. The pumping out of groundwater is five times bigger in scale than the melting of the planet's two great ice caps, in Greenland and Antarctica, and twice as great as both the melting of all other glaciers and ice or the thermal expansion of seawater.

"The scale of groundwater use is as vast as it is unsustainable: over the past half century 18 trillion tonnes of water has been removed from underground aquifers without being replaced. In some parts of the world, the stores of water have now been exhausted. Saudi Arabia, for example, was self-sufficient in wheat, grown in the desert using water from deep, fossil aquifers. Now, many of the aquifers have run dry and most wheat is imported, with all growing expected to end in 2016. In northern India, the level of the water table is dropping by 4cm every year."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Beelzebub Slammed by Harvard, Smithsonian

Why is Stephen Harper like kryptonite to intelligence?   Now scientists from Harvard, the Smithsonian Institute and other top academic institutions are furious with Harper for his decision to shut down the Experimental Lakes Area programme.

"I was pretty shocked," said Harvard University aquatic sciences Prof. Elsie Sunderland. "This is one of the foremost research projects and places to do research in the world. To have it shut down is just appalling. It's just embarrassing."

Before moving to Harvard, Sunderland, originally from Nova Scotia, worked for years creating policy at the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Research done at the experimental lakes on the effects of mercury on fish and waterways was discussed at the highest levels of the EPA and helped form the basis of new regulations on coal-fired power plant emissions. Those new rules became official in December.

Work on the lakes has also led to continent-wide policy shifts on acid rain, changes to the way hydro dams are built, a ban on phosphorus in detergents and huge advancements in the battle against the green algae that fouls Lake Winnipeg beaches every summer.

Scientists deliberately pollute all or part of a lake to measure the long-term effects on an entire complex ecosystem, allowing a huge breadth of research that could never be done by studying piecemeal samples of mud and water. Then, they let the lake return to its natural state.

This summer, ELA staff and researchers from Trent University were slated to begin a new long-term project on the effects of nanoparticles, an emerging multi-billion-dollar technology, on waterways and fish.

Specifically, scientists were planning to add micro-particles of silver, woven now into socks and underwear to kill bacteria, to a lake to measure the effects on the ecology.

Federal officials say the ELA no longer "aligned with the department's mandate and is not responding to our research priorities." Ottawa hopes a university or the provinces will take over funding the project.

Our Born Again Dark Ager really can't stomach science, especially if it's environmental science.  Maybe it's those small, beady eyes scrunched so close together.

Dan Rather Slams Corporate Media

They've taken over in the States and they've done the same thing in Canada.   In both countries our democracy is in peril due to the ascendancy of media giants pursuing corporatist agendas.   The media that is supposed to serve the public as the watchdog of government instead betrays the public to become the government's lapdog.

The next government of Canada, be it NDP, Liberal or a coalition, must move to pry loose the chokehold that the corporate media has at our public's throat.  We must break up these cartels and force divestiture if we're to have any hope of shoring up real democracy in Canada.

The Petro-Politburo Strikes Again

This time the malevolent hand of Steve Harper is obvious.

The entire Department of Fisheries and Oceans contaminants programme is being axed effective April Fool's Day.   In B.C. that means the entire staff of nine marine scientists and support staff are being canned.   Across Canada, this is the firing of almost all federal employees responsible for monitoring ocean pollution.

The entire pollution file for the government of Canada, and marine environment in Canada’s three oceans, will be overseen by five junior biologists scattered across the country — one of which will be stationed in B.C.,” said environmental toxicologist Peter Ross., a expert on marine mammals, notably killer whales.

“I cannot think of another industrialized nation that has completely excised marine pollution from its radar,” Ross said. Hired as a research scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 1999, Ross was one of the nine employees who received a letter Thursday informing him his position will be “affected as your services may no longer be required due to a lack of work or discontinuance of a function.”

Any doubt that this was a targeted hit was dispelled, totally unintentionally, by a DFO spokesperson trying to polish this turd.

Between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, we have found $79.3 million of savings for Canadians primarily by adjusting our internal operations and administration,” said Melanie Carkner, a spokesperson for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, in an e-mail, Friday.

“To put the impact on employees in perspective, we will be removing about 400 positions from DFO’s 11,000-strong workforce. This works out to less than 2 per cent a year over three years.”

Okay Melanie, DFO needs to trim a paltry 2% of its workforce over the next two years, we get that.  And it starts by immediately axing the entire contaminants monitoring programme?    Sorry sweetie, that's a targeted hit and you made that obvious.


China's Next Cold Warriors?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization made a lot of sense when it was an alliance of North Atlantic nations to mutually defend the security of North Atlantic nations.   Notice the emphasis on "North Atlantic"?

With the demise of the Soviet Union, NATO's raison d'etre, the alliance lost its focus.   It opened its membership rolls to most of Eastern Europe, the old Warsaw Pact states, advancing its frontiers right to the Russian border.  

NATO moved on to Balkanization, waging a bombing campaign against Serbia.   There was nothing particularly defensive about that.   Then came 9/11.   Under Article 5 of the NATO Charter, the founding members, or most of them, came to the defence of the United States by supporting the conquest and occupation of Afghanistan although most declined America's invitation to do the follow-up conquest and occupation of Iraq.

More recently NATO air forces intervened in Libya to bomb Gaddafi forces and enable the rebellion to topple their murderous dictator.   Again nothing particularly defensive about that.

Now there's a move afoot to cajole NATO into joining the Pentagon's "pivot" into Asia, a polite way of describing poking China's panda with a sharp stick.   That's part and parcel of the F-35 deal but we'll leave that for another day.

Perhaps this is a good time to ask if we're setting ourselves and our alliance up for a global military version of Groundhog Day?  Are we backing ourselves into another American led fiasco or maybe even a series of them?   We know how Iraq turned out.   We know all too well where Afghanistan's heading.   We have seen how much and how very little "all the King's men and all the King's horses" can deliver.

There's a faint whiff of "1984" in all this.   The first true, Permanent Warfare State (PWS), in which military force has replaced diplomacy as the principal instrument of foreign policy, lining up its minions (us) like ducks in a row, to perpetuate conflict in the remotest corners of the world.   Did Orwell write this script?   An ascendant oligarchy, corporate media implementing a form of mind control, pervasive public surveillance.  I dunno, sounds eerily similar to me.

We must also bear in mind the legacy of the Bush Doctrine.  It stood for unilateralism, "preventative" war (i.e. illegal war), and regime change.   Thus spake Incurious George:

 "...the first duty of the United States Government remains what it always has been: to protect the American people and American interests. It is an enduring American principle that this duty obligates the government to anticipate and counter threats, using all elements of national power, before the threats can do grave damage. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack."

Recall that this perverse doctrine prescribed that America would not tolerate and expressly reserved the right to use military force to prevent any other nation or group of nations achieving economic or military superiority to the United States.   Hmm, what nation would be on the verge of achieving economic superiority to the United States?   And what is "military superiority" anyway?  Perhaps you should ask some defiant Afghan tribesman armed with a Korean War vintage assault rifle and a RPG.

Are we going to sign on to that?   And if you think Obama has rescinded the Bush Doctrine, think again.  I'm pretty sure President Mitt would find it to his liking too.

And then there's the matter of money.   Canada is being criticized for failing to meet the NATO member committment to spend 2% of GDP on our military.   We currently come in slightly below 1.5%.   Yet we're hard pressed to find the funds necessary to meet our "Canada First" defence priority.   Money spent on equipment, personnel and operations as part of America's Foreign Legion is money we don't have to provide for the security and defence of Canada.

It may have passed unnoticed by the Canadian public but Washington's Asian sabre-rattling has been heavily escalated by the Obama administration.   The military leaders of China and the United States now wargame battles between themselves.   And, by all accounts, the Chinese are decidedly hostile and in the mood for a scrap.  Quite recently US forces staged Operation Chimichanga,  a live-fire stealth bombing campaign simulating a first strike to obliterate Chinese air defences.   It's sort of like Japan putting on, in public, a full dress rehearsal of its attack on Pearl Harbour.  And next month we'll have RimPac2012, a multi-national (i.e. America and the Seven Dwarfs) naval and air exercise staged right in China's maritime back yard.   And the Chinese aren't taking this lying down either.   In fact we may be about to unpack a new Cold War.

It might just be too late to arrest this transformation of NATO.   Canadians are certainly not alive to the issues.   Their image of NATO is fixed in the alliance of half a century ago.   Now when we most need the NDP to take up the challenge, that NDP is, like the NATO we once respected, a thing of the past.

Is It Merely Gross Incompetence or Something Truly Sinister?

Just what does Steve Harper have against British Columbia?

He's hell bent on ruining our pristine coasts with bitumen supertanker traffic routed through some of the most treacherous waters in the world.   He relies on oil spill recovery vessels that can't operate in bad weather and are only effective on surface spills, useless against a tar product that doesn't float.  He's moved the oil spill action centre from our coast to Quebec.  But now, there's more.

The Harper regime has decided to inflict a little cost-cutting on the Canadian Coast Guard.   He's paring the existing four stations - Victoria, Tofino, Comox and Prince Rupert - down to just two, Victoria and Prince Rupert, north and south or bottom and top if you like.

Here's the thing.   The Victoria and Prince Rupert Coast Guard installations are both in tsunami zones.   When the "Big One" hits, sometime between now and a hundred years hence, it's likely that Victoria and Prince Rupert will be knocked out.

The one Coast Guard station that isn't in a tsunami zone, Comox, is to be closed by decree of the Prince of Darkness.   That one also happens to be adjacent to the only real Air Force base in British Columbia where all our aerial search and rescue assets are situated.

British Columbians will never need the Coast Guard more than we will when the next tsunami sweeps our coast.   Unfortunately that's when we won't have a Coast Guard.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Chomsky on Plutonomy and America's Growing Precariat

Noam Chomsky chronicles the ascent of America's Plutonomy, the ultra rich and the economic and political power they have sucked out of the American state, and their dependence on a rapidly growing American Precariat, the great unwashed now stripped of their last vestiges of either economic or political power.   The article has been making the rounds through AlterNet and other sites but if you haven't read it you really should and you can find it through this link to al Jazeera.   I think Chomsky has neatly summed up what will become the struggle for the survival of democracy itself in the 21st Century.

In War, There Are Goals and There Are Goals

Germany achieved its war goals on May 7, 1945 when it signed the instruments of surrender at Reims, France.   Germany's goal at that point was to end the war it had sparked six years earlier with the invasion of Poland.

There are countless books detailing Germany's war goals in 1939, and its war goals in 1940, and in 1941, 1942, 1943, and 1944 and again in 1945.    Suffice to say that, over those six years, Germany's goals expanded and then contracted.

Keep that in mind this weekend when NATO bigwigs meet to work out how to leave Afghanistan.  It sort of echoes in this comment from Obama National Security Advisor Tom Donilon:

"So Chicago is a critical milestone in the next step towards a responsible ending of this war, towards our achieving, very importantly, our goals in this effort in Afghanistan," Donilon said in his briefing on the NATO Summit.
Like Germany in WWII, our end of war goals bear little resemblance to our goals going into the Afghan war.   Our hopes of "achieving, very importantly, our [initial] goals" in Afghanistan were dashed years ago.   Democracy, liberty, human rights - failed.   Ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban - failed.   Exterminating al Qaeda - failed.

At this point it's not likely we'll have any clear statement of our exit goals.   At least we won't have to sign an instrument of surrender to stop fighting.

Who Will Become White America's Sidekick?

It finally happened.  For the first time, of all the babies born in America, white babies were a minority.

For the year ending July, 2011, white babies tallied just 49.6% with the remaining 50.4% being those of colour whether Hispanic, black, Asian, native American or mixed.   With the increasing popularity of mixed marriage and the influx of non-white immigrants and a somewhat higher, non-white reproductive rate, white America is slowly breeding itself out of existence.   Crackers is gonna be hard to come by 'fore long.

But if the financial bastion of white America, a.k.a. corporate America, is any indication, they won't go down without a fight.   One thing I suspect we'll see, and sooner rather than later, will be an effort by white America to recruit a non-white group to bolster its numbers.   Who is the least worrisome, wealthiest and most attractive group to white America?  Why, I'm thinking that'd be the Asians - Japanese, Chinese, Korean-Americans, the lot.   And did I mention they're really good at math?

It won't be a matter of lowering walls for Asian-Americans.   They're already pretty much down.  The focus, I suspect, will be on raising walls to insulate White/Asian-America from the riff-raff.  I think that white-America wants Asian-America in its camp at least as much out of fear of what the alternative would mean.

Steve Mixes Business with Pleasure

The business part is selling bitumen sludge to China, as much and as fast as possible.   The pleasure part is playing Commander-in-Chief and sending Canadian forces to distant corners of the world for a bit of muscle-flexing.   In this case it's RimPac2012, the largest international naval exercise in the world, right in China's maritime backyard.

And Canada isn't making a token appearance either.   The forces we're sending -  destroyers, frigates, even CF-18s - will make our presence second only to the U.S.

"China's antipathy toward this exercise may explain why highly informed Canadian reporters, such as David Pugliese of Defence Watch, have complained of an almost total clampdown on information about Canada's impressive participation.

"The federal government no doubt finds it a bit sensitive to be wooing Chinese business interests one moment, while embracing efforts to contain China's naval ambitions the next.

"Of course the 22 nations, which are sending 47 surface ships and subs as well as possibly 200 aircraft and 25,000 personal, deny that their combined five-week exercises, beginning June 29, has China's rapidly expanding navy in mind.

"But no one is fooled, least of all Beijing.

"China and North Korea are the only countries excluded from the exercise — at Washington's insistence. Even Russia is to take part for the first time."

According to the CBC's Brian Stewart, Canada is even sending along HMCS Victoria, the recently rehabilitated Upholder-class sub we got years ago from Britain and promptly docked for repairs.

The Humiliation of Canada Continues - Rio+20

Sending foreign affairs minister John Baird as Canada's frontman to the Rio+20 Earth Summit next month sends the world a pretty clear message - "forget it."   It proclaims that, to the Harper regime, even at this critical point, climate change is primarily a political problem, not a pressing existential threat to humanity.

The Guardian has a lovely piece today on our For-Aff loudmouth and his explanation for cutting the funding for the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy.

"Baird told reporters that Canadian taxpayers should not have to pay for an organisation that has produced 10 reports promoting a carbon tax – "something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected".

"'But that's not correct,' the Roundtable's CEO, David McLaughlin, told the Guardian on Thursday, adding that it had never advocated a carbon tax but had looked at cap and trade for regulating Canada's greenhouse gas emissions in a 2009 report commissioned by the government. 'Which was government policy at the time,' said McLaughlin.

"McLaughlin, a former chief of staff to federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, stressed there was always original analysis in its reports, making available information that would not otherwise be in the public domain. McLaughlin also pointed to the Roundtable's ability to combine research while convening people from industry as well as the environmental sector together."

That the Ginger-Pig can lie so effortlessly about killing off the NRTEE suggests what we can expect when he gets to work derailing efforts at meaningful action at Rio+20.  We'll know his work is done when Canada's humiliation is complete.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cons Shoot the Messenger

They told the truth the Government didn't want to hear.   They had to go.

"They" are the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.   The message advocated introduction of a carbon tax to reduce emissions.   For that the independent advisory group's funding has been axed.

Environment Minister Peter Kent had initially said the reason for the closure was because such research can now be easily accessed through the Internet, and through universities and other think tanks.

But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Monday the shuttering of the round table had more to do with the content of the research itself.

"'Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected? That is a message the Liberal Party just will not accept,' Baird said in response to a question by Liberal Leader Bob Rae during question period.

"'It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government. No discussion of a carbon tax that would kill and hurt Canadian families.'"

When exactly have Canadians "repeatedly rejected" a carbon tax?  When were they ever given the opportunity?  Dion, in opposition, tried to raise the idea once but it died in an electoral ambush. 

What are these characters, North Koreans?   The entire Harper cabinet functions like a politbureau.  If the message doesn't "agree with the government," it's off with their heads.   What's next, a gulag?  

How Many Canadian Soldiers Have Been "Pulped"?

Among soldiers there's a slang word for it, "pulped."  It's used to describe the brain injury sustained from exposure to improvised explosive device blasts.

Now there's a medical acronym for pulped, "CTE" or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.   And it's estimated that one in five US veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may have it.

Whereas PTSD is a mental illness, marked by unwelcome flashbacks and anguish, CTE is a progressive neurodegerative brain disorder characterized by abnormal protein deposits that eventually kill brain cells and thus cause cognitive declines, including loss of memory and the ability to learn as well as depression. 

These researchers say they have demonstrated that exposure to a single blast equivalent to that generated by a typical improvised explosive device (IED) can result in CTE and long-term brain impairments that accompany the disease. The research, published online Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, also indicates that soldiers are injured by more than just the initial shock wave of very high air pressure following a blast. An IED's secondary "blast wind," a huge volume of displaced air flooding at high pressure back into the vacuum, can also damage the brain and lead to long-term consequences such as CTE. The blast wind created by an IED can reach a velocity of more than 530 kilometers per hour. Winds from a category 5 hurricane (the most severe), by comparison, reach about 250 kilometers per hour.

For their study, the researchers analyzed postmortem brain tissue from four military service members who were known to have been injured by a blast or had a concussive injury. The scientists compared that tissue with brain tissue samples from three young amateur American football players and a professional wrestler, all of whom had a history of repetitive concussive injury, and with four samples from comparably aged control subjects with no history of blast exposure, concussive injury or neurological disease. The signs of CTE (which can only be diagnosed postmortem) in the brains of blast-exposed military veterans were indistinguishable from those found in the deceased athletes.

But here's the rub.   A soldier can't prove he or she has CTE.  That can only be confirmed through an autopsy.   And once wars are over, particularly if they don't end in stunning victories, messed up veterans really don't hold much residual interest for the political classes.   This sort of thing is more likely to wind up as a law enforcement/criminal justice problem.   Don't believe me?   Ask anyone from the family of a disabled veteran.

Is David Frum Making Sense?

I don't often agree with David Frum's take on the world but he has his moments.

Lately Frum has been taking a critical look at America's ruling class.  While he maintains that the elite will also gravitate to positions of leadership, he argues that today's ruling class are exploiting their positions for their personal advantage evidenced by the ascent of oligarchy.

In My Day

Okay, I hope I can put off full-blown geezerdom for another decade, maybe even two, but I'm becoming resigned to one day sharing a park bench with the equally decrepit and whiling away an afternoon reminiscing about the good old days.

Surely every generation does that.   They look at the up and coming younger generation with a mixture of envy, resentment and sympathy.   My elders did/do it but I expect in a way unique to their own experiences.   After all, they endured the Great Depression and WWII and emerged to form a new Canada with a strong middle class and widespread opportunity and prosperity.

The generation or two that followed pretty much took what was handed them on a platter and enjoyed the unprecedented opportunity and prosperity, even taking it pretty much for granted.  That probably accounts for the ease by which we consider ourselves aggrieved today.

But when it comes my turn to sit that bench, I expect we'll look at the next generation of youth with far more sympathy and far less envy than preceding generations.   "In my day" will no longer be code for unappreciated sacrifice.   No, it will be used to conjure memories of the Nirvana we once had that is no more and never will be.  We will look at these kids and realize they will never have the carefree 60s or the buoyant 70s or the easy affluence of the 80s and 90s.  They will have no experience of the world before constant growth finally sent it slamming into walls.   And, for that, they are to be pitied.

Automakers Tied to Slave Labour, Deforestation

Big names too - Ford, GM, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan.  They're all in the spotlight for buying Brazilian pig iron produced in blast furnaces fueled by illegal logging using slave labour.

Reports over the past decade from the Brazilian government, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and the US Department of Labour have indicated that charcoal used by many pig iron suppliers in the Amazonian state of Pará was obtained through forced labour and illegal logging of protected and indigenous lands.

A new report by Greenpeace uses customs data to link eight international companies to two major Brazilian exporters of pig iron, Viena Siderurgica do Maranhão (Viena) and Siderúrgica do Pará (Sidepar), that the green group says are linked through the supply chain to charcoal suppliers with histories of buying from illegal camps and concealing illicit behaviour.

Ford, General Motors, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan are all linked through a Severstal steel mill in Columbus, Mississippi, that buys from Viena and Severstal, while John Deere and ThyssonKrupp are linked through foundries supplied by the Illinois-based National Material Trading, a metal broker that sources from Viena. Two other metal brokers, Environmental Materials Corporation in Pennsylvania and a division of Cargill in Minnesota were also said by Greenpeace to have imported pig iron from Viena.

"By buying this steel, these well-known brands are helping to destroy the Amazon," said Greenpeace Brazil Amazon campaign director Paulo Adario in a statement. "President Dilma [Rousseff] must protect the Amazon and the people who depend on it by ending deforestation, slavery and the invasion of indigenous lands."

All They Need is a Cup of Fine British Hemlock

Latest Banksy Graffiti
in London

Where do these rightwingers get their Messianic complexes?   Brit Conservative PM David Cameron has a message for his European counterparts, "Follow me."   Cameron says Europe needs to adopt his own "pro-business, pro-growth agenda" by copying his own tough austerity policies that have plunged Britain back into recession, assuring no growth, just the opposite.

Facts don't matter to these types because belief defines their truth, not results.   If they believe something, it has to be true.   That's the same mental infirmity that afflicts our own ruler, Harper.

And, when things don't go their way, when unemployment continues to rise as growth turns into retraction, they have a pat answer - if you're unemployed, leave, just go away.

The Monster Shows His Black Heart

The Face of Pure Evil
 Former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic on trial for genocide in the murder of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims as well as the 10,000 who were killed in the seige of Srebrenica, revealed himself the face of pure evil while on trial before the International Criminal Court in the Hague:

"THE gesture was slow, deliberate and aimed at the bereaved mother in the public gallery - two fingers pressed together and drawn in a cutting motion across his throat.

"It was in this way that Ratko Mladic - the man known as the ''Butcher of Bosnia'' - addressed one of those who had come to see him face justice.

"...For his victims, memories of Mladic came back when he caught the eye of members of the Mothers of Srebrenica sitting in the courtroom in The Hague. Using the cutthroat sign he looked at Munira Subasic, 65, whose son and 21 other relatives were killed by Bosnian Serb soldiers under Mladic's command.

'''It brought me immediately back to 1995 and Srebrenica and I saw that this war criminal had not changed at all … he wants to kill us again,'' she said after the hearing. Mrs Subasic recalled the day when she had first looked into the eyes of Mladic while begging him to stop his soldiers taking her teenage son away with them.

'''I saw the same murderer, who is proud of the things he has done there.'''

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Beijing As The Sopranos?

It sounds like a scene straight out of a gangster movie.   A new gang looks to take over a rival's territory.   Thugs show up at a store and tell the merchant it'd be a shame if anything happened to his business but they can make sure he's protected - for a price.   The shopkeeper, caught between two rival gangs, has to make a decision that might cost him his business or even his life.

This time the upstart gang is China and the territory is Australia.   The none too subtle message is that it's time for Australia to find a new "godfather" and ditch U.S. protection for Chinese.

"AUSTRALIA must find a ''godfather'' to protect it and cannot juggle its relationships with the US and China indefinitely, according to a prominent Chinese defence strategist.

"The warning by Song Xiaojun, a former People's Liberation Army senior officer, comes after the Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, was told by his opposite number that Australia's close military alliance with the US was an outdated throwback to the Cold War era - an issue raised in two other meetings with senior Chinese officials.

'''Australia has to find a godfather sooner or later,' Mr Song told the Herald yesterday. ''Australia always has to depend on somebody else, whether it is to be the 'son' of the US or 'son' of China.
''[It] depends on who is more powerful and based on the strategic environment.'''

Mr Song said Australia was dependant on exporting iron ore to China ''to feed itself'' but that it had not done enough to engage with the middle kingdom.

'Frankly, it has not done well politically,'' Mr Song said."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why Do We Live in Denial?

When was the last time you heard a world leader so much as acknowledge that, as a species, man is consuming renewable resources 50% faster than Earth can replenish them?   Renewables, you know - clean water, clean air, biomass (including all the stuff on your dinner plate, all of it).   Collectively, everyone from Americans to Somalians, we're now dipping into our planet's reserves, eating our seed corn, to get through four months of consumption annually.

How can that be possible?   It's easy.   We turn to on our planet's basic stocks.   We fell our forests.  We collapse our fisheries.   We drain our aquifers.   We exhaust our farmland, transforming it into sterile desert.  We've put the Earth store into a giant "going out of business" sale.   You know it's true.  It's visible to the naked eye from space.   And, as stocks of so many things run low, we respond with new technologies and systems to make our depredations even more efficient, ever more rapacious.

World Wildlife Fund International, Global Footprint Network and the Zoological Society of London have released a report, "The Living Planet Report", that's especially tough on people like Canadians, the heavy-hitters of resource consumption.   The report notes that, for all the people of the world to live at Canadian standards, would require 3.5-planet Earth's worth of resources.

"Clearly, the current system of human development, based on increased consumption and a reliance on fossil fuels, combined with a growing human population and poor overall management and governance of natural resources, is unsustainable," said the report, now in its ninth edition.

"Many countries and populations already face a number of risks from biodiversity loss, degraded ecosystem services and climate change."

The Global Footprint Network has for several years tracked "overshoot", a term that means consumption of resources at rates greater than Earth's replenishment rate.  In 2011, they pegged "Earth Overshoot Day" at 27 September.   That's when, had we been limited to the resources actually renewed annually, we would have been out of stuff.   And each passing year sees Overshoot Day arrive earlier.   The rate at which we're consuming our seed corn is accelerating.

"Swelling population, mass migration to cities, increasing energy use and soaring carbon dioxide emissions mean humanity is putting a greater squeeze on the planet's resources then ever before. Particularly hard hit is the diversity of animals and plants, upon which many natural resources such as clean water are based.

"The latest Living Planet report, published on Tuesday, estimates that global demand for natural resources has doubled since 1996 and that it now takes 1.5 years to regenerate the renewable resources used in one year by humans. By 2030, the report predicts it will take the equivalent of two planets to meet the current demand for resources.

"Most alarming, says the report, is that many of these changes have accelerated in the past decade, despite the plethora of international conventions signed since the initial Rio Summit in 1992. Climate-warming carbon emissions have increased 40% in the past 20 years, but two-thirds of that rise occurred in the past decade."

Unfortunately we are all firmly tied to a growth-driven civilization.   It's as though we figure the answer to emphysema is to smoke an extra 20 a day.   Sort of like the "Cancer cures cigarette smoking" line.

And there's a compelling reason our leaders won't reject our growth-driven civilization.   That motivation is fear of what would follow in its wake.   Without adherence to the growth-model, pretty much everything goes out the window.   All our economic, social and even political models become obsolete, more or less irrelevant.   That's what happens when everybody's bottom has to find a place at the table.   You squeeze in.   Those who found a spacious spot at the outset now have to settle for the cramped conditions everyone else has to live with.    Dinner for six really can be transformed into dinner for twelve only nobody will be leaving the table bloated.

Somewhere, I'm convinced, lies the moment of change - the conditions or instrument of enlightenment necessary for change of the magnitude necessary.   Unfortunately, on the timeline of change, intervening and decidedly unenlightened events may happen first.  Two possibilities are environmental collapse on a regional, continental or almost hemispheric scale and, the second, war on a currently unforeseeable scale.   And it is along those paths, collapse and war, that today's political leadership is taking us.   Individually and collectively, they're just not up to challenges of this magnitude.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fixin' to Execute Steve Staley

As though sane people are short of reasons to decry capital punishment.

Steve Staley may be the new poster boy for state barbarism.   Stanley is on Death Row in Texas for the 1989 murder of a restaurant manager he shot while trying to elude police.

Steve has been mentally disturbed since childhood.  "He has a long history of paranoid schizophrenia and depression. Staley was abused as a child by his mother, who was also mentally ill; when he was 6 or 7 she tried to pound a wooden stake through his chest. His father was an alcoholic. Staley tried to kill himself as a teenager. Doctors who have examined Staley on death row have said that he talks in a robot-like monotone yet has “grandiose and paranoid” delusions, including the beliefs that he invented the first car and marketed a character from Star Trek. He has given himself black eyes and self-inflicted lacerations and has been found spreading feces and covered with urine. Medicated with the anti-psychotic drug Haldol, Staley complained of paralysis and sometimes appeared to be in a catatonic state. He has worn a bald spot on the back of his head from lying on the floor of his cell."

The problem facing the Texas courts right now is a U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibiting execution of the insane.

"The court quoted British judges in the 17th century worrying about the “miserable spectacle” of “extream (sic) inhumanity and cruelty” presented by executing a “mad man.” It served no retributive purpose, Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote, to execute a person “who has no comprehension of why he has been singled out.” He also noted “the natural abhorrence civilized societies feel at killing one who has no capacity to come to grips with his own conscience or deity.”

When Staley stopped taking his meds, a Texas judge found him incompetent, unfit for execution, and then overcame that problem by authorizing the state to forcibly medicate the condemned.

"...the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association hold that it is ethically unacceptable for doctors to prescribe drugs to restore competency for the purpose of execution. This should be an easy call for the Texas courts as well. If it’s awful to imagine psychotic prisoners going without their meds, it’s more awful to force shots on them so the state can kill them. If Texas fails to grasp this, other inmates will follow Steven Staley. Mental illness is common on death row. The only reason that the issues raised in Staley’s case haven’t been decided before, defense lawyers tell me, is that humane prosecutors and judges don’t insist on executing people whose sanity is so uncertain."
Staley is scheduled to be executed next week, if Texas authorities can drug him adequately by then so they can then drug him again and kill him.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Accepting Failure in Afghanistan

We went in full of self-righteous anger, the images of jetliners flying into office towers burned into our brains.   The idea was to eradicate al-Qaeda and topple the Taliban government that had sheltered them and it all seemed to happen in an instant save, perhaps, for the part about exterminating al-Qaeda.

When we found ourselves in desperate need of a second act, we struck upon a narrative about bringing peace, democracy and human rights to the Afghan people.   We were going to give the Afghans a real stake in something that they would cherish and want to defend to prevent those Talibs from sneaking back.

We spent years trying to pull off that conjuring act because, after all, we were never offering the Afghan people more than an illusion of peace, democracy and human rights, one we tried to buy on the cheap.   We never invested enough troops and money to secure the country, not even close.   Those troops and that treasure needed to secure Afghanistan was squandered in Iraq instead.  And so we had no choice but to fall back on the old warlord structure that, in a nation as wracked with ethnic tensions and tribalism, guaranteed that the place would loosely hold together right up until the day we left.

Now we're getting ready to pull out of Afghanistan.   At least most of the coalition is doing that.   It's unclear what Canada is doing.   Our Ruler says he'll make up his mind on that one sometime next year.

The Americans want to wind things down but, then again, they want many things including a deal with the Taliban that will simply stop the civil war.   Plan B is to just hand over the war to Afghan forces we've laboured so hard to train and equip.   We've trained hundreds of thousands of them in only twice the same time it took us to fight and win WWII.  So now the plan is to have the Afghans step up so we can step down.   And how's that going?

According to The Washington Post, it's not going all that well.

Afghan commanders have refused more than a dozen times within the past two months to act on U.S. intelligence regarding high-level insurgents, arguing that night-time operations to target the men would result in civilian casualties, Afghan officials say.

The defiance highlights the shift underway in Afghanistan as Afghan commanders make use of their newfound power to veto operations proposed by their NATO counterparts.

Hey, what's this?   Don't they know that we know what's best for them?  Apparently not.

But the resistance to American guidance on night operations represents the clearest indication to date that Afghan military commanders are heeding a directive from President Hamid Karzai last month. Just a day after signing a 10-year bilateral agreement with the United States, Karzai said Afghan soldiers should discard questionable information provided by the U.S. military.

“If you have any doubt about an American intelligence report, do not conduct any operation based on it,” he told officials at the Interior Ministry.

And the latest trend, Green on Blue attacks on Western troops by their Afghan counterparts, continues.   Two British servicemen were killed Saturday in an attack by two Afghans in Afghan Police uniforms while guarding a meeting with local leaders at a patrol base.

American forces are now gearing up for what is expected to be their last major campaign of the Afghan war in Ghazni province.

Instead of trying to reform the Afghan government, protect the civilian population and conduct security operations until Afghan forces are ready to take over — all of which Americans sought to do as recently as last year — a newly arrived brigade from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division plans to spend the summer attacking Taliban redoubts before departing in mid-September, regardless of whether Afghan soldiers are capable of holding their own.

The last of six American commanders, General John Allen, is overseeing the effort to get American forces out of combat in Afghanistan.

Unlike his predecessors, who had the luxury of troops and money, he has been forced to triage. He has narrowed targets for the development of local government, the pursuit of graft and the development of the country’s economy. His pragmatic focus is on the one prerequisite for America to head to the exits, as defined by the White House: Afghan security forces that are strong enough to keep the Taliban, which continues to enjoy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, from toppling the Kabul government. Although much of the Afghan army remains raggedy, with weak leadership and persistent supply shortages, he is betting that shifting responsibility sooner will increase the odds that Afghans will be able to stand their ground once the U.S. presence shrinks.

That sounds like wishful thinking but, at this point, General Allen has to play the crappy cards he's been dealt and the highest card he's holding is hope that it won't go all to hell.

Allen’s predicament has no equivalent in modern American warfare.

In Iraq, U.S. troops departed in a far less violent environment. In Vietnam, Creighton Abrams, the general who presided over America’s withdrawal, had more troops at his disposal and more time to transfer responsibility to local forces.

By the early 1970s, according to historian Lewis Sorley, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu’s government was more effective, and the country’s army was more competent, than Karzai’s administration and the Afghan security forces are today. Allen “has a much more difficult job,” said Sorley, the author of “A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam.”

Allen, 58, is an avid reader of military histories and sees the Vietnam analogies — the insurgent safe havens across a national border, the plummeting public support back home — but he is studying a different withdrawal: that of the Soviets from Afghanistan in 1989.

“We’re fighting on the same ground,” he noted.

Afghanistan’s Communist government remained in power through the pullout, falling only three years later, after the Soviet Union collapsed and its economic aid to Kabul ended. To Allen, that fact argues for sustained American assistance to Afghanistan, particularly to pay for its army and police, which will grow to a combined strength of 352,000 this year.

In some ways Allen is having to ad lib the closing act of our Afghan war.   He figures the West will need to fund the Afghan Army and Afghan National Police to the tune of $4-billion a year indefinitely even as other nations, like China, saunter in to exploit Afghanistan's considerable mineral wealth all on our security tab.   No matter how much lipstick you put on it, staging a chequebook withdrawal from Afghanistan is simply a drawn out admission of defeat.