Thursday, January 31, 2013

Must-Read Posts Today

If you want to understand what we're up against in resisting the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan plans, you must read Ray Grigg's expose on Harper in the Common Sense Canadian.  The bastard we have as a prime minister is plainly diabolical and ready, willing and able to inflict harm on Canada and the world.

Richard at Canadian Trends shows how corporatism and petro-politics are playing hell with Alberta's economy and its provincial budget.  Much of what he writes could apply to your province too.   Also read Richard's take on why Alberta's petro-economy is a ship that has sailed.   And don't pass up his response to Premier Alison Redford's fireside chat fantasy.

These are great posts, really fine analysis, and you'll get a lot out of them.   When you're finished you'll understand that it takes someone with a mind as warped as Steve Harper's to push through these pipelines.

What Chuck Hagel Knows

The Brothers Hagel

Obama's Republican nominee for Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, is getting mauled in his confirmation hearings by his former colleagues like Ol' Grumpy (John McCain).  Obama has praised Hagel as a Vietnam combat veteran today's soldiers can follow.

Hagel was an outspoken critic of Bush's war on Iraq (although he reluctantly voted for it initially) and he plans to steer America clear of entanglement in the Sahara.   His views have rubbed former colleagues like Senator "Bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb, bomb Iran" McCain the wrong way.

In 1968, while McCain was being held in a North Vietnamese POW camp, Hagel and his brother, Tom, were combat infantrymen serving in the same unit.   They fought together, saved each other's life, and came back deeply divided on the Vietnam war.   Tom opposed the war, Chuck defended it.  They eventually reconciled and were interviewed about their experience by Myra McPherson.

...Chuck Hagel’s vision of the war is far more brutal than most Americans imagine.  That his experience of Vietnam would include such incidents should hardly be surprising, especially given the fact that Hagel served in the 9th Infantry Division under one of the most notorious U.S. commanders, Julian Ewell, known more colorfully as “the Butcher of the Delta.”

The Hagel brothers, MacPherson recounts in her moving and important historyLong Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation, argued over whether American troops were “murdering” people.  Chuck disagreed at first, pointing instead to the depredations of Vietnamese revolutionary forces.  Tom reminded his brother of the CIA’s Phoenix Program which, with an estimated body count of more than 20,000 Vietnamese, too often turned murderous and was no less regularly used by corrupt Vietnamese government officials to settle personal grudges.  “There was some of that,” Chuck finally granted.

Tom then raised an example that hit closer to home -- the time, after an enemy attack, when a sergeant from their unit took out his frustrations on a nearby orphanage.  “Remember the orphanage, Chuck… That sergeant was so drunk and so pissed off that he crawled up on that track [armored personnel carrier] and opened up on that orphanage with a fifty-caliber machine gun,” Tom said.

When Chuck started to object, MacPherson writes, his brother was insistent.  “Chuck, you were there!  Down at the bottom of the sandhill.”  Skeptically, Chuck asked his brother if he was saying the sergeant had “slaughtered children in the orphanage.”  Tom granted that he didn’t know for sure, “because none of us went in to check.”  Chuck responded, “In any war you can take any isolated incident…”

But the war Tom Hagel detailed to MacPherson wasn’t one punctuated by a few isolated “incidents.”  He would talk about officers ordering the mutilation of enemy dead and soldiers shooting up and burning down a village, about how helicopter gunships and napalm decimated large areas of the countryside, about the lethality of indiscriminate weapons fire and about coming upon the bodies of women and children when firefights were over.  He also recounted, in detail, a July 1968 assault on a “hardcore” enemy village in which their unit took part.  After the battle had ended, he said, a lieutenant shot and killed a civilian in cold blood.  “We’re collecting all the NVA [North Vietnamese Army] bodies and this woman walks out of a hootch.  He just shot her dead,” Tom recalled.

Recently, MacPherson wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in support of Chuck Hagel’s bid to serve as Secretary of Defense: “His experience has taught him the physical and mental toll of combat.  He would surely think twice before sending young men and women into unnecessary, stupid, or unwinnable conflicts... One thing I know: Chuck Hagel will stand up to whatever is thrown at him.” 

I hope she's right and I think she probably is.   I've known a number of veterans of that war, all of them enlisted guys and I think most of them had the war-monger pretty much erased out of them.

Today in Sarah Palin News


By now you probably know that Sarah Palin's 3-year gig at FOX News is over.   Seems she's now been consigned to GlennBeckistan.

But luminaries like Palin don't "just fade away" like old generals.  No, their passing is the subject of much observation and reflection.

For example, AlterNet did a retrospective on Palin's FOX gig that tallied everything she said on air and divided that into her million dollar annual salary.   The result?   Sarah earned $15.85 a word.   It didn't make any difference whether they were wacky, goofy or bore only the faintest resemblance to the English language.   If it came out of her mouth it was worth $15.85 in her pocket.

If she managed to string a hundred words together it was worth an ounce of gold to Sarah and Todd and Trigger and Bolt and Musket and all the rest of her brood.

Over the three years, Fox spent $158.50 for Palin to say “Right on!” and $1,759.35 for her to say “Amen.” It also spent $729.10 for her to utter the almost swear words of “darn,” “hell,” “damn,” and (most often) “heck!”


The network spent by far the most money paying for Palin’s thoughts on the sitting president: Fox dished out a staggering $24,916.20 (an entire annual salary for millions of working Americans) for her to say the two words “President Obama” over her three-year contract. 


None of this money, however, was able to imbue these words with one iota of intrinsic value--yet another example of the widening gap between a commodity’s market rate and its real value to society. 

The Mental Illness of Canada's Parliament

Anyone who believes that selling the world's most carbon-intensive petroleum is a good thing must embrace certain irrational beliefs or suffer the pangs of cognitive dissonance.

They must have some ability to disconnect the impacts of bitumen from the climate change that is already setting in around the world.  Would any of our parliamentary bitumen boosters say that accelerating and worsening climate change impacts is a good thing?  Would any of them be so bold even as to say it's a worthwhile result to achieve?   Would they claim that Canada is entitled to do that if only because it can?   I'm sure if they could they would have said that already.  Yet they haven't.

To the contrary, Stephen Harper himself has stated that global warming is the "biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today."  That's a powerful admission.  It's like admitting that inhaling asbestos fibres is known to cause lung cancer.  Of course Harper fiercely defended Canada's right to export asbestos until the PQ came to power, shutting it down.  But at least on global warming he's on record that it's the most serious threat to humankind.   I'm sure any Liberal or New Democrat leader would agree with Harper.

So how do we reconcile that plain admission with our bitumen trafficking and our plans to triple bitumen production?   Not only that, but we're gearing up to ship the stuff to China, millions of barrels a day if the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan plans go through.   We'll ship dilbit over there for them to refine.   Anyone bothered to have a look at what's going on in China today?   Wouldn't it be more humane to just ask them to snort asbestos?

If Stephen Harper and the other petro-pols in Parliament accept that anthropogenic global warming is indeed a grave and mortal threat to humanity then what are we to make of their actions to support and expand the bitumen trade?  After all, we are all deemed to intend the logical and foreseeable consequences of our acts.   What then is the logical and foreseeable consequence of pushing Canadian bitumen onto world markets at a rapidly accelerating pace?

Some, such as NASA climatologist James Hansen says plans to ramp up Athabasca production to 5-million barrels a day would mean it's "game over" for the battle to arrest climate change.   Even the International Energy Agency has warned that the planet doesn't stand a hope of staying within the 2C safety margin if Athabasca production is allowed to exceed 3.3-million barrels a day.

So the logical and foreseeable consequence of our acts is mass carnage, wars and failed states.   What, short of mental illness, can make people act this way?   What can make them abandon the Precautionary Principle as though it never existed or had become obsolete or irrelevant?

I'd like to believe this is the result of some mental impairment because, if it's not, then it must be criminal.




It's Always the Same Even for the F-35


History is rich with accounts of novel weaponry breakthroughs that changed the battlefield forever, failed miserably, or fell somewhere in between.

Regardless of the outcome it seems that, whenever the next big thing comes along, somebody will inevitably take a long bet on it working.   The promise routinely seems far greater than the result but we instinctively go for it because we just want so much for it to work.

History also teaches us that we rarely, if ever, get it right the first time out.  We go into these things with assumptions gilded with perceptions of our own omnipotence that are weighted to fail us in the end.

Lockheed's prototypical stealth fighters, the F-22 and F-35, are a clear example.    These self-proclaimed "Fifth Generation" fighters were the latest and greatest back when they were launched.  They seemed invincible and, for a few years, that claim was plausible.  That alone justified the mega-price for these aircraft or so it seemed at the time.

But there was no Merlin working for Lockheed and much of America's stealth secrets have either been filched by hackers, reverse engineered or simply decoded.   The Euros have the technology, Russia has it, China has it, India will have it soon.

Time waits for no man and it certainly doesn't wait for the F-35 either.  Lockheed's light bomber was supposed to be operational by now and yet it has just completed one-third of its scheduled flight testing.

Russia's stealth fighter, the Sukhoi T-50 is expected to enter service in 2014 with a claimed stealth shielding equivalent to the F-35.  The Russian airplane will also be fitted with L-band radar arrays in its wings.  American stealth technology is designed to defeat X-band radars but is relatively ineffective against L-band systems.  The Sukhoi T-50 is also expected to be superior to the F-35 in range, speed, agility and payload.   Best of all, it's expected to be quite a bit cheaper.

China passed on Russia's invitation to collaborate on the T-50 and has, instead, produced two stealth fighters of its own, the J-20 and the J-31.   If appearances mean anything the J-31 certainly looks suspiciously like a Lockheed product.

Once everybody starts playing stealthy, the focus must shift away from that one feature and onto other performance standards.  That's when aircraft will have to be measured on more traditional warplane parameters.    How far will it fly, how fast?   How quickly will it turn and climb?   How much can it carry into combat?  How reliable is it (will it work when you need it) and how survivable is it?   That's when the shortcomings of the F-35 become rather blatant and the premium price tag harder to justify.  We've heard ridiculous claims of this airplane meeting Canada's needs for fifty years.  Define "needs."

I'm sure Lockheed and the Pentagon both want and need to sell a new fighter to Canada but they should be selling us an updated version of the F-22, not the poor cousin, the troubled F-35.  Besides, the Americans aren't betting on the F-35 into the distant future or even the mid-term, so why should we?   Even before the F-35 enters service, they're already talking about having a "Sixth Generation" replacement operational by 2030.
  

Israel on Notice - Remove Settlements or Face Justice


The United Nations Human Rights Council has told Israel to remove all settlements from the occupied West Bank or else be prepared to be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court for violations of the Geneva Conventions.

In other words, get out or stand as an outlaw country, a criminal state.  True to form, Israel responded dismissively, calling the demands "counterproductive and unfortunate."

All settlement activity in occupied territory must cease "without preconditions" and Israel "must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers", said the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Israel, it said, was in violation of article 49 of the fourth Geneva convention, which forbids the transfer of civilian populations to occupied territory.

The settlements were "leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination," it said.

Israel has brazenly flouted international law for decades, ignoring the laws that very much bind it.   It has succeeded only due to the patronage of the west, particularly Canada and the United States.

Dragging Israel before the International Criminal Court is a measure that is long overdue.  We're bound by the same Geneva Conventions that bind Israel.   Maybe we should expect them to be enforced or else admit that we're complicit, that we have a hand in this.

It's the New Normal and We Have to Figure Out How to Live With It

Each day, Google serves me a banquet of the latest news stories from around the world on selected topics including climate change, drought and floods.  It's an amazing service that helps one stay atop developments in areas of interest.   They're only news reports and, therefore, subject to all the vagaries associated with that type of information, but, over the course of many months a pretty clear picture emerges of what's actually going on with our world.

Scientists are now saying they were mistaken to call climate change "global warming."   Not because the globe, our planet, isn't warming - it is, overall - but because while most places are getting hotter, some are actually becoming colder.   Around the world some places are enduring sustained flooding, others mega-drought, others still cyclical droughts and floods.   In many places, including Canada, seasonal conditions have turned wonky, erratic.  People in Ontario know what that's all about.   So do most Americans.

Here's an example from today's Topeka Capital Journal online.

“Just the fact that we’re in a drought and talking about flooding is pretty amazing,” said Mark Fuchs, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service office in suburban St. Louis.

Storms Tuesday and Wednesday brought high winds, hail and tornadoes to parts of the Midwest and South. Thousands lost power and one death was reported in Tennessee.

It was part of a strange weather pattern. Consider Missouri: On Tuesday, while Kansas City was dealing with blowing snow and a winter weather advisory, golfers in St. Louis were teeing off in 68-degree temperatures and joggers in Columbia were marveling at a record high of 77 degrees.

By late afternoon Tuesday, though, a cold front began clashing with that unseasonably warm air and strong storms brought downpours. Most of the St. Louis area got around an inch-and-a-half of rain; parts of southern Missouri and southern Illinois got closer to 3 inches of rain.

The University of Ottawa's Paul Beckwith gives an elegant explanation for what's going on, our new normal.


h/t Christine @ 350orBust

We're going to have to figure out how we're going to live with this new normal.  That's going to be tougher for some than for others.  A repeat of last summer's drought in the U.S. could hit Canadian wheat farmers.


Drew Lerner, weather specialist with World Weather Inc. in Kansas, said if the dry weather in the western U.S. Corn Belt and Plains continues, the southern part of Western Canada could experience a drier, warmer bias this summer.

"If the dryness lasts long enough to the south, a ridge of high pressure that would, under normal circumstances, be weak and not likely reach up into Canada would have the potential of reaching into Canada," said Lerner. "And that's the reason why the southern areas would tend to be drier and the northern areas might turn to be wetter, somewhat similar to last summer."

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We Can't Go On Meeting Like This

From The Guardian, video of what a lot of Chinese are enduring these days.




You Might Not Like It, But I Think They Nailed It.

The Stones, "Doom and Gloom", from GRRR  (volume up, full screen)


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Is Harper Begging for Trouble?


A nagging worry I've had about the plans to ramp up supertanker traffic through Vancouver's inner harbour and Kitimat and the Douglas Channel is their extraordinary vulnerability to sabotage or terrorism.

It wouldn't take much to block the Second Narrows or Lions Gate and it probably wouldn't take much more to create havoc in the Douglas Channel, Dixon Entrance or Hecate Strait in the north.

In those waters it could take a long time to clear a scuttled hulk.  And what happens if either of those routes is blocked for any extended period?

What happens to ordinary, west coast commerce if some group decides to target the bitumen traffickers?   Does Ottawa pick up the tab for the economic losses?   Does Alberta or Enbridge or the tanker operators?  Anybody?

How is Steve Harper going to secure these navigable waters?  Is he going to fortify Vancouver's inner harbour; militarize Burrard Inlet, Coal Harbour and English Bay?   Would he do the same thing to the north?   Who would pay for that?  You, me?  Beijing maybe?

Second Narrows

Afromax Approaching Second Narrows

Both routes are lined with natural choke points and navigational hazards, notorious for powerful storms, shoals and shallows, difficult tides and devilish currents.   And Team Harper wants to compound that by transiting heavily-laden, barely steerable supertankers through them.   I think he's begging for trouble and putting coastal British Columbia in peril.

Liberals Infiltrating the Tea Party?

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is in trouble.   Kentucky Tea Party activists want him out and could spoil his re-election bid.  That's got McConnell lashing out, claiming his opponents have been infiltrated by, gasp, Liberals.

In a campaign fund-raising email Monday, McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, said every conservative in the state needs to be aware of "an important development."

He said a report by Politico, a political journalism news group, "confirmed that (President) Barack Obama's Democratic allies are attempting to infiltrate conservative organizations across Kentucky to encourage and fund opposition to Senator Mitch McConnell."

Benton said liberals know that McConnell "has stood side-by-side with conservatives in Kentucky and they need to manufacture a movement against him to get attention to the race."

If nothing else it suggests that Democratic mischief-makers could be in for a lot of fun in tight Republican primaries in the run-up to the 2014 mid-term elections.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/01/30/181437/sen-mitch-mcconnell-says-liberals.html#storylink=omni_popular#storylink=cpy

Mali, Chuck Hagel's Cautionary Tale

If Chuck Hagel does become America's next Defense Secretary he plans to steer clear of entanglement in the war against Islamist insurgents in the Sahara.

In prepared questions to the Senate Armed Services Committee ahead of his Thursday morning confirmation hearing, the former Nebraska Republican senator said he’d back the French campaign against Islamist forces in the Malian north “without deploying U.S. combat forces on the ground.” Hagel backs training a United Nations-authorized African force to take over from the French, but the U.S. military is staying out of that effort, currently overseen by the State Department.

Outside of propping up the African forces, Hagel told the panel he supports “assisting the movement of French and African forces [and] providing intelligence and planning support” to the French. Midair refueling, something the French have sought and which a U.S. KC-135 tanker began providing on Sunday, wasn’t part of Hagel’s list.

Hagel also sounded a more sanguine note about the threat to the U.S. posed by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the al-Qaida affiliate in north Africa and the Sahel, than some in the Obama administration and the military have been willing to go. While he told the panel AQIM poses a “growing threat” to U.S. interests in the region and wants to deny the group a safe haven in Mali, “My understanding is that at this time, there is no credible evidence that AQIM is a direct threat to the U.S. homeland,” Hagel said.

What Can You Build in Canada in 90 Days?

A Chinese company has announced plans to build the world's tallest building which, of itself, would be an enormous achievement.  But, from start to finish, they claim it will take just 90 days.


You Know You're In Trouble When

An enterprising, multi-millionaire starts selling clean air in soft drink cans.

Chen Guangbiao, whose wealth is estimated at $740 million according to the Hurun Report, sells his cans of air for five yuan (A75¢) each. It comes with atmospheric flavours including pristine Tibet, post-industrial Taiwan and revolutionary Yan'an, the Communist Party's early base area.
 Mr Chen said he wanted to make a point that China's air was turning so bad that the idea of bottled fresh air was no longer fanciful. ''If we don't start caring for the environment then after 20 or 30 years our children and grandchildren might be wearing gas masks and carrying oxygen tanks,'' Mr Chen said.

As the smog worsens, residents of Beijing have begun snapping up products to survive the toxic air.

Chris Buckley, proprietor of Torana Clean Air Centre, said there had been a particularly dramatic increase in the flow of local Chinese customers through his stores, reflecting more open coverage in China's tightly controlled media as well as the severity of the pollution.

''We used to be told in days gone by that 'it's mist and fog' but I think the game is up now,'' said Mr Buckley, who sells air purifying machines and pollution masks.
 

Sure, Okay, Now Do It In a Supertanker

Garret McNamara is believed to have become the first surfer to ride a 100-foot (30m) wave.



Pretty big wave.   But they also record 30 m. waves in the Hecate Strait, the very place Steve Harper wants opened to bitumen supertanker traffic.   Maybe Canadians can look forward to a world record for the first supertanker to surf a 100 foot wave.  Maybe not.

Oradour Re-Opened


On 10 June, 1944, troops of the 2nd SS Panzer Division, Das Reich, descended on the tiny French village of Oradour sur Glane.   Women and children were herded into the church where they died under a barrage of hand grenades  before the soldiers set it on fire.   The men were forced into a barn where they were shot in the legs, doused with fuel and set alight.   The Nazi troops then proceeded to turn the rest of the town to ruins.


Oradour still stands today much as the SS stormtroopers left it.  De Gaulle ordered that the ruins be left, intact.


In the 1950's, sixty German soldiers were tried for the massacre, 20 convicted, but all were later released.   East Germany refused to hand over former SS troops it held.   Stasi records show about 6 of them who are still alive and the German state now wants an inquiry to see if they should be prosecuted.

642 French villagers were murdered in the massacre.

Congratulations - You're Richer than Zimbabwe

Yes, indeed, if you have more than $217 in your bank account, that makes you richer than the government of Zimbabwe, or at least you were last week.

Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Tendai Biti has said that the country only had $217 (£138) left in its public account last week after paying civil servants.

However, he said that the following day some $30m of revenue had been paid in.

Mr Biti told the BBC he made the revelation in order to emphasise that the government was unable to finance elections, not that it was insolvent.

Polls are due this year, with President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF fighting Mr Biti's Movement for Democratic Change.

Mr Biti has previously complained that diamond mining companies have not been paying revenues to the government.

Harper's Priorities for 2103 - Environment Missing, Believed Dead

Honourary Colonel, Royal Foreskin Fusiliers

Steve Harper's priorities for 2013, announced in a "rousing" speech to his caucus, are families, safety, pride and financial security.

“Hear me on this, my friends,” the prime minister told fellow MPs. “For you, for me, for all of us – the economy remains job one.”

“This spring, we must continue to be focused – and we will continue to be ever more tightly, on four priorities, that Canadians care about most: their families, the safety of our streets and communities, their pride in being a citizen of this country, the best country in the world,” and Canadians’ financial security.

Of course, in Harper's warped perspective, families, safety, pride and financial security are all preserved best covered in bitumen dispensed out of pipelines.   Steve's fundamentalist blinders keep him from seeing that you cannot have a healthy economy, you cannot ensure the welfare of our families and safeguard the nation without maintaining a healthy environment and meeting environmental challenges such as climate change.   In other words, Ol' Lardarse is full of it.

Fortunately there is reason to hope the Prince of Darkness is running out of time essential to implement his bitumen boondoggle.  The rest of Canada, including provincial and local governments, are having to recognize climate change as a top priority that poses real challenges to their administrations and constituents.

The City of Toronto is debating how to meet the future depicted in its Future Weather and Climate Driver study.

According to city data, a one-hour storm in 2005 cost $47-million in repairs — including the washout and reconstruction of Finch Avenue at Black Creek — and cost the insurance industry $600-million in payments.
The study also predicts that by 2040 to 2049, Toronto’s average annual temperature will rise by 4.4C, with winter temperatures going up on average by 5.7C and the summer thermometer jumping 3.8C.
James Young, a senior air quality and weather specialist with SENES Consultants who conducted the study, told politicians the essence of climate change is not global warming — it’s change.

If you live in southern Ontario, you might want to read that study.  Another item in today's climate change news is the address Bary Smit,  Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Change at the University of Guelph, delivered last night in Hamilton.

Smit said there's plenty of research that shows ignoring climate change not only affects the environment but also affects the economy.
"The costs of not taking action are far greater than the costs of taking action. There are all kinds of studies that show that."
One local example would be apple orchards, Smit said. Last season, apple trees blossomed early due to the mild winter. When the frost returned, the blossoms died and approximately 80 per cent of the apple crop was lost, resulting in as much as $100 million in lost revenue, he said.
"Another one would be health," he said. "With warmer conditions, vector-born diseases are already spreading. Disease-carrying insects, like mosquitos with West Nile, are surviving longer over the winter and further north."
This past summer, Hamilton and the rest of the province saw a record number of West Nile infections and there was one reported local death as a result of the disease.

In The Guardian, Arctic ice expert, Dr. Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University,  warns that the final collapse of summer Arctic sea ice is now just four years away.

In what he calls a "global disaster" now unfolding in northern latitudes as the sea area that freezes and melts each year shrinks to its lowest extent ever recorded, Prof Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University calls for "urgent" consideration of new ideas to reduce global temperatures.

In an email to the Guardian he says: "Climate change is no longer something we can aim to do something about in a few decades' time, and that we must not only urgently reduce CO2 emissions but must urgently examine other ways of slowing global warming, such as the various geoengineering ideas that have been put forward."

In Washington, Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse had a warning for Republican holdouts that could just as easily apply to the Harper Cons.

"I'm hoping we can convince Republicans that this is a big generational issue and, like being on the wrong side of immigration and gay rights, there will be a huge political price to pay in the future for being on the wrong side of climate change," said Whitehouse, the Democratic junior Senator from Rhode Island, in an interview with BuzzFeed.

"There is absolutely no doubt that climate change is going to be a dominant political issue before long," Whitehouse added. "People who have been recalcitrant servants of the pollutants industry will end up being disgraced and swept out of office."

Harper remains as willing as ever to gamble families, safety and the economy on the sub-prime Athabasca tar.   He remains intent on using every trick of economic and environmental sleight-of-hand to keep what Alberta premier Redford has admitted is a "bitumen bubble" from bursting.

Time, however, is not on Steve's side.  Steve is being overtaken by the onset of climate change in ways that are visible, tangible, palpable.   The public is waking up to his reckless, dangerous instincts.   Steve is in a footrace with physics and nature and he's already falling behind.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Elizabeth May on Canada's Emperor Constantine



In the latest Island Tides, Green Party leader Elizabeth May draws a piercing comparison of Roman emperor Constantine and our emperor, Stephen Harper.

It may seem a strange parallel, but what Stephen Harper is
doing to Canada reminds me of what Roman Emperor
Constantine did with Christianity. He took a clandestine and
illegal religious practice and made it the official religion of the
Roman Empire.
 

Constantine understood the importance of symbols. To
allow Christianity to be accepted among sun-worshipping
pagans, a few adjustments were needed. Worship moved from
Saturday to Sunday—a nice nod to the sun worshippers who
were said to be still able, from the steps of most churches, to
make their usual bow to their sun god on the way into church.
And all those pagan trappings—candles, incense, robes and so
on—moved into the heart of the Roman church.


Stephen Harper is remaking Canada, one brick at a time.
The legislative fabric of the country is being decimated through
omnibus bills and legislation designed, not as good public
policy, but as messages suited for a focus group. He is re-making
our civil service into an arm of his PMO, filled with terrorized
and demoralized men and women who hope that someday they
will be permitted to do their job once again.
 

And he has rallied Canadians to any number of Roman-like
circuses to keep our minds off activities outside the arena. In
2012, we saw $28 million splashed around for the celebration
of the Bicentenary of the War of 1812. The 60th anniversary of
her Majesty’s reign cost $8 million. $5 million each was spent
on the centenaries of the Grey Cup and the Calgary Stampede.
Clearly, Stephen Harper likes whipping us up into a fervour
about anniversaries of milestones in Canadian history—but only
certain milestones. The 30th anniversary of the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms went uncelebrated.


Ms. May proceeds to lament Harper's new "repulsive" plastic twenty dollar bill and especially the loss of the great artwork that adorned the previous note.

 

We have lost the most iconic and inspiring piece of monetized
Canadian art. Haida artist Bill Reid’s masterpieces adorned the
old bills. Raven discovering mankind in a clam shell (a Creation
myth that occurred on the beach at Masset), the ‘Spirit of Haida
Gwaii’ canoe, with its spiritual and mythical creatures, the face
of the moon, the killer whale—all are superimposed on the back
of the old twenty.
 

In very fine print (in English and French), is a quote from
Quebec writer, Gabrielle Roy: ‘Could we ever know each other
in the slightest without the arts?’ ‘Nous conna├«trions-nous
seulement un peu nous-m├¬mes, sans les arts?’
 

I loved that bill, not least because I had the great privilege of
knowing Bill Reid, and of visiting his warehouse on False Creek
in Vancouver while Spirit Canoe was being carved. His hands
shook too much from Parkinson’s at that point for him to do the
carving, so an apprentice helped him. The apprentice was
brilliant Haida leader, Guujaaw, now President of the Council
of the Haida Nation.


And what art has replaced Bill Reid’s powerful sculptures?
The monument to Canadian death in battle in the First World
War. The Vimy Ridge Monument in France commemorates the
emergence of a unified Canadian fighting force from four
different divisions. Over 7,000 Canadians were wounded in that
spring 1917 assault and over 3,500 were killed. The loss of life
and the historical significance are undisputed—but why this
monument (in a particularly ugly rendition)?
 

Stephen Harper understands symbols and icons. In the
same way that John Baird had his business cards re-made
without the name of the building in which his department
resides (the Lester B Pearson Building), Stephen Harper wants
us to hard-wire our patriotism to battle, blood and glory. 


What more iconic statement can there be of the effort to
remake our values than by taking away our mythological and
spiritual symbols and replacing them with a slippery bill
featuring a war monument and a non-Canadian maple?
Hang on to your old twenty-dollar bills. The new version of
Canada does not fit our reality–it’s the counterfeit.

Kinder Morgan's Bold Play

Kinder Morgan has dropped a bomb.   The bitumen pipeline trafficker wants to triple its existing pipeline capacity.   From Island Tides:

Citing ‘additional customer support’, Kinder
Morgan recently announced that it intends to
increase the capacity of its proposed new ‘twin’
oil pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby.
 

The current capacity of the existing Trans
Mountain pipeline is approximately 300,000
barrels per day
(bpd). While the pipeline
capacity in the original expansion proposal was
750,000bpd, this updated proposal brings the
capacity of the two pipelines, existing and
proposed, to 890,000bpd.

 

The diameter of the new twin pipeline was
previously proposed to be 30 inches. It will now
be 36 inches–a 44% increase in capacity.
The
cost estimate for the project has also
increased–from $4.1 billion to $5.4 billion.



Kinder Morgan expects to file the formal
application to build the pipeline in late 2013.




Kinder Morgan says that with the enlarged
pipeline, an increase from one loading berth to
three, and increased storage and pumping
capacity, they expect to load over 400 Aframax
tankers per year, or at least one daily.
The City
of Vancouver and the Tsleil-Waututh First
Nation have both registered their objection to
increased oil shipping.


Increased capacity of the pipeline is expected
to result in an even greater increase in the
number of tankers exporting crude bitumen
from the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby.
In addition to crude bitumen for export, the
pipeline currently transports oil to Vancouver area
refineries, particularly the Chevron
refinery in North Burnaby. However, increased
shipments of crude bitumen, instead of
conventional oil, have recently threatened local
refinery supply.


Wow.  It seems Kinder Morgan figures Ottawa's in the bag on this one.   And it probably is, no matter who wins the next election.

Could a Drone Cop Become Obama's Biggest Nightmare?


He's Ben Emmerson, a 49-year old British lawyer and U.N. special rapporteur for human rights and counter-terrorism in which capacity he's embarking on a 5-month enquiry into drone warfare.  That could spell problems for the leaders of the one country active in worldwide drone attacks, the United States.

Accountability, Emmerson tells Danger Room in a Monday phone interview, “is the central purpose of the report.” He’s not shying away from the possibility of digging up evidence of “war crimes,” should the facts point in that direction. But despite the Obama administration’s secrecy about the drone strikes to date, he’s optimistic that the world’s foremost users of lethal drone tech will cooperate with him.

In conversation, Emmerson, who’s served as special rapporteur since 2011, doesn’t sound like a drone opponent or a drone skeptic. He sounds more like a drone realist. “Let’s face it, they’re here to stay,” he says, shortly after pausing to charge his cellphone during a trip to New York to prep for his inquiry. “This technology, as I say, is a reality. It is cheap, both in economic terms and in the risk to the lives of the service personnel who are from the sending state.

“And for that reason there are real concerns that because it is so cheap, it can be used with a degree of frequency that other, more risk-based forms of engagement like fixed-wing manned aircraft or helicopters are not,” Emmerson says. “And the result is there’s a perception of the frequency and intensity with which this technology is used is exponentially different, and as a result, there is necessarily a correspondingly greater risk of civilian casualties.”

Emmerson's enquiry comes none too soon.    Nations around the world, especially in current hotspots such as east Asia, are rapidly placing orders for, or even developing their own, armed drones.  Some have even speculated on an air-to-air drone war between China and Japan as the opening salvo of a larger war between those countries.

It seems all too easy for the White House to order some young man seated in an air-conditioned trailer on some American air base in the southwest to rain Hellfire missiles into some compound in Pakistan or Yemen or, perhaps soon, Mali on the hunch that some bad guy might be there.

The Schrumpf Effect or Why Soldiers Can Learn to Enjoy Killing

An article in Scientific American reveals that at least some soldiers actually enjoy killing, particularly when they're not at much risk of being killed themselves.

The article recalls one,  "Sgt. Eric Schrumpf, a Marine sharpshooter, saying, "We had a great day. We killed a lot of people." Noting that his troop killed an Iraqi woman standing near a militant, Schrumpf adds, "I'm sorry, but the chick was in the way."

Does the apparent satisfaction—call it the Schrumpf effect—that some soldiers take in killing stem primarily from nature or nurture? Nature, claims Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist at Harvard University and an authority on chimpanzees. Wrangham asserts that natural selection embedded in both male humans and chimpanzees—our closest genetic relatives—an innate propensity for "intergroup coalitionary killing" [pdf], in which members of one group attack members of a rival group. Male humans "enjoy the opportunity" to kill others, Wrangham says, especially if they run little risk of being killed themselves.

Several years ago, geneticists at Victoria University in New Zealand linked violent male aggression to a variant of a gene that encodes for the enzyme monoamine oxidase A, which regulates the function of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. According to the researchers, the so-called "warrior gene" is carried by 56 percent of Maori men, who are renowned for being "fearless warriors," and only 34 percent of Caucasian males.

But studies of World War II veterans suggest that very few men are innately bellicose. The psychiatrists Roy Swank and Walter Marchand found that 98 percent of soldiers who endured 60 days of continuous combat suffered psychiatric symptoms, either temporary or permanent. The two out of 100 soldiers who seemed unscathed by prolonged combat displayed "aggressive psychopathic personalities," the psychiatrists reported. In other words, combat didn't drive these men crazy because they were crazy to begin with.


...The reluctance of ordinary men to kill can be overcome by intensified training, direct commands from officers, long-range weapons and propaganda that glorifies the soldier's cause and dehumanizes the enemy. "With the proper conditioning and the proper circumstances, it appears that almost anyone can and will kill," Grossman writes. Many soldiers who kill enemies in battle are initially exhilarated, Grossman says, but later they often feel profound revulsion and remorse, which may transmute into post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments. Indeed, Grossman believes that the troubles experienced by many combat veterans are evidence of a "powerful, innate human resistance toward killing one's own species."

In other words, the Schrumpf effect is usually a product less of nature than of nurture—although "nurture" is an odd term for training that turns ordinary young men into enthusiastic killers.

They Are Not Of Us

An interesting essay from George Monbiot today on the grooming of oligarchs and why, even though they govern in our name, they don't rule on our behalf.   They rule as they were born and raised to rule.   An excerpt.

In the Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt explains that the nobles of pre-revolutionary France "did not regard themselves as representative of the nation, but as a separate ruling caste which might have much more in common with a foreign people of the same society and condition than with its compatriots".

Last year the former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren wrote something very similar about the dominant classes of the US: "the rich elites of this country have far more in common with their counterparts in London, Paris, and Tokyo than with their fellow American citizens … the rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well being except as a place to extract loot. Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it."

Secession from the concerns and norms of the rest of society characterises any well established elite. Our own ruling caste, schooled separately, brought up to believe in justifying fairytales, lives in a world of its own, from which it can project power without understanding or even noticing the consequences. A removal from the life of the rest of the nation is no barrier to the desire to dominate it. In fact, it appears to be associated with a powerful sense of entitlement.

So if you have wondered how the current government can blithely engage in the wholesale transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, how its frontbench can rock with laughter as it truncates the livelihoods of the poorest people of this country, why it commits troops to ever more pointless post-colonial wars, here, I think, is part of the answer. Many of those who govern us do not in their hearts belong here. They belong to a different culture, a different world, which knows as little of its own acts as it knows of those who suffer them.

Ignatieff was clearly of this ruling caste.   He never demonstrated a real grasp of the country or our people.   Harper, despite his more middle-class upbringing and his fondness of hockey and cats, may not be a member by birth of the ruling caste but certainly shows himself its eager water-carrier and thereby may hope to earn his rightful place among them.   Such are the aspirations of those who govern a petro-state.

The South Will Rise Again and No Good Will Come Of It

The American south is often seen as the white trashiest place on the planet.   Even American comedians mock it as the home of rednecks, racists and rectums.

Canadians tend to have little knowledge of the Deep South although we may know a good deal about the United States generally.   For example, having grown up along the border and spent time in the States during undergrad, I was shocked at the revelation that slavery didn't end with the defeat of the South in the Civil War but persisted, thanks to the perfidy of southern legislatures and courts, right up until the start of America's WWII.

And now, Chris Hedges writes for TruthDig, some Southerners, including legislators, are working to re-ignite the delusion of the glory of the Confederacy.   One sign Hedges points to is the effort underway to rehabilitate the reputation of one Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Forrest, who is buried in Forrest Park under a statue of himself in his Confederate general’s uniform and mounted on a horse, is one of the most odious figures in American history. A moody, barely literate, violent man—he was not averse to shooting his own troops if he deemed them to be cowards—he became a millionaire before the war as a slave trader. As a Confederate general he was noted for moronic aphorisms such as “War means fighting and fighting means killing.” He was, even by the accounts of those who served under him, a butcher. He led a massacre at Fort Pillow in Henning, Tenn., of some 300 black Union troops—who had surrendered and put down their weapons—as well as women and children who had sheltered in the fort. Forrest was, after the war, the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He used his skills as a former cavalry commander to lead armed night raids to terrorize blacks. 

Forrest, like many other white racists of the antebellum South, is enjoying a disquieting renaissance. The Sons of Confederate Veterans and the West Tennessee Historical Commission last summer put up a 1,000-pound granite marker at the entrance to the park that read “Forrest Park.”  

...The rewriting of history in the South is a retreat by beleaguered whites into a mythical self-glorification. I witnessed a similar retreat during the war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. As Yugoslavia’s economy deteriorated, ethnic groups built fantasies of a glorious past that became a substitute for history. They sought to remove, through exclusion and finally violence, competing ethnicities to restore this mythological past. The embrace by nationalist groups of a nonreality-based belief system made communication with other ethnic groups impossible. They no longer spoke the same cultural language. There was no common historical narrative built around verifiable truth. A similar disconnect was illustrated last week in Memphis when the chairman of the city’s parks committee, William Boyd, informed the council that Forrest “promoted progress for black people in this country after the war.” Boyd argued that the KKK was “more of a social club” at its inception and didn’t begin carrying out “bad and horrific things” until it reconstituted itself with the rise of the modern civil rights movement.

...But Forrest is only one of numerous flashpoints. Fliers reading “Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Wants You to Join” appeared in the mailboxes of white families in Memphis in early January. The Ku Klux Klan also distributed pamphlets a few days ago in an Atlanta suburb. The Tennessee Legislature last year officially declared July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day to honor his birthday. There are 32 historical markers honoring Forrest in Tennessee alone and several in other Southern states. Montgomery, Ala., which I visited last fall, has a gigantic Confederate flag on the outskirts of the city, planted there by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Confederate monuments dot Montgomery’s city center. There are three Confederate state holidays in Alabama, including Martin Luther King/Robert E. Lee Day. Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi also honor Lee’s birthday. Jefferson Davis’ birthday is a state holiday in Alabama and Florida. And re-enactments of Confederate victories in the Civil War crowd Southern calendars.

The steady rise of ethnic nationalism over the past decade, the replacing of history with mendacious and sanitized versions of lost glory, is part of the moral decay that infects a dying culture. It is a frightening attempt, by those who are desperate and trapped, to escape through invented history their despair, impoverishment and hopelessness. It breeds intolerance and eventually violence. Violence becomes in this perverted belief system a cleansing agent, a way to restore a lost world...

Achilles V. Clark, a soldier with the 20th Tennessee Cavalry under Forrest during the 1864 massacre at Fort Pillow, wrote to his sister after the attack: “The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. The poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. … I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery, and at one time had partially succeeded, but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased.”

Monday, January 28, 2013

Of African Jews, Birth Control and Israel

With Israel under a spotlight, the director of its Ministry of Health has issued an order that gynaecologists should not inject women with the contraceptive Depo-Provera without their knowledge or consent.

Of course no woman should be given IV contraceptives, or any other drug, without her knowledge or consent but, in the case of Depo-Provera, most of the drug (57%) was being given to Ethopian (yes, black) Jews whose group make up just 2% of the Israeli population.

“We believe it is a method of reducing the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor,” Hedva Eyal, the author of the report, told IRIN. “It is indeed the first time that the state actually acknowledged that this procedure of injecting immigrant women with this drug, when they do not know the side effects and are given no other choice, is wrong.”

The directive was issued less than two weeks after a group of organizations representing the Jewish Ethiopian community, along with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), sent a letter to Gamzo asking that this practice be stopped immediately and that an investigation be started into it both in Israel and in the transit camps in Ethiopia. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

GOP Won't Bend on Climage Change

Congressional Republicans see climate change as a minefield for the Democrats.

"People want jobs. Jobs. Jobs. Um, should I say it again? Jobs," one Republican said.

"Far too many more-important issues. Republicans should be happy if Democrats go out on a limb on global warming ... and saw it off," another said. Yet another snarked: "Americans still prefer affordable energy over pie-in-the-sky, Al Gore-inspired happy talk."

Some pointed out that the American people, even if convinced of the dangers of climate change, were not ready to adopt painful measures to address the problem.
"Even those who believe we have a climate-change problem can't abide Obama's climate-change solutions. No matter how many hurricanes, floods, or tsunamis, it will not be a winning issue," one Republican said.

Some Democrats nevertheless expressed optimism that the politics of climate change were quickly changing and would ultimately benefit the party.

"Every public poll on the issue has demonstrated the American people support action on climate change, like the EPA, and want the U.S. to take action. People are starting to believe their eyes instead of the deniers," one Democrat said.

"Acceptance that the climate has changed -- regardless of what you think has caused it -- has altered the public's attitude about what must be done. As long as Democrats continue to appeal to the sensible center, we'll win more than we lose," another added.

In an interview with New Republic, Barack Obama outlined his focus on circumventing Congress and getting his message directly to the American people.

On climate change, it's a daunting task. But we know what releases carbon into the atmosphere, and we have tools right now that would start scaling that back, although we'd still need some big technological breakthrough.

So the question is not, Do we have policies that might work? It is, Can we mobilize the political will to act? And so, I've been spending a lot of time just thinking about how do I communicate more effectively with the American people? How do I try to bridge some of the divides that are longstanding in our culture? How do I project a sense of confidence in our future at a time when people are feeling anxious? They are more questions of values and emotions and tapping into people's spirit.

I always read a lot of Lincoln, and I'm reminded of his adage that, with public opinion, there's nothing you can't accomplish; without it, you're not going to get very far. And spending a lot more time in terms of being in a conversation with the American people as opposed to just playing an insider game here in Washington is an example of the kinds of change in orientation that I think we've undergone, not just me personally, but the entire White House.

When American-Trained Soldiers Butchered Canadian-Trained Soldiers

Dateline Mali.

If you want to know how screwed up the civil war in Mali truly is look no further than the cast of characters.   Everything began falling apart when the popularly-elected president was ousted by a military coup.

"In years past, U.S. Special Operations Command frequently sent commandos to the West African country in order to train Malian troops. But the U.S. government announced that relationship ended in March of last year, after the very Malian army officers the U.S. trained toppled the democratically elected government, which began a chain of woes that led to the Islamists’ capture of the north."

But Mali's president,  Amadou Toumani Toure, was protected by an elite presidential guard made up of paratroopers trained by members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR), from CFB Petawawa in Ontario, in 2011 during the unit’s visits to Mali.

The paratroop unit not only provided security for the country’s president, Amadou Toumani Toure, but was also involved in fighting an al-Qaeda-linked group that operated from bases in northern Mali. The CSOR troops did not accompany the Malians into combat.

In previous interviews, Canadian military leaders noted that the paratroopers were selected for training after a rigorous review of the unit’s human-rights record by Foreign Affairs officials.

After Toure was deposed, the Canadian-trained presidential guard launched a counter-coup to restore the president to power.   Their efforts failed and butchery ensued.

Details of the fate of those in the presidential unit have emerged over the past several months. At least 40 soldiers were believed captured by Capt. Sanago’s forces.

A report by a human-rights group says some of those soldiers captured were forced at gunpoint to have sex with each other. “Fabric was stuffed in their mouths before the abuse to stifle their screams,” the report from Human Rights Watch stated. Others were beaten.

 Witnesses said around 20 of the soldiers were seen after the coup being led away, never to be found again.

So today Canada is being called upon to support the American-trained butchers who deposed their duly-elected president and slaughtered the Canadian-train guard who remained loyal to him.  In what kind of world does that make any sense?

Hindus Slam Canadian Government for Racism in Hungary

Apparently the Harper government has posted billboards in Hungary aimed at Roma (Gypsy) would be asylum-seekers that some Hindus have denounced as inappropriate and blatantly racist.

"Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that this unprecedented billboard and other media campaign in Miskolc (second largest urban center of Hungary in northeast), which reportedly had higher concentration of Roma community and home of many Canadian refugee applicants, with such an unwelcoming tone was prejudiced, intolerant and racist.

"Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, suggested that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Immigration Minister Jason Kenney should live the life of a Roma in Miskolc for few weeks to realize, recognize and understand the rights violations and maltreatment of Roma in Hungary and Europe and the apartheid conditions they faced day after day.

"It was unfortunate that Canada was spending taxpayer’s money on a campaign which besides billboards, also reportedly included newspapers, radio-spots, and bus-shelter notices; and which smelled of racism, Zed noted."

There you go.   Now Harper has the Hindu world pissed off with Canada over Gypsies.   Way to go, Steve!


Did Harper Give China a Toehold to Canada's Arctic Resources?


China in Tuktoyaktuk?  That's right.  China has eyes on Arctic resources, including ours.

You didn't hear much Chinese spoken on the Mackenzie River until the summer of 1999. But then excitement swept through the sleepy Tuktoyaktuk settlement in Canada's Northwest Territories, when a vast ship with a crew from the Asia-Pacific unexpectedly docked in the port. Local authorities were caught off-guard by the arrival of the research icebreaker Xue Long, which means "snow dragon." The vessel -- 170 meters (550 feet) long and weighing 21,000 metric tons -- had in fact informed faraway Ottawa of its intention to sail into Canada's arctic waters, but the message hadn't been passed on.

Today, such an incident probably wouldn't happen. States around the North Pole keep careful and regular watch on visitors from China. Its "growing interest in the region raises concern -- even alarm -- in the international community," the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently wrote. And this despite the fact that "the Arctic is not a foreign policy priority" for Beijing.

The equation seems simple. China is hungry for natural resources, and the Arctic is rich in natural resources. What could be more straightforward? But Beijing insists that its interest in the region is first and foremost for research purposes, that the Arctic can help shed light on climate change, that it offers useful shipping routes, and so on and so forth.

Indeed, for now, the Chinese government has no official Arctic strategy. And it doesn't say much at all about natural resources in the region, especially because the economic superpower can -- for the time being, at least -- get what it needs elsewhere, such as in Africa.

Interestingly enough, the Spiegel article suggests the recent, Harper-approved Chinese state takeover of Nexen was also about China acquiring a toehold on Arctic seabed resources.

Even though China is trying to avoid being overbearing, it can't hide its growing interest in the region. "They are extremely careful about what message they send," says Leiv Lunde, director of the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, and independent foundation concerned with environmental, energy and resource-management policies based in Lysaker, Norway. Lunde recently returned from a trip to China, where he had delivered a 90-minute speech at the Beijing Energy Club. Afterwards, he spent over two hours fielding questions from government officials, researchers and executives from raw-material companies.

Still, Lunde believes that Chinese companies have understood that although oil and gas from the Arctic could make a long-term contribution to the country's energy supply, it won't come cheap. China will have to "play by the rules of capitalism," Lunde says. Right now, for example, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) wants to acquire its Canadian competitor Nexen, but the deal first has to be approved by US authorities. 

And, just in case you think this is idle speculation, ask yourself why China already operates the largest, non-nuclear icebreaker in the world, this one:

I Am a Prepper, Sort Of


I am something of a "prepper" but so are most of my neighbours.  Our provincial and local governments encourage us to be that way but not for the reasons you see on those TV shows with oddballs who believe the Russians are bound to invade.

I'm a prepper because sometime between this afternoon and a hundred years from now a 9+ Richter Scale earthquake event is expected to hit this island.   By some accounts it will have enough power to shift this whole island, all 300+ miles of it, some 15 to 18-feet closer to Ottawa (not that that's a good thing).

Our government gives us lists of stuff to keep on hand.  Plenty of food, especially dried and tinned goods.   Lots of water.   First aid kits.  Radios.  Fire extinguishers.   Flashlights and lanterns.  Hand tools of all descriptions.   Fuel.   Tents and sleeping bags.   Got it all, that and lots more.   Fishing and hunting gear.  Long-range enduro motorcycle with hard cases.  Pretty much the lot.

An article in the weekend New York Times reveals that plenty of New Yorkers are also turning into preppers.

New York hardly seems like a natural location for what has become known as the prepper movement, but in fact the city’s prepping community is not only large and remarkably diverse, its leaders say, it’s also growing rapidly.

To the unprepared, the very word “prepper” is likely to summon images of armed zealots hunkered down in bunkers awaiting the End of Days, but the reality, at least here in New York, is less dramatic. Local Preppers are doctors, doormen, charter school executives, subway conductors, advertising writers and happily married couples from the Bronx. They are no doubt people that you know — your acquaintances and neighbors. People, I’ll admit, like myself. 

The NYC preppers were pretty pleased with themselves when Hurricane Sandy battered the city.   A lot of them, apparently, dived into their "bug out" kits to get through the difficult days.   And now that the forecast is for extreme weather events of increasing frequency and intensity, maybe joining the ranks of preppers will be losing a lot of its stigma.   There'll still be nutjobs hunkering down with their  AR-15 in some spider hole but ignore them.

The best part is that most of us have most of the necessary kit already and, once you go through the lists, you'll have a good idea of the items you still need to finish the job.   As Baden Powell enjoined, "Be Prepared."

On a Diet Rich in Carnage and Mayhem

I'm not sure but I think there was a time when a news account of a car bomb in some market square killing 25 innocent people would have been quite disturbing.   It would be emotionally engaging, certainly attention getting.

Now there is often one or more stories like this almost every day but what I find troubling is the callous indifference I've developed to them.   I see the headline and turn away.  Nothing to see here, now move along.  The place no longer matters.   The circumstances no longer matter.  Whether it's a car bomb or an IED or militants boarding and spraying down a bus load of passengers, it just doesn't matter.   There'll just be another pile of offal tomorrow so why indulge the butchered victims of today?

And then I get this nagging, guilty feeling.   Am I really no better than former First Lady Barbara Bush who gave this response when asked what she thought of the young men dying from her son's invasion of Iraq.


And then my mind is drawn to a couple of lines from a poem found on the corpse of America's legendary WWII war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, killed in the closing days of that horrible conflict.

Dead men by mass production - in one country after another -
month after month and year after year. Dead men in
winter and dead men in summer.

Dead men in such familiar promiscuity that they
become monotonous.
Maybe the world Pyle wrote of is back.   Maybe that's the world we will be condemned to inhabit for generations into the future. Maybe that's the only world our kids and grandkids will know.   Maybe this is their normal, our legacy to them..

A Sensible Liberal When the Party Most Needs One

The Liberals are lucky.   They have a leadership candidate that could actually help them and the country.    No, it's not Trudeau and it's not Hall-Findlay or Garneau.  It's Joyce Murray of Vancouver.

Murray, unlike her rivals, wants to restore progressivism to the Liberal Party, something that has been consigned to obscurity since Ignatieff opened shop.   Unfortunately the wanna-be Latter Day Ignatieffs that fill the leadership ranks remain decidedly centre-right.

Here's a Murray idea that deserves consideration.   The Libs could join forces with those of us from the Green Party.   Our leader, Elizabeth May, is for it.

Had Liberals and Greens united behind a single candidate in last November's byelection in Calgary Centre, Murray says they could have prevented Tory Joan Crockatt from eking out a narrow victory with just under 37 per cent of the vote.

The Green Party actually has a robust policy platform that Liberals and uncommitted voters alike could embrace.   They're actually the very sorts of things you might have heard from Liberals of twenty or thirty years ago.  If the Libs insist on hitching their wagon to sub-prime fossil fuels and what even Allison Redford calls the "bitumen bubble" they're heading down a dead end road.  It's time for them to wake up, do themselves and the country a favour, and go Green.
 

Palin Tributes Just Keep Rollin' In


From Salon.com.   A collection of tweets in reaction to the FOX News announcement that the network was parting company with Sarah Palin.

- The Blaze and Al Jazeera in a bidding war for Palin.

- The Palin business will be v hard to explain to future generations, like Boulangerism in France  

- best of luck to sarah palin as she returns to the meth business

- Hey Sarah, how's that Fox-y News-y thing workin' out for ya?

- Congratulations, Governor Palin. If I remember the Gospels correctly, Jesus only worked at Fox for a few years too. 

- Sarah Palin actually lasted longer as a Fox News talking head than she did as Governor of Alaska.

- Now taking ideas for what Palin will use that Wasilla studio for

- If Sarah Palin had a gun, her career would still be alive.

- Anyone interested in hiring a charismatic speaker with limited governing experience in the Alaska area? Asking for a friend...

- Sarah Palin leaving Fox. Well, that's a kick in the pants for senseless babble 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

EnviroCan Coddles Big Fossil


Harper's EnviroCan doesn't have the stomach to prosecute oil, gas and pipeline companies for their wanton mishaps.   It prefers, instead, to speak sternly to them or at least send them letters.

The warnings include letters to oilsands producer Devon Canada, and to Gibson Energy – a midstream company that manages pipelines and other related infrastructure – alleging that two separate oil spills at their respective facilities in 2010 were in violation of the federal Fisheries Act.

The violations are punishable by fines of up to $1 million or imprisonment of up to three years, said the warning letters.

Both companies said they had addressed the concerns raised in the letters, but Environment Canada also called out several other companies in writing, for failures to implement and test emergency plans and failures to properly report and identify the storage or management of regulated petroleum products.

Our goal isn’t to prosecute for the sake of prosecuting (or) make the numbers look good in that sense,” said Heather McCready, a manager from the enforcement branch of Environment Canada. 

“Our goal is to bring people into compliance as quickly as possible.

“It’s about protecting the environment. It’s not about racking up points. So a warning letter can be a very effective tool to do that.”

But Parliament’s environment watchdog, Scott Vaughan, disputed those claims in his last investigation of enforcement actions. His analysis found that the department didn’t know which enforcement measures were most effective since it wasn’t adequately tracking cases or following up with companies about violations.

Department officials initially declined to answer questions about the nature of its warning letters in July 2012, prompting Postmedia News to make multiple requests for the records related to the oil and gas industry using federal access to information legislation.

At that time, the department was pursuing millions of dollars in budget cuts, including funding cuts for scientists who helped enforcement officers measure pollution and test for compliance with existing laws and regulations.

The Harper government also replaced the country’s main environmental protection law last summer with legislation that reduced federal oversight in assessing industrial development, while strengthening provisions to crack down on companies that didn’t respect conditions imposed on projects by the government.
 
Some cracking down - a letter.   Is there any more obvious example of dereliction, double-speak, perhaps even corruption, in today's federal government than Environment Canada?

The Latest Affront to Decency - Ag-Gag Laws

Big Agra has been plagued by whistleblowers exposing industrial agriculture's excesses such as animal cruelty, food safety or environmental degradation.   Now Big Agra in the U.S. is fighting back with what are called Ag-Gag laws.   These target those who investigate and expose Big Agra's excesses and brand their work "acts of terrorism."

That's right, terrorism.   And you thought that was about some guy named bin Laden.   Sheesh.

And who better to write the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, designed to protect Big Ag and Big Energy, than the lawyers on the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force at the corporate-funded and infamous American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

New Hampshire, Wyoming and Nebraska are the latest states to introduce Ag-Gag laws aimed at preventing employees, journalists or activists from exposing illegal or unethical practices on factory farms. Lawmakers in 10 other states introduced similar bills in 2011-2012.  The laws passed in three of those states: Missouri, Iowa and Utah.  But consumer and animal-welfare activists prevented the laws from passing in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York and Tennessee.

In all, six states now have Ag-Gag laws, including North Dakota, Montana and Kansas, all of which passed the laws in 1990-1991, before the term “Ag-Gag” was coined.

Today’s ALEC-inspired bills take direct aim at anyone who tries to expose horrific acts of animal cruelty, dangerous animal-handling practices that might lead to food safety issues, or blatant disregard for environmental laws designed to protect waterways from animal waste runoff. In the past, most of those exposes have resulted from undercover investigations of exactly the type Big Ag wants to make illegal.

Ag-Gag is best seen for what it means in our post-democratic world, as the merger of corporatism and political authoritarianism.  This is fascism writ large.  Do you think Canada couldn't wind up with something quite similar to safeguard the secrecy of the pipelines that Harper and Alberta want to run across British Columbia?   They've already branded pipeline critics as "extremists" which connotes danger and the spectre of violence.   How huge a leap would it be to label anyone getting too close to that pipeline and its infrastructure a "terrorist"?

Good Neighbours, Bad Neighbours

Let's say your kids were doing a bit of batting practice in the backyard and put a ball through your neighbour's window.   Would you say that's the neighbour's tough luck or would you apologize and cover the cost of fixing the shattered window?

Most of us, I'm sure, wouldn't hesitate to pay to have the window fixed but what would we make of the other guy, the one who shrugged his shoulders and said, "that's your tough luck"?  We'd probably think that guy was a real shit, not the sort of neighbour you would want to have, certainly not the sort of neighbour you would want to help or invite to your next barbeque.   You want to be surrounded by good neighbours, not bad neighbours.

So why would you want to support a candidate for party leadership who is tantamount to that bad neighbour.   I'm talking about J. Trudeau, M. Hall-Findlay or M. Garneau for starters.   I'm talking about every bitumen booster pol in the country and the other fossil-fuelers too.

Here's the deal.   They don't want to pay for the broken window.  They just want to keep on breaking other people's windows.  How's that?

In a nutshell, we want to push high-carbon fossil fuels, particularly bitumen and coal, onto the world markets - the more, the faster, the better.   And we're disproportionately contributing the the growing and critical problem of global warming and climate change.   And all around the world, the weakest, poorest and most vulnerable people are taking it in the neck from what we're doing.

Maybe we should do the good neighbourly thing and make good our share of the damage that greenhouse-gas driven climate change is causing these people.  Or if, as is far more likely, we go "bad neighbour" then maybe those we've injured should be able to hold us accountable.  That very idea was floated at the last climate summit in Qatar.

For the first time, nations agreed that “developing nations that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change” might have a right to redress from major polluting nations for any resulting “loss and damage.” The conference then directed its staff to begin research on how to ensure that redress.

The U.S. delegation in particular worked hard to make certain there was no mention of compensation or litigation. Nonetheless, the action taken in Qatar suggests nations now concede that damaging impacts of climate change are inescapable. Given that those nations are already under an obligation in international law to prevent dangerous climate change, it brings closer the day when nations may seek redress in the courts for damages caused by climate change. And it may make more likely the prospect of citizens successfully bringing major polluters to court and making them responsible for their contributions to climate change.


...After 17 years — with the pitifully weak Kyoto Protocol of 1997 the only sign of progress — negotiators at the much-anticipated climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009 admitted that mitigation was failing. So the Copenhagen Accord added another element. Besides mitigation, governments pledged to set aside money for an “adaptation fund” to help poorer nations adjust to what now looked like inevitable climate change.

Today, three years later, the prospect of a new global treaty to mitigate emissions seems as far away as ever, and the adaptation fund is largely empty. So, in Qatar, they added a third leg by launching studies into how to respond to the growing threat of “loss and damage.” What they are, in effect, telling the world is that neither mitigation nor adaptation will work.


The lawsuits have already begun and, so far, we're doing a yeoman's job of keeping them at bay but some thing it's only a matter of time until the legal precedent is set and big emitters, corporate and state, are held liable to those they have harmed.

What then?  Look at Alberta, a province that gets a third of its revenue from oil and gas but mainly bitumen.   Their premier, Joan Cusak, just went on TV to tell her fellow Wild Rosebuds that they're broke - again.  It couldn't be clearer.   If Alberta was obliged to be a good neighbour and compensate those injured by the excessive greenhouse gas emissions from its bitumen trade, it'd be out of business.   In other words, a good chunk of the revenue Alberta does take in is only available so long as someone else in a remote corner of the planet pays the price.

And when you hear someone like Justin Trudeau champion the Tar Sands, you're hearing a guy who is telling you he doesn't think Canada should be responsible for the damage we're causing in our global neighbourhood.   He's really no better than a damned asbestos peddler.