Showing posts with label America. Show all posts
Showing posts with label America. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In Drought News

Central America continues to reel under severe, multi-year drought.  Guatemala has declared a state of emergency in 16 of the country's 22-provinces.  Experts believe the impact on agriculture could soon leave hundreds of thousands of families without food.

As America's west coast and southwest continue to be plagued by drought, an article at Treehugger examines how Americans might look to Canadian waters to ease their pain.  The article revives a long-forgotten idea to dam James Bay and divert the excess freshwater via canal to Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. Presumably the diverted James Bay water would then be drawn into the U.S. via the Mississippi River.

In Australia, farmers are bracing for a possible, late season El Nino to worsen an already serious drought.

When a scorching drought struck eastern Australia in 2006, cattle farmers Robyn and Paul Kendal had to slaughter nearly all their livestock and spend around a year of their normal turnover on feed to keep the remainder alive.
With a recurrence of El Niño, the weather pattern behind the drought, looming and dry conditions already affecting an area larger than South Africa, another major drought could be one struggle too many for farmers such as the Kendals.
"In 2006, we saw the lowest amount of rains here since records began...and we still haven’t recovered from that even today," said Robyn Kendal, whose 3,000-acre (1,215 hectares) cattle farm is about 500 km (300 miles) southwest of Sydney.
China's agricultural heartland is said to be experiencing its worst drought in 63-years.  In Brazil, severe drought is impacting agriculture and urban water supply. The city of Sao Paolo could run dry within a few months.
Across the Middle East and East Africa, most of the conflict hot spots - Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia and Sudan - reveal how destabilizing drought can be in vulnerable countries.
The good news is that world cereal grain production is up this year thanks to good crops in the U.S., the E.U. and India.

Friday, February 28, 2014

If the U.S. Was in Russia's Position, How Would It React to Russian Meddling in Canada or Mexico that Threatened America's Security?

The Ukraine sits right on Russia's doorstep.  It is the land route to Russia's Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol by which the Russian navy can access the Mediterranean.  Severing Russia's naval access to the Med is thought to be why the U.S. has been meddling in Ukrainian affairs, funding the pro-western group that topped the country's pro-Russian president, leaving the country bloodied, badly divided and at risk of separation or worse. 

Quite predictably we're awfully quick to turn all sanctimonious in our admonitions to Putin in Moscow.   How would we react if the shoe was on the other foot?

What if Russia saw an opportunity to meddle in Mexico's affairs to topple the pro-U.S. government and put in a friendly regime that would welcome a Russian military presence south of the Rio Grande?  A few Russian air force bases, a naval facility or two, maybe an armoured training range in the Sonoran desert and possibly a few medium-range missile batteries, for self-defence only of course.

I think it's safe to say the U.S. would create some pretext to militarily intervene before the first runway was constructed.  Remember Grenada?  The Gringos have a short fuse at the suggestion of anyone else, especially Russia, meddling in their backyard.  Yet they have it in their heads that it's okay when they do just that to the Russians.

The Russians are a heavily armed yet nervous people with a long memory of foreign aggression.  If the Americans want to reinstate the Cold War their manipulations in Ukraine are an ideal way to start.  Washington is already playing a clumsy yet dangerous containment game against China with the Asia Pivot.  This is a real good time to drive Moscow and Beijing even deeper into each other's arms - and armouries.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Could "America's Quiet Environmental Revolution" Sound Last Call for Athabasca Bitumen?

A PostMedia article discusses what it calls America's "quiet environmental revolution," a nationwide, broadbased movement away from fossil fuels toward non-carbon alternatives.

Even the most unlikely Americans are taking up the carbon-free challenge, often viewing it as a path to energy independence. Kentucky Republican congressman Thomas Massie, for instance, built himself a solar home and lives off the grid. He also drives an electric car. Yet at the same time he opposes government attempts to impose environmental regulations.

In the greater scope of America’s gluttonous fossil fuel appetite, these clean energy initiatives could be mistaken as insignificant. Yet they carry all the signs of a quiet revolution gradually emerging in cities and states across the nation. They are slowly reshaping the energy landscape in spite of a federal government that remains gridlocked over climate change legislation.

“What we have seen regarding energy policy is that almost all Americans regardless of their political orientation are decidedly for clean energy future for America,” said Edward Maibach, a professor at George Mason University who tracks public opinion on climate change.

“It’s a transition that they would like to see happening now,” he said.

Being PostMedia, the article frames the discussion in the context of a threat to Canada.

In light of Maibach’s research, Obama’s recent attack on Keystone does not appear so puzzling and off-the-cuff as it did at first blush. Rather, it appears part of a grand strategy — supported by the majority of Americans — to wean the nation off fossil fuels.

So far, slightly more than 25 states have set energy efficiency targets and 35 have renewable energy targets. The U.S. energy picture is changing faster than predicted and posing new economic and political challenges for Canada that go well beyond Keystone.

Canadian energy companies might have to seek new and more distant markets. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has tied his energy and climate change policies to those of the U.S., might have to think up new ones.

What the article avoids mentioning is the Sword of Damocles hanging over Athabasca's head - the Carbon Bubble. (more here, here, and here.)  Of all the unconventional fossil fuels, Athabasca bitumen is perhaps the most exposed to the Carbon Bubble.  Leaving aside the environmental problems associated with its production, bitumen is expensive to extract, expensive to transport and expensive to refine.  It may be the ultimate high-cost/high-carbon fossil fuel.

It's not going to take much to burst that Carbon Bubble.  That will come when institutional investors finally flee the high-carbon fossil fuels and America's quiet environmental revolution could be just the thing to trigger the stampede.

It's a safe bet, judging from Harper's unseemly haste to get bitumen "to tidewater" that he's only too aware that the clock is ticking, time is running out.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

An American Makes the Case for Public Healthcare

Public healthcare works.   Ask any American senior citizen.   The Washington Post's Harold Meyerson explains:

...a funny thing happens to Americans’ life expectancy when they age. The U.S. mortality rate is the highest of the 17 nations until Americans hit 50 and the second-highest until they hit 70. Then our mortality ranking precipitously shifts: By the time American seniors hit 80, they have some of the longest life expectancies in the world.

What gives? Have seniors discovered the Fountain of Youth? Do U.S. geriatricians outpace all our other physicians?

Part of the answer is Darwinian: Those Americans who have been less able to access reliable medical care, maintain good diets and live in neighborhoods that are not prey to gun violence have disproportionately died off before age 80. That isn’t natural selection but social selection — the survival of the economically fittest in a nation that rations longevity by wealth.

But the larger part of the answer is that at age 65, Americans enter a health-care system that ceases to be exceptional when compared with the systems in the other 16 nations studied. They leave behind the private provision of medical coverage, forsake the genius of the market and avail themselves of universal medical insurance. For the first time, they are beneficiaries of the same kind of social policy that their counterparts in other lands enjoy. And presto, change-o: Their life expectancy catches up with and eventually surpasses those of the French, Germans, Britons and Canadians

In other words, public healthcare works just fine for Americans if only they're lucky enough to make it to 65 in order to get it.  Meyerson concludes:

What’s truly exceptional about America, it turns out, is the indifference we show to our compatriots, the absence of the kind of national solidarity more evident in the nations that surpass us on all these lists. Mitt Romney may have lost the election — thankfully — but his relegation of 47 percent of his fellow Americans to history’s scrap heap evinces a spirit that suffuses all too many of our institutional arrangements and social relations. So Americans don’t live so long. So what?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

It All Sounds Good Until They Shoot Back

It's no accident that our fondness for resorting to military violence is inversely proportional to the risk that our target might inflict the same violence on us.   Put another way, we're all for whacking people so long as they can't whack back.

How fond would Benny Netanyahu be of targeted assassinations if Hamas had the ability to retaliate in kind?

How likely would Barack Obama be to resort to drone warfare in distant lands if the other side had the ability to send manned drones into U.S. airspace?

It begs the question of how we're going to cope with a "peer" adversary, a country such as China or Russia or a bunch of them in an alliance?

Cruise missiles are great as long as they're all heading in one direction but if cruise missiles start going in both directions then you're into a new game entirely.

We've become accustomed to this monopoly on violence business, far too much so.   It won't last.   It never has and it never will.  It didn't even exist for most of my lifetime and I'm pretty sure it'll be gone before I am.

Sadly, as Andrew Bacevich chronicles in The New American Militarism, in the post Cold-War era, military force or threats of force came to supplant diplomacy as his country's principal instrument of foreign policy.   That sort of hair-trigger diplomacy has led to America's military fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's estimated that, four years from now, when Obama leaves the White House, China's economy will surpass that of the United States.   How will America's "muscular foreign policy" (to use Ignatieff's unfortunate words) sit with this ascendant China?

These are timely questions given that Elmer's backward boy, Peter MacKay, is currently hosting his Halifax International Security Forum.   For Pete this seems to be a largely masturbaTory exercise in imagining that Canada has a serious role to play in global security on just about everything from Syria to China.

Pete spent today doting on another pile of aging gristle, the late Senator John McCain who championed the imposition of a "no fly" regime over Syria.   McCain, who said his own people are "too war weary" for another ground war, envisions surrounding Syria with American Patriot missile batteries to shoot down any Syrian government aircraft that take to the Syrian airspace.   That, of course, would mean positioning American missile batteries in Lebanon, the Golan Heights, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.   Good luck with that, John, and thanks for playing.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Terrible Reach of Citizens United

America's advance as a true corporatist state was given a huge boost by the USSC's decision in Citizens United.   That decision launched the United States into its first $6-billion election.

Money talks and it talks loud and clear in America's "bought and paid for" Congress.   When then Republican House leader John Boehner can stroll the floor distributing tobacco lobby cheques just prior to a vote on tobacco subsidies, the situation goes far beyond lousy optics.

American business, it seems, is discovering that buying political allegiance is a game that can be played elsewhere.   Once you've got legislators in your pocket, why not add a few grateful judges to round out your stable?

Big money flowed into judicial elections this year.   Fortunately, according to American voters didn't bite, not this time.

This year’s court-related campaigns also featured interesting side-stories, including spending by super PACs, entry by the Koch brothers into judicial elections, national politicians seeking to unseat an Iowa justice, and a viral video with TV stars that helped elect a high court candidate.

“The arms race around our courts is growing worse, but voters are seeing through campaigns to make courts more political and less impartial,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake.

The line held, this year, but the independence of America's judiciary remains in very real peril.

“Judicial elections this year were characterized by attack ads, record-breaking spending, and outsized influence by special interests,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “As judges face increased pressure to act like politicians, the integrity of our courts is at risk.”

Political parties and independent groups dominated this year’s races, in many cases relying on secret money that does not appear in campaign finance disclosure filings. More than 50% of all TV ads came from non-candidate groups, compared with roughly 30% in 2010.

Corporatists spent big in the election and, by all appearances, weren't terribly effective.   Unfortunately there is enough at stake that they'll be back again next time, probably with different approaches.  This is a trial and error exercise.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Blue Versus Red - a War of the Wealthy

The ever widening gap between Red and Blue America exists mainly among the wealthy.

The New York Times reports that a study based on exit polls shows lower-income Americans, whether from Blue or Red states, tend to favour the Democratic Party.  The divide seems to be the battleground of more well-to-do voters.

To picture this, imagine two alternative universes for the 2012 election. In the first, only individuals making less than $50,000 a year can vote; in the second, only those making more than $100,000 a year can. Based on exit polls from Election Day, we have a decent idea of how these scenarios would play out.

In the first universe, Barack Obama wins in a 1984-style landslide, with a near sweep of the Electoral College and around 60 percent of the popular vote.

In the second universe, Mitt Romney wins with a healthy 54 percent of the popular vote. Though he still carries the red states, a landslide remains out of his grasp — wealthy voters in blue states like New York and California still support Obama by comfortable margins.

Remarkably, this same pattern has occurred in every presidential contest over the past twenty years. Lower-income voters consistently support the Democratic candidate in nearly every state. Upper-income voters, on the other hand, are more mixed in their political views: wealthy voters in Mississippi are strongly Republican while wealthy voters in Massachusetts are strongly Democratic. Extensive analyses of survey information from these elections show that this relationship holds even when controlling for age, race, sex and education.

In other words, contrary to what you have heard, there’s only a strong red America-blue America split toward the top of the income distribution. Toward the bottom, the electoral map is a sea of blue.

It still seems hard to grasp that when rich and poor are tabulated together, Obama edged out Romney by just a couple of points.  That suggests an America today of enormous affluence in which lower-income voters make up a small minority.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Rape-Happy States of America

I stumbled upon this in the comments section of another blog, did a bit of searching, and found out it is true - in more than half of the American states, a rapist can sue for custody or visitation rights.  31 in fact.

In the wake of Todd Akin's comments about pregnancy rarely resulting from "legitimate rape," lawyer Shauna Prewitt highlights a reality for women in that situation in a column on CNN: In a majority of states, attackers are afforded the same rights as other fathers. 

Prewitt, herself a rape survivor who gave birth to a daughter as a result of her attack, explains that  31 states have no laws that bar rapists from seeking custody or visitation rights. For Prewitt that astounding fact is personal. Her rapist attempted to get custody of her daughter, "but thankfully I got lucky and his visitation rights were terminated," she said, according to a profile of her by The Am Law Daily's Brain Baxter. She added: "I'm not sure I would have made the decision I did had I known I might be tethered to my rapist for the rest of my life."

A Nation Chock Full of Crazy People

Looking at the United States today or at least the Tea Party half of it is like sneaking into an old-time carnival Freak Show.   There is a big chunk of the American population seriously detached from reality and some of those actually ran for the Republican presidential nomination - you know who I'm talking about Michelle, you too Newt.   There are plenty more, crazy people like Inhofe, Akins and Mourdock looking for seats in Congress and a good many of them will win.   In today's America, being crazy is no bar to success, none whatsoever.

The crazy bowl may be full to the brim but there's always room for just one more.   This time he's anti-gay Christian leader John McTernan.    Pastor John knows why America is getting hammered by Hurricane Sandy.   God is punishing the country for its tolerance of homosexuality.

“God is systematically destroying America” as punishment for the “homosexual agenda.”

“Both candidates are pro-homosexual and are behind the homosexual agenda. America is under political judgment and the church does not know it,” McTernan wrote on his website.

McTernan also uses religion in his attempt to rationalize why the storm is hitting now, explaining that it’s been 21 years since the “perfect storm” hit New England in 1991.
“21 years breaks down to 7 x 3, which is a significant number with God. Three is perfection as the Godhead is three in one while seven is perfection.”

Crazy?   Hell yeah, batshit crazy and, in America, you can take that shit straight to the bank.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How to Kill Democracy, the Ultimate How-To Guide

Remember when voter intimidation was considered an outrage, a threat to democracy?   That was then, this is now.

The oligarchs are moving very powerfully and relentlessly to dismantle democracy and the battleground is the Greatest Democracy on Earth (TM), the United States.

From disinformation services that spew outright falsehoods and propaganda to inculcate fear, confusion, targeted frustration and anger in an ignorant populace; to vote-rigging and the use of electronic voting technology tailor-made for manipulation; to voter ID laws that suppress minorities and the poor; to outright intimidation of working Americans by the rich and powerful, America remains a democracy in name only.

Michael Paarlberg, writing in The Guardian, reports that in America today, a "wrong" vote can cost you your job.

 Romney Stage Props Ordered to Take the Stage or Else
 A number of Romney backers took it upon themselves to spell out more clearly to their workers what "the best interest for their job" really means. David Siegel, CEO of Florida's Westgate Resorts, emailed his employees that a second term for Obama would likely give him "no choice but to reduce the size of this company". Republican donor-activists Charles and David Koch were no less subtle when they sent 45,000 employees of their Georgia Pacific paper company a list of whom to vote for, warning that workers "may suffer the consequences" if Obama is re-elected.

Florida-based ASG Software CEO Arthur Allen informed his employees that he was contemplating a merger that would eliminate "60% of the salaries" of the company – should Romney lose. In Ohio, coal mine owner Robert Murray left employees in no doubt that they were expected to attend a Romney rally – off the clock and without pay. In Cuba, at least they pay workers for show demonstrations.

...News outlets, on the other hand, are merely confused.

"Can your boss really tell you who to vote for?" asked the Atlantic incredulously, before concluding the answer is "probably yes". Should this be a surprise? Seeing that your boss can legally tell you to do nearly anything else, down to what you may wear, when you may eat and how often you may go to the bathroom (and, if he wishes, demand samples when you do), the question comes across as a little naïve. So, too, is the corollary "Can you be fired for expressing political views at work?" Again, the answer is probably yes, which should only be a shock to anyone who has never held a job in an American private-sector workplace.

In truth, as an "at-will" (that is, non-union) employee, you can be fired for much less. In Arizona, you can be fired for using birth control. If you live in any one of 29 states, you can be fired for being gay. You can be fired for being a fan of the Green Bay Packers if your boss roots for the Bears

Lest you think employer authority ends when you clock out, only four states – California, Colorado, New York and North Dakota – protect workers from being fired for legal activity outside of work. For the rest, workers can and have been fired for anything from smoking to cross-dressing, all in the privacy of their homes. The growing practice of employers demanding job applicants to hand over their Facebook passwords underscores the blurring of the work-life divide in this information age.

...Brooklyn College political scientist Corey Robin sees a historical pattern:
"During the McCarthy years, the state outsourced the most significant forms of coercion and repression to the workplace. Fewer than 200 people went to jail for their political beliefs, but two out of every five American workers was investigated or subject to surveillance.
"Today, we're seeing a similar process of outsourcing. Government can't tell you how to vote, but it allows CEOs to do so."
Robin concluded:
When workers are forced to go to rallies in communist countries, we call that Stalinism. Here, we call it the free market.
This is a wake-up call for Canadians.   When will we hear any of our political leaders denouncing America's malignant democracy and calling for the sort of safeguards essential to keep this contagion from sweeping across our borders?

We're bound to be smug about this just as Americans were for more than two decades.   Yet we need to realize what is happening today is the inevitable result of corporatism, the merger of corporate and political power, the phenomenon Mussolini defined as "fascism."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mitt Romney - Class Warrior

Mitt Romney wouldn't be the first really rich man to enter the White House.   But, as Robert Reich points out, he'd certainly be a lot different.

America has had hugely wealthy presidents before — think of Teddy Roosevelt and his distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt; or John F. Kennedy, beneficiary of father Joe’s fortune.

But here’s the difference. These men were champions of the working class and the poor, and were considered traitors to their own class. Teddy Roosevelt railed against the “malefactors of great wealth,” and he busted up the oil and railroad trusts.

FDR thundered against the “economic royalists,” raised taxes on the wealthy, and gave average working people the right to form unions — along with Social Security, unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, and a 40-hour workweek.

But Mitt Romney is not a traitor to his class. He is a sponsor of his class. He wants to cut their taxes by $3.7 trillion over the next decade, and hasn’t even specified what “loopholes” he’d close to make up for this gigantic giveaway.

And he wants to cut benefits that almost everyone else relies on — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps, unemployment insurance, and housing assistance.

He’s even a warrior for his class, telling his wealthy followers his job isn’t to worry about the “47 percent” of Americans who won’t vote for him, whom he calls “victims” and he berates for not paying federal incomes taxes and taking federal handouts.

...Money means power. Concentrated wealth at the top means extraordinary power at the top. The reason Romney pays a rate of only 14 percent on $13 million of income in 2011 — a lower rate than many in the middle class — is because he exploits a loophole that allows private equity managers to treat their income as capital gains, taxed at only 15 percent.

...So much wealth and power have accumulated at the top of America that our economy and our democracy are seriously threatened. Romney not only represents this problem. He is the living embodiment of it.

It's time Americans busted this myth of the "self-made man" Romney and his clan steadfastly hide behind.   Nobel laureate economist Joe Stiglitz in his recent book, "The Price of Inequality", traces how government policies, not normal market forces, have created the inequality that plagues today's America and has resulted in the undeserved transfer of wealth and power from the middle classes to the richest of the rich.   The government "of the people, by the people, for the people" turned its back on the people, lining its pockets richly in the process.

The frightening thing is that there a great many Americans, especially the prominent and affluent, who don't think this is corrupt.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

America's Bought and Paid For Judges

A great way to water down democracy is to control the judiciary.   This is what happens when you combine unrestricted corporate electoral spending with an elected bench.   Judges whose election and tenure are tied to corporate funding can be reasonably apprehended to have a corporate bias on the bench.   Those who lavish them with money expect results.

The lead editorial in today's New York Times laments the demise of impartial courts resulting from  "enormous amounts of influence-seeking campaign money unleashed by recent Supreme Court rulings."

Can American democracy survive bought and paid for governors, legislators and judges?   Hard to imagine how.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Another Glimpse Into the Warfare State

Further evidence that America is being transformed into a genuine "warfare state" comes from a report in Wired magazine that the Pentagon is planning to unleash SEAL teams to attack and kill drug lords south of the U.S. border.

"According to anonymous Mexican and U.S. military sources cited by Proceso magazine (translated from Spanish), the plan involves sending Navy SEALs by helicopter after the Sinaloa Cartel kingpin, who is rumored to be hiding in the mountains of the western Mexican states of Sinaloa and Durango. The SEALs would be divided into two teams — one would land and attack, and the other would stay airborne — assisted by three unmanned drones packing missiles.
"After locating El Chapo, the SEALs would “eliminate any of Chapo’s security on the spot … as they did with the ‘Bin Laden’ operation,” according to Proceso. If El Chapo is killed, the SEALs would take the kingpin’s body with them. The plan is reported to have been ordered by the Pentagon and Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which oversees military operations in North America. If enacted, U.S. officials would observe from the White House and NORTHCOM headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. The plan is also reported to be U.S.-only, excluding the Mexican military.

"...According to Proceso, outgoing President Felipe Calderón was reportedly keen to the idea, but faced objections from the Mexican army and navy. The Mexican navy — which includes Mexico’s marines — is one of the main strike forces against the cartels. An American strike would also blatantly violate Mexican law, which prohibits foreign military and law enforcement agencies from operating on Mexican soil, except under tightly controlled conditions and never armed.
"There’s also the risk of inflaming sentiment against the United States. Although there’s a growing minority of Mexican citizens who support greater U.S. involvement, including intervention, the Mexican public is largely opposed to the idea. In 2011, worsening drug violence and discussions of a greater U.S. intervention helped contribute to a nadir in U.S.-Mexico relations. The Wall Street Journal reported that Mexican officials were “enraged” by the suggestion of sending U.S. troops. For criticizing the effectiveness of the Mexican military, the former U.S. ambassador, Carlos Pascual, was thrown out of the country. The $1.6 billion Merida Initiative, which provides U.S. aid for Mexico’s military, has more political support but has faced intense opposition from academics, journalists and human rights activists."

The possibilities for unanticipated blowback from this sort of thing are considerable.   America once ruled the roost over the OAS countries.   The Monroe Doctrine established the U.S. as hegemon in South and Central America.   Now those same countries are breaking free from what many see as generations of American control.   The region's trade is now stronger with China than with the United States.   The days where America could, with impunity, unleash unilateral, blatantly illegal military violence upon Latin America may be over and something like this could hasten that end.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

But Not For Want of Trying

An integral part of America's decline is its faltering ability to impose its will on the world, by force if necessary.  Its colossal failures in both Iraq and Afghanistan are proof positive.  For Washington, and the Pentagon, that's going to take some getting used to and it's an important shift that the rest of us, America's allies, need to grasp.

Noam Chomsky says the United States has lost the capacity, but not the will, to rule the world.

In the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from western domination, another serious loss. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanized elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery. They have also rid themselves of all US military bases and of IMF controls.

Even more serious would be the loss of the MENA countries – Middle East/North Africa – which have been regarded by planners since the 1940s as "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history". Control of MENA energy reserves would yield "substantial control of the world", in the words of the influential Roosevelt advisor AA Berle.

...The Arab Spring, another development of historic importance, might portend at least a partial "loss" of MENA. The US and its allies have tried hard to prevent that outcome – so far, with considerable success. Their policy towards the popular uprisings has kept closely to the standard guidelines: support the forces most amenable to US influence and control. 

...While the principles of imperial domination have undergone little change, the capacity to implement them has markedly declined as power has become more broadly distributed in a diversifying world. Consequences are many. It is, however, very important to bear in mind that, unfortunately, none lifts the two dark clouds that hover over all consideration of global order: nuclear war and environmental catastrophe, both literally threatening the decent survival of the species.

Quite the contrary. Both threats are ominous, and increasing.

Canada needs to adapt to this quickly shifting balance of power.  As America's global authority wanes it is logical that it will call upon its allies to bolster its foreign adventures.  Washington may well expect us to form its 21st century Foreign Legion and shift the balance of our own forces from primarily defensive to predominantly offensive posture.  It could be argued that the F-35 is part and parcel of such a transformation.

The CF-18 was a true, multi-role aircraft - fast, agile, capable of carrying plenty of ordinance and extra fuel.   The F-35 is much more an offensive weapon, a light bomber that uses stealth technology to survive missions into heavily defended, hostile airspace.   With its limited performance and lack of external weaponry or fuel tanks, it's a damned poor choice to defend against any enemy that doesn't choose to fly straight into its path.

Here's something that is rarely mentioned.   To work its magic, the F-35 needs another aircraft, an airplane we don't have nor, seemingly, plan to acquire.   That is a large, 4-engined AWACS, aerial warning and command aircraft.   It operates the radar to scan the battlefield while the F-35 flies in, blind.  It transmits the necessary data to the F-35 to enable it to do its job, undetected.   Without that command ship, the F-35 is all but useless because, instantly it has to turn on its own radar, every bad guy knows right where it is.

Who has the missing ingredient, the AWACS aircraft?   They're the preserve of the US Air Force and NATO.   That means if the F-35 goes to war, it will have to be in conjunction with the USAF or NATO.  In any other circumstance it's virtually useless.

Here's something else to consider.   We now know that the F-35 operating costs will be $30,000 an hour, at least double that of the latest European aircraft.   But, if it is to operate in defence of the north, it won't be operating alone.   Because of its limited range it will probably require tanker support if it is to make it home safely.  And you can expect the Russians will be quick to test our appetite for running regular intercepts against their aircraft.

With the clown car of candidates vying for the Republican nomination and their bizarre, radical rants, we should decide whether we really want to enlist as Washington's spear carriers.  This might be a really good time to find our own path again.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When Is America Truly #1? When It Screws Up.

All the King's horses and all the King's men cannot save America from its own stupidity.   There are many examples of American hubris but one that stands out is the legacy of Dick Cheney's frolic in Iraq.  Asia Times has published an interesting overview of America's greatest, perhaps its conclusive, strategic defeat in the Middle East.

"The US's major mistake in Iraq - in stark contrast to the United Kingdom during its colonial quest - is that it tried to engage in "regime change", where the entire state structure of the old regime was not superseded but destroyed. Later, the US tried to restore it, but the damage was irreversible.

"Secondly, Washington, following the dictum that democracy should spread to any part of the world, launched what were the freest elections in Iraq's history. Both decisions were grave mistakes and led to disaster, at least from Washington's perspective.

"The destruction of the state unleashed anarchy and a milieu where jihadis and other extremists could flourish. The election led to the Shi'ite majority - with its strong pro-Iranian sympathies - gaining power. Then the only force that would have been able to stabilize Iraq and prevent it from becoming Iran's proxy - US troops - left. . 

"With an industrial base in the process of erosion and mounting debt and budget cuts, the hands of Washington were tied; and it would be naive to attribute the withdrawal from Iraq conducted recently to the naivete of President Barack Obama."

"...With the US's departure, a trend where Baghdad was drawing closer to Tehran has intensified, and Iraq supports the regime in Syria - Tehran's proxy.

"At the same time, Sunni violence, with the possible participation of jihadis, has intensified. This also could be said to a lesser degree about the Kurds, who have not lost hope of building an independent state.

"This process has provided an opportunity to Sunni jihadis, the enemy of not just Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government but also that of his masters in Tehran.

"Moreover, they could well reinforce the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, who are the enemy not just of the US but also of Iran. It is not surprising that Iran has engaged in moves not just to prepare for a potential war with the US/Israel but also started maneuvers near its borders with Afghanistan."

American arrogance engineered its own defeat in Iraq and the Middle East.   Cheney-Rumsfeld thought their tidy little war would be over in as little as 60-days.   Wolfowitz told Congress the cost would be nominal - a few tens of billions - and would essentially be recovered out of Iraq oil deals.   These miscreants ignored warnings, even retaliated against those who would speak truth to their power.

Iraq today is the inevitable hellspawn of the union of religious fundamentalism, ideological radicalism (neo-conservatism),  a rampant military-industrial complex, and a corrupt, bought and paid for government.   It speaks of a people who no longer understand their own nation, a people rendered inert by a force-fed diet of fear and anger.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Disneyfication of America

It's much easier to understand the bizarre antics of our cousins to the south when you realize they're not on the same page as the rest of the world.  In fact, they're not even on the same book.   The thing is, it's not funny.   It's potentially quite dangerous - to them and to everyone else.

Retired US Army colonel turned free thinker, professor Andrew J. Bacevich writes, in this month's Harper's magazine, about the dangerous "Disneyfication" of the way Americans have come to understand their country and the world.

"The ;Disneyfication' of World War II...  finds its counterpart in the Disneyfication of the Cold War, reduced in popular imagination and the halls of Congress to Ronald Reagan's demanding 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!'   The Soviet leader meekly complied, and freedom erupted across Europe.   Facts that complicate this story... ultimately get filed under the heading of Things That Don't Really Matter.   The Ike Americans like even today is the one who kept the Soviets at bay while presiding  over eight years of peace and prosperity.   The other Ike - the one who unleashed the CIA on Iran and Guatemala, refused to let the Vietnamese exercise their right to self-determination in 1956, and ignored the plight of Hungarians who, taking seriously Washington's rhetoric of liberation,rose up to throw off the yoke of Soviet power remains far less well known...

Self-serving mendacities - that the attacks of September 11, 2001, reprising those of December 7, 1949, 'came out of nowhere' to strike an innocent nation - don't enhance the safety and well being of the American people.  To further indulge old illusions of the United States presiding over and directing the course of history will not only impede the ability of Americans to understand the world and themselves but may well pose a positive danger to both.  ...Only by jettisoning the American Century and the illusions to which it gives rise will the self-knowledge and self-understanding that Americans urgently require become a possibility.   Whether Americans will grasp the opportunity that beckons is another matter."

Yet so many Americans remain in thrall to their fantasies.  It's the capacity for delusion that fuels the successes of outrageous charlatans like Newt Gingrich.   Conditioning a people to embrace a powerfully manipulated and skewed perception of themselves and everyone else has been the stock in trade of every tyrant from Adolf Hitler on down.   It is the precursor to villanies.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Carney Drops a Bombshell

Kudos to Bank of Canada governor, Mark Carney, for coming right out and warning that the crippled U.S. economy is unlikely to ever fully recover.

It’s going to take a number of years before they get back to the U.S. that we used to know — in fact, they are not, in our opinion, ultimately going to get back to the U.S. that we used to know,” he said.

Carney pointed to China as a market with great potential and as a place where Canada is currently under-represented, but cautioned it would take time to enhance trade between the two countries.

“It’s going to take multiple visits, multiple initiatives. Not, obviously, from the public sector alone, but clearly a focus from the private sector,” Carney said. “That is absolutely essential for developing our future and it’s a key element of our medium-term growth.”

Reagan and his contemporaries, Mulroney and Thatcher, set America's demise in motion with their delusional free trade notions.  Reagan's apostles continued his work, gutting America's manufacturing base and, with it, displacing its once vibrant and robust middle class that manufacturing once anchored and nourished to make way for what became casino capitalism.

Yet a permanently degraded economy is but one wound America has suffered.  There are others.   These include the greatest levels of inequality in the developed world, class warfare, the strangling of social and economic mobility, and the evolution of the United States as the first true warfare state in modern history.   All of these open wounds will continue to sap American strength.   In America, as in Canada, the ability of the government to intervene to set these troubles right seems to have been lost.   Now it will be up to the American people to compel change.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Americans Waking Up to Class Warfare, Find Themselves Under Attack

This could just be what the corporatist Right fears most; the American public realizing there's a class war underway and they've been taking fire.   If the American people get in a mood to counterattack, the forces of corporatism and their rightwing political minions could be in a very bad way.

A Pew Research Center study has found two-thirds of Americans now believe there are "very strong" or "strong" conflicts between rich and poor America.   That's up almost 20% since just 2009.

"Not only have perceptions of class conflict grown more prevalent; so, too, has the belief that these disputes are intense. According to the new survey, three-in-ten Americans (30%) say there are “very strong conflicts” between poor people and rich people. That is double the proportion that offered a similar view in July 2009 and the largest share expressing this opinion since the question was first asked in 1987."

And the Pew study found the rich-poor divide had taken top spot among socially divisive issues plaguing America.

"As a result, in the public’s evaluations of divisions within American society, conflicts between rich and poor now rank ahead of three other potential sources of group tension—between immigrants and the native born; between blacks and whites; and between young and old."

"...While blacks are still more likely than whites see serious class conflicts, the share of whites who hold this view has increased by 22 percentage points, to 65%, since 2009. At the same time, the proportion of blacks (74%) and Hispanics (61%) sharing this judgment has grown by single digits (8 and 6 points, respectively).

"The biggest increases in perceptions of class conflicts occurred among political liberals and Americans who say they are not affiliated with either major party. In each group the proportion who say there are major disagreements between rich and poor Americans increased by more than 20 percentage points since 2009.

"These changes in attitudes over a relatively short period of time may reflect the income and wealth inequality message conveyed by Occupy Wall Street protesters across the country in late 2011 that led to a spike in media attention to the topic. But the changes also may also reflect a growing public awareness of underlying shifts in the distribution of wealth in American society."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Where Is America's "Reset" Button?

There's over the top and then there's "over the top" American style.  Perhaps it's all just part of America's transformation into a full-blown warfare state but an article in today's Guardian reveals just how debased some parts of the US have become.   The item chronicles the increasing number of American schools that have full time police officers patrolling their corridors charging kids criminally with misdemeanors for outrages such as swearing or even throwing paper airplanes.

Each day, hundreds of schoolchildren appear before courts in Texas charged with offences such as swearing, misbehaving on the school bus or getting in to a punch-up in the playground. Children have been arrested for possessing cigarettes, wearing "inappropriate" clothes and being late for school.

In 2010, the police gave close to 300,000 "Class C misdemeanour" tickets to children as young as six in Texas for offences in and out of school, which result in fines, community service and even prison time. What was once handled with a telling-off by the teacher or a call to parents can now result in arrest and a record that may cost a young person a place in college or a job years later.'

"We've taken childhood behaviour and made it criminal," said Kady Simpkins, a lawyer who represented Sarah Bustamantes. "They're kids. Disruption of class? Every time I look at this law I think: good lord, I never would have made it in school in the US. I grew up in Australia and it's just rowdy there. I don't know how these kids do it, how they go to school every day without breaking these laws."

Americans have always feared creeping socialism but perhaps they should be more concerned with creeping feudalism.   Any society that doesn't see this sort of excess as abhorrent is embarking on a very dark path.

Monday, November 21, 2011

America - Segregation is Back

The United States has been wrestling with racial segregation for decades and, while considerable progress has been made in some areas, plenty remains to be fixed.   But a new form of segregation is on the rise - wealth segregation.  The gap between rich and poor is more than statistical.

A study by Brown University finds that income segregation is quickly rising in the US.   It found that, in 1970, only 15% of Americans lived in communities that would be considered "affluent" or "poor."  By 2010 those percentages had doubled.  "Affluent" was defined as neighbourhoods in which the median income was 150% or more higher than the median income of their metropolitan areas.  "Poor" was a neighbourhood with a median income 67% or less than the median of its metropolitan area.   The rest lived in neighbourhoods of mixed income.

In other words, the rich are far more likely today to live with their own kind as are the poor. The report's authors found that the isolation of the rich today is much more intense than the evolving isolation of the poor.

The increasing concentration of income and wealth in a small number of neighborhoods,” the two authors note, “results in greater disadvantages for the remaining neighborhoods where low- and middle-income families live.”

In 1991, Robert Reich defined the trend as the "succession of the successful."

While gated communities have become fairly commonplace, they're now being superceded by gated municipalities with their own schools, fire, police and utilities services.   Within these muni-bubbles, the affluent essentially take care of themselves, free of the burden of supporting the less fortunate.  It is a money-saving option for those with all the money.   It also undermines social cohesion which, as argued here many times, is going to be one of the most critical factors in meeting the looming challenges of the 21st century.   This is not the moment in time for America to embrace a "let them eat cake" mentality.