Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins Dead at 62

The woman credited with first calling George W. Bush "Shrub" is dead.

Molly Ivans succumbed today to her third bout with breast cancer. She was a syndicated columnist who appeared in some 400 papers across the US. Her favourite targets were Texas politicians whether in the state or in Washington.

Ivins was a liberal and proud of it. Ivins' best-selling books included those she co-authored with Lou Dubose about Bush. One was titled "Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush" and another was "BUSHWHACKED: Life in George W. Bush's America."

Ivins' jolting satire was directed at people in positions of power.

"The trouble with blaming powerless people is that although it's not nearly as scary as blaming the powerful, it does miss the point," she wrote in a 1997 column. "Poor people do not shut down factories ... Poor people didn't decide to use 'contract employees' because they cost less and don't get any benefits."

In an Austin speech last year, former President Clinton described Ivins as someone who was "good when she praised me and who was painfully good when she criticized me."

Don't Know, Don't Care

There have been plenty of weird things happen in Iraq since the American conquest but this has to be somewhere near the top: Iraq's missing billions.

There is an $8.8-billion hole and no one can get to the bottom of it. It was part of about $22-billion of Iraqi oil revenues and left over cash that fell into the hands of the US Coalition Provisional Authority. No one can say what happened to it, who got it or for what?

David Oliver should know. Oliver was the CPA's first head of finance and in this position he resisted bringing in outside auditors. The money was Oliver's responsibility. As for the missing billions, Oliver seemed not to care much when he spoke with BBC:

"I have no idea, I can't tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn't - nor do I actually think it is important," he said.

Yes, but the fact is that billions of dollars have disappeared without trace.

"Of their money. Billions of dollars of their money disappeared, yes I understand, I'm saying what difference does it make?"

When you put it that way, I guess it doesn't make any difference. Huh?

Arrachage - The End of a Glorious Past

Arrachage is a term the French use to describe ripping out grape vines and it's a word receiving a lot of use today in Bordeaux.

Foreign competition and a decline in national consumption has created an economic body blow to many French vintners. Prices for low-end, vin ordinaire, have slipped to as low as a single euro in some supermarkets. A barrel of wine can now fetch as little as 700 euros, roughly half as much as the price five or six years ago.

Arrachage was once considered a crime tantamount to treason but, with international competition and tumbling prices, some vineyards are going broke. The situation hasn't been helped by a declining demand at home. In the 1960's the French consumed 126 litres of wine per capita. Today that's fallen to 60 litres.

The decline has hit the lowest-end vineyards. Wine growers who produce for the higher-scale brands are faring much better. The prosperous Médoc and St. Emillion appellations have not been affected by the collapse of the market. Their well-known brands continue to sell well at high prices.

Spectacular Victory or Massacre?

You've probably heard about the victory of Iraqi security forces with American backup firepower over a messianic, Shiite cult. the "Soldiers of Heaven", that was about to unleash mayhem on fellow Shiites celebrating their holiest day in Najaf. Early reports mentioned 300-400 insurgents dead with about 100 captured.

The British newspaper, The Independent, reports that the Arab media and Iraq web sites are presenting a much different picture of what happened, claiming it was an outright massacre.

"There are growing suspicions in Iraq that the official story of the battle outside Najaf between a messianic Iraqi cult and the Iraqi security forces supported by the US, in which 263 people were killed and 210 wounded, is a fabrication. The heavy casualties may be evidence of an unpremeditated massacre.

"A picture is beginning to emerge of a clash between an Iraqi Shia tribe on a pilgrimage to Najaf and an Iraqi army checkpoint that led the US to intervene with devastating effect. The involvement of Ahmed al-Hassani (also known as Abu Kamar), who believed himself to be the coming Mahdi, or Messiah, appears to have been accidental.

"The cult denied it was involved in the fighting, saying it was a peaceful movement. The incident reportedly began when a procession of 200 pilgrims was on its way, on foot, to celebrate Ashura in Najaf. They came from the Hawatim tribe, which lives between Najaf and Diwaniyah to the south, and arrived in the Zarga area, one mile from Najaf at about 6am on Sunday. Heading the procession was the chief of the tribe, Hajj Sa'ad Sa'ad Nayif al-Hatemi, and his wife driving in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. When they reached an Iraqi army checkpoint it opened fire, killing Mr Hatemi, his wife and his driver, Jabar Ridha al-Hatemi. The tribe, fully armed because they were travelling at night, then assaulted the checkpoint to avenge their fallen chief.

"Members of another tribe called Khaza'il living in Zarga tried to stop the fighting but they themselves came under fire. Meanwhile, the soldiers and police at the checkpoint called up their commanders saying they were under attack from al-Qai'da with advanced weapons.

"Reinforcements poured into the area and surrounded the Hawatim tribe in the nearby orchards. The tribesmen tried - in vain - to get their attackers to cease fire.

"American helicopters then arrived and dropped leaflets saying: "To the terrorists, surrender before we bomb the area." The tribesmen went on firing and a US helicopter was hit and crashed killing two crewmen. The tribesmen say they do not know if they hit it or if it was brought down by friendly fire. The US aircraft launched an intense aerial bombardment in which 120 tribesmen and local residents were killed by 4am on Monday.

"The messianic group led by Ahmad al-Hassani, which was already at odds with the Iraqi authorities in Najaf, was drawn into the fighting because it was based in Zarga and its presence provided a convenient excuse for what was in effect a massacre. The Hawatim and Khaza'il tribes are opposed to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Dawa Party, who both control Najaf and make up the core of the Baghdad government.

"This account cannot be substantiated and is drawn from the Healing Iraq website and the authoritative Baghdad daily Azzaman. But it would explain the disparity between the government casualties - less than 25 by one account - and the great number of their opponents killed and wounded. The Iraqi authorities have sealed the site and are not letting reporters talk to the wounded."

Another Bumper Crop

Five kilos of pure heroin for $90 US. That's the going price today in Helmand province in Southern Afghanistan where opium traffickers are expecting another record year.

Asia Times Online reporter Sayed Saleem Shahzad interviewed a British narcotics officer at the British forces' base in Helmand:

"'Undoubtedly, Afghanistan will produce its best bumper poppy crop ever this year, but there is no shortcut to control this monster,' said the official, who asked not to be named.

"'Five kilograms of heroin is sold for US$90 in Helmand province, and the district of Sangeen is the main hub of narcotic-processing labs,' the British official said. He estimated that there are no fewer than 150 such laboratories in the area. About 10 tonnes of opium produces approximately a tonne of heroin.

"'The finished produce of the Sangeen laboratories is sold on the British market for anywhere between $120 and $160 per gram,' the official said.

"'The international buyers sit at the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan [Gardi Jungle near Pakistan's Balochistan province] and send local buyers to Lashkar Gah. A full-blown mafia operation runs this business, which includes the Afghan National Police, the Afghan National Army and the local administration. Their connivance goes all the way to assisting the local buyers to get the consignment of heroin to the Gramsir district.'

"'From Gramsir, the Taliban's area starts and a new cartel then transports the consignment up to the Pak-Afghan border. From there they use many deserted coastal points in Balochistan to ship the consignments to the UAE, Europe and other international destinations. Nevertheless, from the Gramsir district nothing can pass through without the consent and connivance of the Taliban ... it is impossible,' the official said.

"The Afghan Eradication Force led by US and British forces simply does not have any idea how to tackle this unlikely joint venture between the Taliban and Afghan security forces and the local administration.

"And critically, in Sangeen district, where most of the processing labs are located, the Taliban and the ISAF have agreed to a ceasefire, in effect allowing the Taliban to go about their business - whether military or otherwise - unimpeded."

Taking the Long View

Global warming is a long-term problem. There's nothing we can do today that will reverse it. We can't forestall what is coming in the next couple of decades. We're in for more rains, more droughts, more severe storms. We're in for the loss of species and environments and side effects such as mass migrations. We're going to have to live with that as best we can.

The Kyoto accord is routinely attacked as not being an answer to global warming. That's right, it isn't. What Kyoto is really all about is getting us to think and take baby steps in the right direction. It's about getting us ready to accept the big steps that will have to follow.

Kyoto isn't about curing anything. It's about getting us to acknowledge, to accept that we have created a serious problem that we're going to have to deal with. It's about getting us to recognize that, while we can't undo much of the damage we've already set in motion, we can make what's coming much, much worse if we don't accept some real sacrifices.

What we have to decide is whether our civilization is going to be able to survive global warming.

We don't have to solve global warming. Nature will do that. How? By rendering much of the planet uninhabitable by the ultimate GHG emitters - us. By culling the herd on a global scale.

As James Lovelock points out in his book The Revenge of Gaia, global warming will not wipe out man but will, instead, reduce us to a population of several hundreds of thousands of "breeding pairs" living on in the Arctic. That's Option B, the one we actually may be able to avoid. Option A is, of course, reaching a way of living that allows our civilizations to continue by moderating the impact of global warming so that we can adapt to it.

Option A is challenging, inconvenient and comes with plenty of hardship. Option A is something we can choose for ourselves. Option B, however, is merely what is in store for us if we don't choose Option A.

NO - Kyoto will not solve global warming

YES - Kyoto does point us in the direction we need to go

NO - We cannot prevent global warming, the effects will be with us for a thousand years

YES - We have a chance to keep global warming at least somewhat manageable for generations to follow

YES - There will be very real economic impacts in reducing GHG emissions

YES - These impacts need not be crippling to our economy, if we act responsibly and quickly

NO - We cannot go on the way we have been if we want our civilization to continue

This is a challenge that could take centuries to achieve. Because its scope extends to countless generations to come, the principle of preserving our environment for posterity has to become a core, social value. Posterity has to become an essential social virtue again. It has to be a clear part of our activities, it must be returned to the equation of our decision-making.

It hasn't been the long view that has landed us in this mess but the short view. It's been the "here and now" and the "me and mine" mentality that has brought us to this point. We have to break that mental block if we're going to take control of global warming.

Payback is a - well, you know.

The Tory ads attacking Stephane Dion have been labelled weak and amateurish. They're also stupid.

As the Toronto Star points out, using criticisms levelled by rivals in a leadership campaign, might leave Harpie in line for some nasty payback.

On Stephen:

Tony Clement, now Harper's health minister, had this to say about the boss in February 2004, when the two were rivals for the leadership of the newly merged Conservative party.

"Stephen ... you've been on the record as a wall-builder. I want to be on the record as a bridge-builder," Clement said during a leadership debate broadcast on CBC Newsworld.

Clement expressed this fear about a party led by Harper: "We cannot be an extreme party. We cannot be a party that is speaking to one part of the country."

Calgary MP Diane Ablonczy remains excluded from Harper's cabinet, though most observers expected Harper to lean on her for experience and female representation. Could it be that Harper remembers snippets like this from the 2001-2002 leadership for the old Canadian Alliance?

"I believe where he would take us is back to the NDP of the right," Ablonczy said in a February 2002 leadership debate.

To Harper directly, Ablonczy chided him on his personality: "You are not going to be able to work constructively with people with that kind of attitude," she said at that same debate.

Stockwell Day was also at that debate, fighting to keep his job as Alliance leader against the Harper challenge. He lost, but he's now public safety minister. Back in 2002, he had some worries about Harper's attitude, too – specifically, his reputation for walking away when things got tough in the old Reform party.

He told Harper at that debate that many MPs "still wonder why you quit and left the caucus in the lurch and left (former Reform party leader) Preston Manning very vulnerable and left the separatists to be the Official Opposition."

There's plenty more out there. If nothing else, it shows just how cheesy, how contemptible the Tories are willing to become.

Isn't One "Energy Superpower" Plenty?

Something made me cringe when I first learned that Stephen Harper had declared Canada a future "energy superpower." I guess it was the superpower thing and everything in connotes.

What is a superpower? It's been defined as, "one of a very small number of nations that dominate the world and compete with each other for economic or political control of blocs of less powerful nations." Just what other superpowers does Harper want to compete with and, better yet, which lesser nations does he seek to control?

Maybe Stevie was just playing braggadocio, but maybe not. It's a term he's fond of using, even today. So maybe it's useful to see what an "energy superpower" might look like, given that we already have one model, Russia.

In the latest New Yorker, Michael Specter writes about the strange fate that seems to befall Vladimir Putin's critics. In the course of the article, Specter provides a window into Russia's new superpower weapon - not tanks but energy.

Today's Russia has come a long way under Putin. At a press conference in Germany he spelled it out: "When I became President, our foreign-currency and gold reserves stood at twelve billion dollars, and now they have increased by eighty billion over the first half of this year alone, and currrently come to a total of around two hundred and seventy billion. We have paid off our debts in full. We have now become a grain exporting country."

Putin has parlayed this newfound wealth to achieve a consolidation of powers at home and to impose the velvet fist of Russia's influence abroad.

Within Russia the people have traded their freedom for prosperity. Alexei Volin served three years as Putin's deputy chief of staff and says the Russian people are happy - and indifferent. "Several months ago, I talked to one important Kremlin person and I asked him why is our TV news so awful and dull. And his answer was 'Why are you watching TV? People like you shold go read the Internet if you want information. TV is not for you. It's for the people.'"

Aleksei Venediktov runs Moscow radio station Echo. He told Specter that, increasingly, freeedom of the press doesn't matter much and is disappearing, "Here we have this question of freedom or wealth. People chose wealth. They do not understand that freedom is a necessary condition for preserving that weealth and the security they have come to value. To be engaged in honest reporting about delicate subjects like corruption or to travel to Chechnya is too dangerous. People don't want it, they don't ask for it, and they really don't understand that they need it."

Putin has effectively seized control of Russia's mass-media, particularly television and radio. The broadcasters have been put in the hands of reliable companies such as Gazprom. Anna Kachkaeva, who broadcasts a weekly interview show on Radio Liberty, told Specter that reporters have learned to watch what they say,"It's a magic process now. There is no censorship - it's much more advanced. I would call it a system of contacts and agreements between the Kremlin and the heads of television networks. ...the problem, for TV and even in the printed press, is that self-censorship is worse than any other kind. Journalists know - they can feel - what is allowed and what is not."

With a population anaesthetized by the whiff of prosperity and a media cowed and willing to do his bidding, Putin has consolidated his powers within the energy superpower and used it's strength to impose his will abroad.

On New Year's Day, 2006, Russia abruptly cut gas exports to the Ukraine in response to objections about a sharp increase in prices. More recently, Belarus got the same treatment when Russia doubled its gas price and levied heavy export duties. Specter concludes, "Putin clearly sees today's ideological battles in economic, rather than military terms."

Fyodor Lukyanovk, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, summed it up, "The entire world is obsessed with energy security and resources. You need it. We have it. It is up to us to decide how to deal with that. India and China are seeking new sources of energy to secure their very rapid growth. The U.S. is lost in its war in Iraq, the European Union has no idea what it is anymore. And then there is Russia: stable, wealthy, controlled very solidly. No opposition. There is really a feeling of superiority, a sense that Russia is now an indispensable nation, as Mrs. Albright said just a few years ago about the United States."

So, that's a glimpse at what becoming an energy superpower can mean. It still doesn't answer the question of what it means to Stephen Harper.

Harper is no Validmir Putin, perhaps though not by choice. Harper has shown himself fickle, willing to throw his vaunted principles to the winds of political opportunism. Even if Canada were somehow to become an energy superpower on his watch, he wouldn't know what to do with that power. Given that our market for our surplus oil and gas is the United States, there'll be no muscle flexing like what the Ukraine or Belarus received.

No, Mr. Harper, sorry but you can't be an energy superpower. We don't have anyone to bully.

Is the PQ Collapsing Under Boisclair?

Jean Charest must love, not romantically of course, Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair. The latest opinion polls show the PQ has fallen dramatically from a 20-point lead over the provincial Liberals to now trail the Libs by a few points.

Boisclair is being blamed for his party's misfortunes. Boisclair is openly gay. He has owned up to past cocaine use. That much the PQ might have weathered had their leader not chosen to go out of his way to alienate core supporters.

In a gaffe that upset Roman Catholics, Boisclair suggested the crucifix has no place in Quebec's National Assembly. He's taken swipes at unions, a major part of the PQ base. And then he took part in a spoof of Brokeback Mountain that featured George Bush and Stephen Harper in the leading rolls.

The knives are coming out from old-school PQ'ers such as Bernard Landry who may just be waiting for an opportunity to replace the fumbling upstart. Meanwhile, if the PQ numbers keep falling, the Charest Liberals might just have a chance of retaining power.

It's All About Benchmarks

What are "benchmarks" anyway? In Washington parlance they're chores with timetables, sort of like telling your kids they'll get up at 8 and have their beds made by 8:15, that sort of thing. You put the deadlines on because you figure they'll dodge the chores without them. And, yes, the whole thing is sort of like speaking to recalcitrant children.

George Bush is taking a lot of heat for his thoroughly botched war and occupation of Iraq. He was able to lie his way in but he's getting nowhere trying to lie his way out. He needs action, accomplishments, something, anything that will let him claim "mission accomplished" without gradeschoolers laughing at him.

The Frat Boy has flown in the face of all the advice of the Iraq Study Group and his own generals and has defied the will of his congress and his people and opted for a "surge" to pacify Baghdad with the suggestion that this will lead to an end to sectarian violence (civil war) throughout the country. To make the American people believe he's serious this time, Shrub has announced that he's given Iraq's recalcitrant child leader, prime minister Maliki, a series of "benchmarks" to meet, or else something may or may not happen.

But what are these benchmarks? What is the accompanying timetable? Well, the Democrats control congress now and that lets them demand that the administration cough up some answers. They asked and the White House delivered.

Secretary of State Condi Rice sent a letter to Senator Carl Levin giving particulars of an "agreement" reached early last fall, long before Bush came up with the "surge" idea. It turns out most of the specified times for achieving these benchmarks has long come and gone. You can find the list here:

It turns out that the Maliki government has already missed most of the benchmark deadlines:

"Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, while assuring senators Tuesday that the Bush administration expects Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to make political reforms, provided a list showing deadlines already missed.

"Iraq has passed target dates to make laws establishing provincial elections, regulating distribution of the country's oil wealth and reversing measures that have excluded many Sunnis from jobs and government positions because of Baath party membership, according to the list Rice provided.

"The Iraq government had also agreed to approve a law governing political amnesty and the charged question of sectarian militias by Dec. 31 and to finish a review of the constitution, seen as unfair to minority Sunnis, by Wednesday.

"Although the Iraqi parliament and Cabinet have done intermittent work on some elements of the list, including the symbolic oil law, it appeared that none of the targets have been fully met. The list spans September 2006 through March 2007.

"Last week al-Maliki called on lawmakers to pass several items on the list, including the oil and de-Baathification laws."

The benchmark list has received an angry response from the senate:

"Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and McCain, the panel's ranking member, said Rice's letter lacked details and ignored a goal previously suggested by U.S. officials: that the Iraqis should be able to assume control of their provinces by November 2007.

"'What Secretary Rice's letter makes abundantly clear is that the administration does not intend to attach meaningful consequences for the Iraqis' continuing to fail to meet their commitments,' the senators wrote. "What has been said before is still true: 'America supplying more troops while Iraqi leaders simply supply more promises is not a recipe for success in Iraq.'"

The Democratic Party's control of congress has placed the Bush administration where it least wants to be, in a position of accountability. It's not a comfortable place for one of the most secretive and dishonest presidents in American history.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Say What, Steve?

It's no wonder Stephen Harper wants to go after Stephane Dion with attack ads. Stevie needs all the distraction the Reform Conservative's money can buy.

Steve wants us to believe that he's all about the environment. Sounds a tad strange for a guy who only recently talked about "so-called greenhouse gases" but, hey, he might have just needed a bit more information, right?

Well maybe there's a lot more to Stevie's desperation than meets the eye. Maybe Stevie has a few skeleton's in his global warming closet. Canadian Press reports about a 2002 Harper letter on Kyoto that's now making the circuit among Liberals and, we hope, may soon be coming to a TV screen near you:

"A prime minister who now promises to fight climate change once ridiculed the Kyoto accord as a money-sucking socialist scheme and said he would battle to defeat it.

"Stephen Harper derided the global treaty and questioned the science of climate change in a 2002 fundraising letter sent to members of his now-defunct Canadian Alliance party. With polls showing the environment is a top priority with voters and Harper keen to bolster his environmental credentials, the letter could prove embarrassing.

"Kyoto is essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations," says the letter, signed by Harper.

"Implementing Kyoto will cripple the oil and gas industry, which is essential to the economies of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia . . .

"Workers and consumers everywhere in Canada will lose. THERE ARE NO CANADIAN WINNERS UNDER THE KYOTO ACCORD."

He also blasted the treaty for targeting carbon dioxide - which he said is "essential to life" - and played down the science of climate change as "tentative and contradictory."

Harper went on to promise a "battle of Kyoto" in hope of defeating the Chretien Liberals' efforts to implement the treaty legislation in the House of Commons.

"But we can't do it alone. It will take an army of Canadians to beat Kyoto, just as it did to beat (the) Charlottetown (constitutional accord)," he wrote.

What does this tell you? How 'bout that Steve is a Weasel (capital "W") and a pathetic opportunist whose heartfelt views he's ready to toss aside like confetti to win votes. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Creep.

When it comes right down to it, Stephen Harper has the integrity of a toilet brush.

Is Iran Already at War with America?

For more than a year there have been credible accounts of American special forces operating within Iran, scouting Iran's nuclear facilities and engaging Iranian dissidents.

Now, according to Time, the Iranians may be playing the same game against the Americans in Iraq. Former CIA agent Robert Baer asks, "Are the Iranians out for revenge?" and speculates they are indeed:

"The speed and level of chaos in Iraq is picking up fast. An apocalyptic cult came uncomfortably close to taking Najaf, one of Shi'a Islam's most holy cities, and murdering Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Sistani is the neo-cons' favorite quietist Shi'a cleric, the man who was supposed to keep Iraq's Shi'a in line while we went about nation building. And then, on Sunday, Iran's ambassador to Baghdad told the New York Times that Iran is in Iraq to stay, whether the Bush Administration likes it or not.

"And that's not the worst of it. American forces still hold five members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Arrested by American forces in Erbil on Jan. 11, the Administration has accused the five IRGC members of helping the Iraqi opposition kill Americans."

Baer reports that, within Iraq, there is plenty of speculation that the commando-style raid in Karbala on January 20th in which five American soldiers were kidnapped and later found executed may have been the work of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or IRGC. The theory goes that the Iranians killed the five Americans in retaliation for the arrest by the Americans of five IRGC members in Erbil days earlier.

"...we should count on the IRGC gearing up for a fight. And we shouldn't underestimate its capacities. Aside from arming the opposition, the IRGC is capable of doing serious damage to our logistics lines. I called up an American contractor in Baghdad who runs convoys from Kuwait every day and asked him just how much damage."Let me put it this way,"he said."In Basra today the currency is the Iranian toman, not the Iraqi dinar."He said his convoys now are forced to pay a 40% surcharge to Shi'a militias and Iraqi police in the south, many of whom are affiliated with IRGC.

"Mindful of the spreading chaos in Iraq, President Bush has promised not to take the war into Iran. But it won't matter to the IRGC. There is nothing the IRGC likes better than to fight a proxy war in another country."

But What About the Free Crayons?

There's an uproar at Southern Methodist University in suburban Dallas and it has George Bush's name all over it.

The university has been selected as the site of a multi-million dollar complex that will house the George W. Bush Presidential Library, museum and thinktank. It seems a lot of people on campus think the idea stinks.

"'Given the record of this administration in deeply dividing our country, and bringing down the ire of the international community on the United States, it seems a poor decision to give a permanent place on campus for what could become a bully pulpit for the Bush administration to defend its neo-conservative policies,' says William McElvaney, an ordained Methodist minister and retired professor, who has been among the most vocal protesters.

"The protest, which has spread from campus to a section of the Methodist clergy, has led to a national debate on one of the stranger traditions of the American presidency - that former denizens of the White House play a leading role in determining their own place in history."

Rogue Pilots Kill Brits

Hard as this may be to believe, it may be true. From The Guardian:

"An English coroner's court has received evidence that "rogue" American pilots attacked a British convoy in southern Iraq in 2003.

"Staff Corporal Ashley Bell said there had been a flash as the first attack started. He had immediately radioed forward air control with the "Stop, stop, stop" instruction but had been told the planes were being flown by "rogue US pilots".

"'[The controller] could not contact the US pilots because they had switched frequencies and were talking to each other.'

"Soldiers in the five-vehicle convoy released smoke canisters to identify them to friendly pilots. The smoke was visible as one of the planes returned at low level and attacked a second time.

"Despite requests by the coroner and the British government, the pilots of the US planes that shot Corporal Hull have never been publicly named and will not attend the inquest."

A Genuine Cancer Breakthrough?

It's dichloroacetate and it's been used for years to treat metabolic disorders.

New Scientist magazine reports that a team from the University of Alberta has found that DCA has an astounding effect on many cancers, including lung, breast and brain cancers. Best of all, there's no patent on it so it can be produced cheaply.

DCA is said to defeat cancer cells by switching off their immortality but doesn't affect healthy cells and has been proven to be "relatively" safe.

The explanation of just how DCA works is a bit complex so I've included a link to the New Scientist article.

Ripping the Lid Off Years of Secrecy

The Democrats held their first investigative hearing since taking control of Congress and what they heard wasn't very flattering to the Bush regime.

The hearing was to examine the role of the White House in shaping the US government's position on global warming and its efforts to control the government's scientists. The evidence they got plainly showed that the fix was in.

It appears there may have been an orchestrated campaign to mislead the public about climate change," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Waxman is chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a critic of the Bush administration's environmental policies, including its views on climate.

At the House hearing, two private advocacy groups produced a survey of 279 government climate scientists showing that many of them say they have been subjected to political pressure aimed at downplaying the climate threat. Their complaints ranged from a challenge to using the phrase "global warming" to raising uncertainty on issues on which most scientists basically agree, to keeping scientists from talking to the media.

Who Did They Think Was Buying?

It took a wire service investigation to wake them up but the Pentagon has finally halted all sales of parts from its surplus fleet of F-14s.

The US Department of Defense moved after the Associated Press revealed how buyers for Iran, China and other countries were exploiting gaps in security to acquire sensitive military equipment.

Legislation has now been introduced in the senate to ban all sales of F-14 parts. The US Navy recently retired its F-14s. The only other nation that has them is, why, Iran. Let's see, if there's only one country operating this aircraft, who might be wanting the spares? Could it be - Iran?

What Does He Know That We Don't Know?

While we are fighting for our honour, we still open the door for talks and negotiations with our enemy who is after our annihilation and is shedding our blood.

That was Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai acknowledging that he's still making peace overtures to the Taliban. What's he up to?

NATO and US forces are in Afghanistan battling the Taliban, even promising to defeat the Taliban, and yet Karzai is extending the offer of political accommodation to this same Taliban.

If Karzai is making these overtures now, why would the Taliban not assume there's something better to be had, especially if they can stage a real show of strength this summer? By all indications this will be a very challenging spring and summer as a coalition of insurgents led by the Taliban try to topple the Kabul government.

What does Karzai know that we don't?

Setting the Middle East Ablaze - Arabs Blame Bush

When George Bush needlessly conquered Iraq he unleashed the dark genie of Iran unto the Middle East. According to the Washington Post, America's Arab allies are quick to blame America:

"'The United States is the first to be blamed for the rise of Iranian influence in the Middle East,' said Khaled al-Dakhil, a Saudi writer and academic. 'There is one thing important about the ascendance of Iran here. It does not reflect a real change in Iranian capabilities, economic or political. It's more a reflection of the failures on the part of the U.S. and its Arab allies in the region.'

"Iranian officials -- emboldened but uneasy over nuclear-armed neighbors in Israel and Pakistan and a U.S. military presence in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan -- have warned that they would respond to an American attack on Iran's facilities.

"'Iran's supporters are widespread -- they're in Iraq, they're in Afghanistan, they're everywhere. And you know, the American soldiers in the Middle East are hostages of Iran, in the situation where a war is imposed on it. They're literally in the hands of the Iranians,' said Najaf Ali Mirzai, a former Iranian diplomat in Beirut who heads the Civilization Center for Iranian-Arab Studies. 'The Iranians can target them wherever, and Patriot missiles aren't going to defend them and neither is anything else.'

"'Iran would suffer,' he added, 'but America would suffer more.'

"As that struggle deepens, many in the Arab world find themselves on the sidelines. They are increasingly anxious over worsening tension between Sunni and Shiite Muslims across the Middle East, even as some accuse the United States of stoking that tension as a way to counter predominantly Shiite Iran. Fear of Iranian dominance is coupled, sometimes in the same conversation, with suspicion of U.S. intentions in confronting Iran.

"Iran has found itself strengthened almost by default, first with the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to Iran's east, which ousted the Taliban rulers against whom it almost went to war in the 1990s, and then to its west, with the American ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, against whom it fought an eight-year war in the 1980s.

"Across the region, Iran has begun to exert influence on fronts as diverse as its allies: the formerly exiled Shiite parties in Iraq and their militias; Hezbollah, a Lebanese group formed with Iranian patronage after Israel's 1982 invasion; and the cash-strapped Sunni Muslim movement of Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

"In Iraq, U.S. officials say Iran is providing Shiite militias with sophisticated projectiles capable of penetrating U.S. armored vehicles and backing those forces in a gathering civil war against Sunni Arabs. One commander of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia that U.S. military officials now identify as the greatest security threat in Iraq, said that however much he might dislike Iran, he was eagerly anticipating the delivery of 50 rocket-propelled grenades to Basra.

"But no less influential are the ties that Iran has deepened with the three main Shiite groups in Iraq, some of whose leaders spent years in exile in Iran and are now nominally allied with the United States, and the burgeoning economic relationship between the two countries.

"'It's very bleak and it's very dangerous,' said Dakhil, the Saudi writer. 'We have a sectarian civil war in Iraq now and this is drawing sectarian lines through the region. This is the most important, the most dangerous ramification of the American war in Iraq.'

Global Warming - The RCMP Vision

The Vancouver Sun has obtained an internal RCMP report outlining possible consequences to Canada from global warming.

The report predicts a variety of significant, policing challenges in the future from public disorders following natural disasters to population migration as people are forced by drought, floods or rising water to look for better places to live.

"William Rees, a prominent ecologist at the University of B.C., said while it is impossible to make precise predictions about climate change, the fears raised in the RCMP report are a 'credible scenario.'

"For example, said Rees, many climatologists predict global sea levels will rise by about one metre by the end of this century.

'''Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that we are talking about a one-metre sea level rise. Then you're talking about certainly tens - possibly hundreds - of millions of climate refugees globally,' he said. 'Most of the world's major seaports would be endangered. Much of Bangladesh would be inundated.'

"Rees said current illegal migration along the U.S.-Mexico border will be 'like a picnic compared to what might be ahead.'''

This isn't just alarmist babble. The Pentagon, not known as a bunch of tree-huggers, conducted its own study in 2004 which led to similar, but more dramatic predictions:

"Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'

The report was commissioned by influential Pentagon defence adviser Andrew Marshall, who has held considerable sway on US military thinking over the past three decades. He was the man behind a sweeping recent review aimed at transforming the American military under Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Climate change 'should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern', say the authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network.

Britain's Ministry of Defence conducted its own assessment of the possible impacts of global warming:

"The MOD recently explained its thinking on "Climate Change and Security" to an influential group of individuals from the US Centre for Naval Analysis. By raising the profile of the implications of climate change we are one step closer to doing something about it.

"In highlighting the importance of climate change, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Timothy Granville-Chapman, said:

"'It’s vital that we understand how climate change could influence future instability and be prepared for the consequences. It is important that the Armed Forces do what they can to minimise the impact of their activities on the climate, not least by getting their minds round sustainable development.'

"Here in the UK, we have linked human security with the effects of climate change. Hunger, thirst, disease, ecological breakdown: all can be portrayed as "security issues". Very simply, this is known as "Resource Conflicts". It is a fashionable term, but not a new one.

"When land is scarce, people fight over available land, creating mass-migration as conflicts escalate. Throughout the ongoing Darfur conflict in Sudan, ethnic fighting has caused mass displacement of people with some 100,000 people fleeing across the border.

"With nowhere to go in this kind of situation, many end up in refugee camps. Worryingly, refugee camps provide a fertile recruitment ground for militants. But how does this impact specifically on the UK's Defence agenda?

Going Green - A Real Leap of Faith

It'll take more than a few attack ads, more than improving automobile fuel consumption. Going green will mean redefining our society from government, all the way through the private sector, to us as individuals. Redefining society will have to be both voluntary and regulated.

What's wrong with our existing society? Plenty. For more than half a century it has evolved into a complex and sophisticated social, economic and even political structure in which all has hinged on the abundant supply of cheap oil and other fossil fuels. There is no way to get around that reality.

We are going to remain dependent on fossil fuels. There are some things we can't do without them. However there are a lot of things we can do with alternate power sources and even more things we're simply going to have to abandon or severely curtail. This process of transformation will have economic, social and political dimensions and a lot of us aren't going to like some, maybe even most of them.

I have never had a home without a television but I have known some who chose to get rid of the tube. Those who did told me their lives changed and mainly for the better. They had a real but temporary period of adjustment. Then they found welcome alternatives to TV grazing. I don't have any reason to believe giving up TV would be worse for me than it has been for them. I just don't want to do it.

There are a lot of things associated with going green that I'm not going to welcome, some that I may have to be compelled to accept. That's why this will have to be both voluntary and regulated.

Take what many of us have come to regard as a staple, meat. Livestock production requires a lot of energy and consumes a lot of grain. Livestock also produce more greenhouse gas than our motor vehicles. The energy and feed used in producing livestock will inevitably become much more expensive and we're going to have to find some way of capturing or otherwise dealing with all that methane - yet another big expense. That means we'll have to eat a lot less meat and pay a lot more for what we do eat.

As Lewis Lapham points out, there was a societal shift that occured around the time Richard Nixon came to power. Wealth became equated with virtue. By perceiving wealth as virtuous we gave society's seal of approval to the manifestations of that virtue, consumption. We began demanding bigger homes, fancier cars, holidays abroad, exotic produce from distant lands and so much more - all made possible by abundant, cheap fuel.

You see two cars on the road. One is a shiny, new Lexus SUV, the other a 20-year old VW Rabbit. Which one are you going to notice? Be honest. Chances are you won't even give the VW a glance.

When you see the Lexus you see success, somebody who is somebody, somebody who's made it. A 20-year old economy car? If you notice the driver at all, you'll probably imagine him as someone who hasn't made it, down on his luck, probably a nobody. Wealth is virtue.

What if the guy with the Rabbit bought it 20-years ago because he wanted to drive an economy car, he chose that VW over a big, luxury car? What if he's driving a 20-year old car because he's diligently kept it in good repair so that he could get 20-years service out of it? Now who is virtuous? Of course if you found out he was also wealthy, you might write him off as an eccentric miser.

In a "wealth is virtue" world we expect the virtuous to consume. That is a societal value system we're going to have to give up. That doesn't mean that we have to get all Calvinist or anything. We'll just have to find other virtues to respect and other ways to appreciate, even enjoy them. Living in a 1200 sq. ft. house doesn't have to be less enjoyable, certainly not less respectable than reigning over a 5000 sq. ft. mansion. You don't have to be poor to live in a small house or drive a small car or holiday at home. You just have to be virtuous.

Our leaders are going to have to confront a huge, even daunting question. How can you ask the individual to go green unless you demand the same commitments from industry, especially Big Oil and Coal? The answer is obvious and its just as obvious to Stephen Harper as it is to David Suzuki. The difference is that one is ready to accept the answer, the other isn't.

Stephen Harper has shown no interest in shaking his own "wealth is virtue" fantasy, Canada's key to "superpower" prestige, the Tar Sands. He'll be telling you the dog ate his homework before he forces Athabasca's Big Oil to go green. Oh he'll throw out some diversions, attack ads being one of them, while mouthing all the right assurances and making hollow promises, but he has far too much of his vision of Canada invested in those Tar Sands to impose the sort of measures that, by our contemporary industrial standards, are radical.

This is one leap of faith Stephen Harper doesn't want to take.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Scent of Fear

It speaks volumes that the Reform Conservatives are ready to spend upwards of a million dollars of their own cash to slam Stephane Dion. They've singled out the Liberal leader with nary a word for Jack Layton or Gilles Duceppe. Dion, in their eyes, stands alone.

The Harpies are obviously bent on using paid ads to neutralize Dion on the environmental front. Why should they have to pay if (a) they're the government and (b) they've got a legitimate point to make?

Put it down to fear. They're afraid that Stephane Dion will take control of the foremost issue of concern to the Canadian public. Why should they be afraid? Ah, there's the question. Are they afraid because Dion is some sort of alchemist who controls knowledge they don't have? Not likely because he doesn't. Are they afraid because the opposition leader may expose their feint on "so called greenhouse gases" for what it is? Bingo.

I heard an ad today in which some "hip" young people were supposedly awed by Stephen Harper's initiative for renewable energy - ethanol. Of course the voices were those of actors and that much was obvious. What was less obvious is Harper's resolute intention not to let any of this environmental crap get in the way of the "almighty dollar" value of the Tar Sands. That's his Achilles' Heel and that's why he's so intent on attacking Dion.

Sorry Steve, you're still trying to protect the Klan while claiming you're all about civil rights. I guess, given your agenda, attacking someone else is an awful lot better than doing something yourself. You've seen your idol, George Bush, use this bait and switch routine for years. Creep.

You had better watch out, Steve. We're not nearly as gullible as the Nascar crowd down south. In fact we can already smell the scent of fear.

Life Imitating Art

On the weekend I watched the 1939 classic "Gunga Din" starring Carey Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., a weird comic drama about British troops battling a diabolical cult of murderous Thugees in India.

About the same time Gunga Din was being aired, Iraqi security forces, backed by US tanks and helicopters, were battling a murderous cult of their own, a messianic Shia sect calling itself "Soldiers of Heaven." It seems the cult's 40-year old leader styled himself as the "Mahdi", an Islamic prophet who is destined to rise again and judge good from evil.

The apocalyptic insurgents were hit just as they were preparing to ambush fellow Shiites about to celebrate the holiest day in the Shia Muslim calendar.

It is reported that 300 Soldiers of Heaven have been dispatched to their new home and 100 arrested. Just plain weird.

A Sign of the Times

It could make you a bit squeamish but you can produce safe drinking water from sewage and for residents of Australia's Queensland state that may soon be what comes out of their taps.

Australia has been suffering an extended drought and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie told the Times of London there are no other options:

"Falling dam levels had left him with a 'no choice decision' , Mr Beattie said, and the state had to go ahead with plans for recycled water, rather than wait until a planned public referendum on the matter which had been scheduled for March.

"'I think in the end, because of the drought, all of Australia is going to end up drinking recycled purified water,' he said.

"'These are ugly decisions, but you either drink water or you die.There’s no choice. It’s liquid gold, it’s a matter of life and death,' he told local radio.

"Referring to residents in Singapore, Washington and Southern California who he said drank recycled water, he added: 'It’s not like we are part of a freak show - the rest of the world is doing this.'

"The waste is typically recycled using a combination of reverse osmosis and disinfection with ultraviolet radiation. Through the reverse osmosis process, water is forced through very fine membranes that filter out salts and other matter but let water molecules pass through."

Recycling is just one of many emerging technologies intended to relieve water shortages. Another is the waterless toilet. It works, just don't ask how.

Now that should make you grateful to be Canadian and give you something to think about the next time someone gets the bright idea to export our freshwater.

Hunting The Hunters

An intriguing hunt is on in the Antarctic's Southern Ocean. Actually there are two hunts underway on that ocean. It's where Japanese ships are hunting whales and where the Sea Sheperd's "Farley Mowat" is on the hunt for the Japanese whalers.

The government of New Zealand has released video taken from a RNZAF Hercules of the whalers in action, harpooning and butchering whales but won't say where the ships are at.

Sea Shepherd leader, Paul Watson, believes the US Naval Intellingence is helping the Japanese elude Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd ships. That's led Watson to post a $25,000 bounty for the co-ordinates of the whaling fleet.

Watson has threatened to ram and sink the Japanese vessels if he can only find them.

The Worst Record in the World

One thing about being acclaimed the "oldest person in the world" is knowing that you won't be for very long. There have been a lot of "oldest person," "oldest man," "oldest woman" lately as the titles keep changing hands in the only way these titles can change hands.

However 114-year old Emma Tillman scored a record that may have some real staying power. She's the shortest reigning world's oldest known living person. Emma, a child of former slaves and herself Katherine Hepburn's former nurse, held her title for only four days before she "passed on" the honour to 114-year-old Yone Minagawa of Fukuoka, Japan.

A Telegraph reporter who tried to reach Ms. Minagawa was told by a nurse that she'd already gone to sleep.

A Window into America's Pretext for War

Tyler Drumheller is speaking out - a little. The former Chief of the CIA's European Division spoke with Spiegel Online about the events leading up to the conquest of Iraq.

SPIEGEL: The renditions program saw the kidnapping of suspected Islamist extremists to third countries. Were you involved in the program?

Drumheller: I would be lying if I said no. I have very complicated feelings about the whole issue. I do see the purpose of renditions, if they are carried out properly. Guys sitting around talking about carrying out attacks as they smoke their pipes in the comfort of a European capital tend to get put off the idea if they learn that a like-minded individual has been plucked out of safety and sent elsewhere to pay for his crimes.

SPIEGEL: We disagree. At the very least, you need to be certain that the targets of those renditions aren't innocent people.

Drumheller: It was Vice President Dick Cheney who talked about the "dark side" we have to turn on. When he spoke those words, he was articulating a policy that amounted to "go out and get them." His remarks were evidence of the underlying approach of the administration, which was basically to turn the military and the agency loose and let them pay for the consequences of any unfortunate -- or illegal -- occurences.

Drumheller: Every responsible chief in the CIA knows that the more covert the action, the greater the need for a clear policy and a defined target. I once had to brief Condoleezza Rice on a rendition operation, and her chief concern was not whether it was the right thing to do, but what the president would think about it. I would have expected a big meeting, a debate about whether to proceed with the plan, a couple of hours of consideration of the pros and cons. We should have been talking about the value of the target, whether the threat he presented warranted such a potentially controversial intervention. This is no way to run a covert policy. If the White House wants to take extraordinary measures to win, it can't just let things go through without any discussion about their value and morality.

SPIEGEL: Perhaps the White House wanted to gloss over its own responsibility.

Drumheller: Let me give you a general thought: From the perspective of the White House, it was smart to blur the lines about what was acceptable and what was not in the war on terrorism. It meant that whenever someone was overzealous in some dark interrogation cell, President (George W.) Bush and his entourage could blame someone else. The rendition teams are drawn from paramilitary officers who are brave and colorful. They are the men who went into Baghdad before the bombs and into Afghanistan before the army. If they didn't do paramilitary actions for a living, they would probably be robbing banks. Perhaps the Bush Administration deliberately created a gray area on renditions.

SPIEGEL: But it was your agency that was coming up with all the wrong information concerning Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction. To what degree is the intelligence community responsible for the disaster?

Drumheller: The agency is not blameless and no president on my watch has had a spotless record when it comes to the CIA. But never before have I seen the manipulation of intelligence that has played out since Bush took office. As chief of Europe I had a front-row seat from which to observe the unprecedented drive for intelligence justifying the Iraq war.

SPIEGEL: There are more than a few critics in Washington who claim that the Germans, because of Curveball, bear a large part of the repsonsibility for the intelligence mess.

Drumheller: There was no effort by the Germans to influence anybody from the beginning. Very senior officials in the BND expressed their doubts, that there may be problems with this guy. They were very professional. I know that there are people at the CIA who think the Germans could have set stronger caveats. But nobody says: "Here's a great intel report, but we don't believe it." There were also questions inside the CIA's analytical section, but as it went forward, this information was seized without caveats. The administration wanted to make the case for war with Iraq. They needed a tangible thing, they needed the German stuff. They couldn't go to war based just on the fact that they wanted to change the Middle East. They needed to have something threatening to which they were reacting.

SPIEGEL: The German government was convinced that "Curveball" would not be used in the now famous presentation that then US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave in 2003 before the United Nations Security Council.

Drumheller: I had assured my German friends that it wouldn't be in the speech. I really thought that I had put it to bed. I had warned the CIA deputy John McLaughlin that this case could be fabricated. The night before the speech, then CIA director George Tenet called me at home. I said: "Hey Boss, be careful with that German report. It's supposed to be taken out. There are a lot of problems with that." He said: "Yeah, yeah. Right. Dont worry about that."

SPIEGEL: But it turned out to be the centerpiece in Powell's presentation -- and nobody had told him about the doubts.

Drumheller: I turned on the TV in my office, and there it was. So the first thing I thought, having worked in the government all my life, was that we probably gave Powell the wrong speech. We checked our files and found out that they had just ignored it.

Drumheller: The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy. Right before the war, I said to a very senior CIA officer: "You guys must have something else," because you always think it's the CIA. "There is some secret thing I don`t know." He said: "No. But when we get to Baghdad, we are going to find warehouses full of stuff. Nobody is going to remember all of this."

SPIEGEL: In your book, you mention a very high-ranking source who told the CIA before the war that Iraq had no large active WMD program. It has been reported that the source was Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, Naji Sabri.

Drumheller: I'm not allowed to say who that was. In the beginning, the administration was very excited that we had a high-level penetration, and the president was informed. I don't think anybody else had a source in Saddam's cabinet. He told us that Iraq had no biological weapons, just the research. Everything else had been destroyed after the first Gulf War. But after a while we didn't get any questions back. Finally the administration came and said that they were really not interested in what he had to say. They were interested in getting him to defect. In the end we did get permission to get back to the source, and that came from Tenet. I think without checking with the White House, he just said: "Okay. Go ahead and see what you can do."

SPIEGEL: Should you have pressed harder?

Drumheller: We made mistakes. And it may suit the White House to have people believe in a black and white version of reality -- that it could have avoided the Iraq war if the CIA had only given it a true picture of Saddam's armaments. But the truth is that the White House believed what it wanted to believe. I have done very little in my life except go to school and work for the CIA. Intellectually I think I did everything I could. Emotionally you always think you should have something more.

Calling the Kettle Black

"We will not allow hegemony of a hostile regime to have power over this area."

That warning came from US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad this weekend. His remarks were directed at Tehran and prompted by Iran's rapidly growing, and probably inevitable, influence in Iraq.

The US is trying to chaperone Iraq, keeping its courtship by Iran under strict control lest it lead to hanky-panky. Howevere Shiite-controlled Iraq is showing signs that it rather likes Shiite-Iran's attentions.

George Bush has issued an order to US troops authorizing them to kill or capture Iranian agents in Iraq who may be doing things hostile to the American forces. Does this mean it's open season on Iranians who have the bad luck to get swept up by GI's? Hard to say.

One thing is clear. If Washington was hoping to intimidate Iran, it's not working. Tehran has since announced initiatives to train Iraqi military forces and to undertake reconstruction projects that have fared poorly under the occupation. The Baghdad government seems to be welcoming the offers from one of America's designated "Axis of Evil" charter members.

"The increasingly common arrangement for sick or wounded Iraqis to receive treatment in Iran is just one strand in a burgeoning relationship between these two Persian Gulf countries. Thousands of Iranian pilgrims visit the Shiite holy cities in southern Iraq each year. Iran exports electricity and refined oil products to Iraq, and Iraqi vendors sell Iranian-made cars, air coolers, plastics and the black flags, decorated with colorful script, that Shiites are flying this week to celebrate the religious holiday of Ashura.

"Each day, Iran provides 1,000 tons of cooking gas, about 20 percent of the Iraqi demand, and 2 million liters of kerosene. Iran exports electricity through Iraq's Diyala province and plans to quadruple the amount with new projects, Iraqi officials say.

"Iran has also extended a $1 billion line of credit to Iraq to help fund reconstruction and rebuilding. When Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and his delegation of ministers visited Iran in November, he asked for more help and said Iraq 'would like to expand our relations in every field with the Islamic Republic of Iran.'

"'The economic power between the two countries, it's enormous,' said Hassan Kazemi Qomi, Iran's ambassador to Iraq. 'We can help them in technical issues and engineering. We have a lot of experience in building roads and airports.'

"Iran has driven a wedge between Iraq and the United States. Last month, when U.S. troops seized two Iranian officials inside the Baghdad compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, the Iraqi government intervened and the United States freed them. After U.S. troops seized five more Iranian officials from the liaison office in Irbil, the Iraqi government again appealed for their release -- so far unsuccessfully -- saying the men worked in an approved office providing consular services.

"Some analysts say the violence and instability in Iraq attract more Iranian involvement, not less, as Iran positions itself to be on the winning side of a sectarian war.

"'The whole Gulf system is turned upside down, and everybody is trying to figure out how they situate themselves in it,' said Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to traditional relationships in the Persian Gulf region. Iranian support is 'part of the program of strengthening the Shia community to resist and expand its influence, and become a successful combatant in a civil war.'"

Who Could've Known?

I just thumbed through Gwynne Dyer's 2005 book, "With Every Mistake." It's a compendium of his newspaper columns going back to the attacks of 11 September, 2001 that launched us all on the Global War Without End on Terror. If you haven't read it yet, it's still a very worthwhile read.

In fact, a lot of Dyer's predictions from those early days have turned out to be eerily prescient. He made the case for what he thought out to be done and what would happen if it wasn't. We didn't and, sure enough, it happened.

The Taliban collapsed in November, 2001, when American airpower tipped the balance in the stalemated civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. It was pushing on an open door. Both sides were exhausted, resorting to static, trench warfare. America wasn't prepared for what happened.

On 14 November, 2001, Dyer wrote a piece entitled "Time to Stop" -

"Four out of five: Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Kabul and Jalalabad. All but one of Afghanistan's major cities have been lost by the Taliban and captured by the Northern Alliance in less than a week, and the last, Kandahar, is likely to fall at any time. Neither Washington nor anyone else expected so sudden a collapse. So the burning question at the Pentagon, in the National Security Council, in all the decision-making centres of the United States and other members of its anti-terrorist coalition, is what to do next. The answer is to stop."

"Stop the bombing, above all. It has achieved a lot by breaking up the Taliban's fixed defences and demoralizing its troops, but it can do little more for you now that they are pulling back into the hills and reverting to guerilla warfare.

"...what is the point in just bombing the rural areas of southern Afghanistan? You will kill lots of innocent civilians and drive he rest back into the embrace of the Taliban without accomplishing a single useful thing. Surely the objective now must be to create a competent and broadly based Afghan government as fast as possible, and let it do the work of tracking down the Taliban diehards and 'foreign guests' who linger in the hills.

"As for the US and other Western troops, they should stay just long enough to stabilize the situation and persuade the Northern Alliance that it must share power with other groups. Then they should be replaced with a robust, UN-backed force made up entirely of Muslim troops that stays until the new government is securely on its feet.

"Do all this and you might walk away from Afghanistan with a success on your hands. But remember that you have been very, very lucky, and don't get overconfident. Above all, don't let anybody talk you into attacking Iraq."

Imagine where we would be today if the White House had followed this advice instead of the lunacy pitched by the neo-cons and so warmly welcomed by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest of that pack? Imagine.

A Long Overdue Question is Asked

It's taken more than five years to come up but, finally, John Hopkins professor David Bell writing in the LA Times has asked it, "Was 9/11 really that bad?"

"IMAGINE THAT on 9/11, six hours after the assault on the twin towers and the Pentagon, terrorists had carried out a second wave of attacks on the United States, taking an additional 3,000 lives. Imagine that six hours after that, there had been yet another wave. Now imagine that the attacks had continued, every six hours, for another four years, until nearly 20 million Americans were dead. This is roughly what the Soviet Union suffered during World War II, and contemplating these numbers may help put in perspective what the United States has so far experienced during the war against terrorism.

"Has the American reaction to the attacks in fact been a massive overreaction? Is the widespread belief that 9/11 plunged us into one of the deadliest struggles of our time simply wrong? If we did overreact, why did we do so? Does history provide any insight?

"...although Islamist extremists can certainly do huge amounts of harm around the world, it is quite different to suggest that they can threaten the existence of the United States.

"Yet a great many Americans, particularly on the right, have failed to make this distinction. For them, the "Islamo-fascist" enemy has inherited not just Adolf Hitler's implacable hatreds but his capacity to destroy. The conservative author Norman Podhoretz has gone so far as to say that we are fighting World War IV (No. III being the Cold War).

"Even if one counts our dead in Iraq and Afghanistan as casualties of the war against terrorism, which brings us to about 6,500, we should remember that roughly the same number of Americans die every two months in automobile accidents.

"So why has there been such an overreaction? Unfortunately, the commentators who detect one have generally explained it in a tired, predictably ideological way: calling the United States a uniquely paranoid aggressor that always overreacts to provocation.

"Yet as the comparison with the Soviet experience should remind us, the war against terrorism has not yet been much of a war at all, let alone a war to end all wars. It is a messy, difficult, long-term struggle against exceptionally dangerous criminals who actually like nothing better than being put on the same level of historical importance as Hitler — can you imagine a better recruiting tool? To fight them effectively, we need coolness, resolve and stamina. But we also need to overcome long habit and remind ourselves that not every enemy is in fact a threat to our existence."

He Said What?

Politicians are supposed to be political, trying to win votes instead of losing them. One way you do that is by not insulting half of your population. I guess Japan's health minister didn't get that memo.

Hakuo Yanagisawa wants Japan's women to pick up the pace from the record low rate of 1.26 children per woman in 2005 to a more robust rate of 2.1 children per women needed to keep Japan's population stable. Fair enough but you just don't have to put it quite this way:

"The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can do is ask them to do their best per head ... although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines."

You see his instincts were sort of right, but still you don't call women who can vote "birth-giving machines." Fertility ovens? No. Natal nests? I don't think so. How bout "conception co-ordinators"? Yeah, that's got a nice touch.

Let Me Guess - They Stand Up, We Stand Down - Right?

Of course it's right. As soon as Afghanistan's forces stand up, Canadian forces will stand down. Gee, that sounds familiar, doesn't it?

A document recently obtained by CBC and "authored" by General Rick Hillier says Canada's military job in Afghanistan will be successful when:

- new Afghan security forces "are established" and "fully controlled" by the Afghan government.

- those forces are trained and can conduct their own "counter-insurgency operations."

- the forces can defend against foreign fighters and "effectively control borders."

- and when "terrorist groups are denied sanctuary within Afghanistan."

The Corp even puts forward a military analyst from - wait for it - the University of Calgary, to vouch for Hillier that the "mission" is doable, given enough time. According to Rob Huebert of the university's Centre for Military and Strategic Studies:

"The Taliban-al-Qaeda threat has not been entirely neutralized, and the big problem we have right now is the Pakistani border provides refuge," Huebert said. "Once that border gets sealed, then you can start dealing with the problem more effectively."

"Once that border gets sealed." And in what century will that be achieved? Sealing the border will essentially divide the two key mountain tribes, the Pashtuns and Baluchs, whose regions lie in both countries.

See the green (Pashtun) and the pink (Baluch) above and that black line that runs through those regions? That line is the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and, as you can see, the tribal region extends through almost the entire border region between these countries. Note that there are actually more Pashtun living in what Britain drew up as Pakistan than in Afghanistan, same for the Baluchs. These people don't recognize this border and, even if they did, sealing a border that long through such immensely rugged terrain isn't likely to happen, not now, not in a hundred years.

Huebert is right that the Taliban-al-Qaeda threat hasn't been "entirely neutralized". Neither has the Taliban-Afghani threat been neutralized because it's estimated that 80% of the Taliban force isn't actually Talibs at all but disaffected Afghanis. So, once we defeat the Afghan people we can leave, is that it?

Maybe we should turn our guns on the Taliban's main recruiting service, the corrupt Afghan police who are widely credited with driving local Afghans to take up arms with the Taliban. Of course to do that we'd also have to blast away at the government and then that would get the warlords in the north thoroughly up in arms against us.

Hmm, there must be an answer, right?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

To Hell with Justice, I'm Stephen Harper

Prominent politicians ought to avoid passing judgment on cases before the courts but it seems Stephen Harper thinks that's for pussies. When it comes to the Pickton trial, he's plenty ready to weigh in:

"In terms of the events that are on trial in the Pickton trial, I think all Canadians experience just unbelievable horror and outrage at the acts that have been committed. And I don't think there's a person in this country (who) cannot react with extreme revulsion to the events that are on trial there."

Memo to Steve: the events aren't on trial, Pickton is.

Talk Is Cheap

Stephen Harper and his government claim to have gotten the message on global warming. They're even willing to do something about it - so long as it doesn't impact on the economy.

Anyone who has studied the problem knows that you can't make any inroads against global warming without impacting the economy, especially at the outset. Change costs money, it's as simple as that.

The Stern Report released a few months back calculates the cost of tackling global warming to run at 1% of GDP, if we act now. The longer we delay, the more it'll cost down the road. 1% of GDP is hardly crushing. It's a lot less than the West spent year after year for decades to wage the Cold War.

So, yes, doing anything effective about global warming will impact the economy. Putting carbon caps on the major GHG emitters will compel them to spend to put in place new, cleaner technologies. Who knows, it might even have an economic impact on the Tar Sands and that could throw a wet towel on Harper's grandiose dream of transforming Canada into an "energy superpower."

Speaking of the Tar Sands, Cameron Smith writing in today's Toronto Star, says that supremely dirty venture is on the verge of ramping up:

"There is much talk of improving efficiencies, reducing emissions and being able to store CO{-2} underground. But plans are afoot to double production from 1.5 million barrels a day to 3 million barrels by 2015. In addition, U.S. President George W. Bush would like Canada to increase production by five times, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not demurring. So, during the period when we should be capping emissions, how can Canadians expect them to go anywhere but up?"

Harper has again taken his lead from George Bush - say what people want to hear and then go back to business as usual. By failing to take any decisive action - the type necessary to begin to deal with global warming, measures that must of necessity have an economic impact - he is handing Stephane Dion a handy cudgel.

It may even be in the Liberals' interests to give Harper more time before triggering an election to force his hand on the environmental issue. If, as he has indicated, Harper is going to focus on transportation and individual sacrifice while giving the big, industrial emitters a pass, that should work against him at the polls. It could even be Harper's tipping point.

Royal Backfire

French Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal stirred up a lot of controversy over her recent remarks supporting Quebec sovereignty.

Now that gaffe has returned to haunt her - in the form of a hoax telephone call from a man she thought was Quebec premier Jean Charest. The caller was actually Gérald Dahan, an imitator known for his phone hoaxes of public figures.

Posing as Charest, Dahan chided Royal, "it's as if we said, "Well, Corsica, it should be independent."'

To which Royal replied that not all French people "would be against that". But she was quick to add: "Don't repeat that. It will create another incident ... in France."

Dahan has released only this one part of the tape but more is expected to be made public soon.

The Best Business in Baghdad

The idea behind the Bush "surge" in Baghdad is to bring American troops into direct co-operation with their Iraqi counterparts to put down sectarian violence that is plaguing the Iraqi capital.

This latest adventure is opposed in congress, mainly by the Democrats. The Republicans have voiced their dissatisfaction by have largely failed to follow that up with support for Democratic initiatives. It is widely reported, however, that the Republicans won't stay neutral for long and may stage their own revolt if the surge shows no real success by the end of the summer.

The greatest challenge facing the American commanders will be in taming the Shiite militias. The central government of al-Maliki is Shia dominated and has already indicated it wants the US to deal with the Sunni insurgents, in effect doing the Shia's work for them.

Success or failure of the surge will be heavily influenced, if not completely dependent, upon the degree of co-operation the Americans get from the Iraqi forces. A report in The Guardian reveals a picture of conditions on the ground in Baghdad that are anything but helpful. The article is an interview with Fadhel, a 26-year old commander in al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

Fadhel described how his men tracked and seized three Sunni men suspected of attacking Shiites: "I followed the group for weeks and then one of them crossed the bridge to Karrada [a Shia district]. We first informed a nearby Iraqi army checkpoint that we were arresting terrorists then we attacked them and put them in the boots of the cars. We only have six to seven minutes when we grab someone - we have to act quickly, if he resists we shoot him."

"In this case, he said, the men were taken to Sadr City, the Shia slum to the north-east of Baghdad, where they were interrogated by a "committee" which ordered their execution. "We ask the families of the terrorists for ransom money," said Fadhel. "And after they pay the ransom we kill them anyway."

"Kidnapping in Baghdad these days is as much about economics as retribution or sectarian hatred. Another Shia man close to the Mahdi Army told me: "They kidnap 10 Sunnis, they get ransom on five, and kill them all, in each big kidnap operation they make at least $50 000, it's the best business in Baghdad."

Fadhel described the intimate collaboration between the Shia militia and the Iraqi Army, "...especially the commandos of the Iraqi interior ministry. He says the Mahdi Army often uses these official forces in conducting its own operations against Sunni "terrorists".

"'We have specific units that we work with where members of the Mahdi Army are in command. We conduct operations together. We can't ask any army unit to come with us, we just ask the units that are under the control of our men.'

"'The police are all under our control, we ask them to help or inform them that shooting will take place in a street and it involves the Mahdi Army, and that's it.'

"In one operation Fadhel took part in last summer, Iraqi interior ministry commandos attacked a Sunni area in Dora called "Arab Jubour". The raid involved 28 pickup trucks, he told me. Of them 16 were ministry of interior, the rest Mahdi Army.

"The new Bush plan to secure Baghdad gives a major role to the Iraqi army and police units in securing Baghdad. Few in the city expect that these predominantly Shia forces will seriously challenge their fellow Shia.

"As the discussions for the new security plan were continuing, an Iraqi Shia official who belongs to another party told me: 'We know that Moqtada [al-Sadr] and his men are responsible for all this mess but what can we do? We can't attack them, we can only talk to them. Its like having a mentally ill relative - you can't just throw him in the street.'"

Smoke and Mirrors

This was almost predictable. The US government wants scientists to develop technologies - essentially smoke and mirrors - to ward off global warming. That's right, smoke and mirrors.

The Guardian has obtained a copy of the US response to the final report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and it reveals that Washington intends to dig in its heels. The US has demanded that, "...a draft of the report be changed to emphasize the benefits of voluntary agreements and to include criticisms of the Kyoto Protocol, the existing treaty which the US administration opposes."

"Modifying solar radiance may be an important strategy if mitigation of emissions fails. Doing the R&D to estimate the consequences of applying such a strategy is important insurance that should be taken out. This is a very important possibility that should be considered."

"The US submission is based on the views of dozens of government officials and is accompanied by a letter signed by Harlan Watson, senior climate negotiator at the US state department. It complains the IPCC draft report is "Kyoto-centric" and it wants to include the work of economists who have reported "the degree to which the Kyoto framework is found wanting". It takes issue with a statement that "one weakness of the [Kyoto] protocol, however, is its non-ratification by some significant greenhouse gas emitters" and asks: "Is this the only weakness worth mentioning? Are there others?"

"It also insists the wording on the ineffectiveness of voluntary agreements be altered to include "a number of them have had significant impacts" and complains that overall "the report tends to overstate or focus on the negative effects of climate change." It also wants more emphasis on responsibilities of the developing world."

The good news is that the Bush administration is becoming increasingly isolated on its global warming stance. With California leading the way, action is being taken, albeit lacking in consistency and co-ordination, at state and even municipal levels and this does appear to be an issue on which the Bushies are vulnerable to the new, Democratic congress. We can only live in hope and we'll need a lot more than smoke and mirrors, another Bush parlour game.

He's the Same Old Bush

The US president has pretty much used up the month of January depicting himself as a Democrat-friendly moderate, a changed man. His actions show something else entirely.

Two New York Times editorials, one entitled "The Bait and Switch White House", poke holes in George Bush's claims.

"In his State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush stuck to his ill-conceived plans for Iraq, but at least admitted the situation was dire. He said he wanted to work with Congress and announced a bipartisan council on national security.

"That lasted a day. By Wednesday evening, Vice President Dick Cheney was on CNN contradicting most of what Mr. Bush had said. We were left asking, once again, Who exactly is running this White House?

"While Mr. Bush has been a bit more forthright lately about how badly things have gone in Iraq, Mr. Cheney spoke of “enormous successes” there and refused to pay even curled-lip service to consulting Congress. Whatever votes Congress takes on Iraq, Mr. Cheney said, “it won’t stop us.”

"All of that was distressing enough. But in Friday’s Times, Adam Liptak gave an account of the way the administration — after grandly announcing that it was finally going to obey the law on wiretapping — is trying to quash lawsuits over Mr. Bush’s outlaw eavesdropping operations by imposing outrageous secrecy and control over the courts.

"Justice Department lawyers are withholding evidence from plaintiffs and even restricting the access of judges to documents in cases involving Mr. Bush’s decision to authorize the warrantless interception of e-mail and phone calls. In one suit, Justice Department lawyers tried to seize computers from the plaintiffs’ lawyers to remove a document central to their case against the government.

"In response to these and other serious concerns, the Justice Department offered only the most twisted excuses, which a federal judge rightly compared to “Alice in Wonderland.”

"When government lawyers tried to take back a document that has circulated around the world, the judge asked a Justice Department lawyer, “Who is it secret from?” The answer: “Anyone who has not seen it.”

I doubt the Frat Boy president can change, especially when he's torn between his disingenuous rhetoric and his subversive vice-president who is plainly charting his own course for this administration. Bush and Cheney are wasting no time in challenging the will and resolve of the Democratic congress. If the Democratic Party majorities in the House and Senate don't push back, it will herald two more years of autocratic rule, incompetence, deceit and undemocratic secrecy for George Bush.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

If Only

Imagine how things might be so different today if Bush/Cheney had popped their heads up above their ideology to take a look at the real world.

The greatest, single cause of their failure in Afghanistan and Iraq has been their indifference to the prosecution of these conflicts. If only they'd cared.

If they had cared, Bush would have flooded Afghanistan with the soldiers and resources needed to oust the Taliban and al-Qaeda and stabilize that country to ensure it became a place where the extremists could not return.

If they had cared, they wouldn't have even bothered with Iraq until Afghanistan was the real deal, the "mission accomplished." Don't you think it curious that Bush had no celebratory photo op to commemorate the total victory in Afghanistan?

If they had cared, they would have paid some heed to their advisors - civilian, military, governmental - who gave them every warning about what could go wrong in Iraq and the fundamental flaws in their approach.

If they had cared, they would have tried to figure out what was going wrong from the moment everything started going sideways instead of dummying up for four years, claiming victory was in sight.

If they had cared, they would have realized you can't promise the people a quick and tidy victory and then fail to deliver.

If they had cared, they would have understood the very narrow limits of American public opinion and treated their window of opportunity as a matter of precious minutes, even seconds.

They didn't care.

If they had cared:

- They would have tried to make sense of the Middle East
- They would have worked out how to minimize the loss of American and civilian lives
- They would have formulated a strategy that wasn't driven by election interests in 2004 and 2006
- They would have acknowledged that you can't cut taxes and wage an enormously expensive war without shortchanging generations to come.

They didn't care, and they still don't:

- They've had the problems studied at length by various groups and they've consistently ignored the advice given
- They've ignored the realities on the ground in the Middle East
- They've chosen to play out their term in a "stay the course" mode that they try to dress up as something different
- To indulge their whims and fanatical ideologies they've ensured that the world they leave behind them will be a much more dangerous and unstable place
- They have tacitly accepted defeat but only so long as the next administration has the honour of bearing the dishonour.

These people are treasonous.

Smoking - It's All In Your Head

Wanna kick the habit? Brain damage just might do the trick.

The New York Times reports that researchers studying stroke victims have found that brain damage near the ear can can "instantly and permanently break a smoking habit."

The entire business is now linked to a part of the brain called the "insula."

“In a sense it’s not surprising that the insula is an important part of this circuit maintaining addiction because we realized some years ago that it was going to be a critical platform for emotions,” Dr. Damasio said in a telephone interview. “It is on this platform that we first anticipate pain and pleasure, not just smoking but eating chocolate, drinking a glass of wine, all of it."

"This explains why cravings are so physical and so hard to shake, he said: they have taken hold in the visceral reaches of the body well before they are even conscious.

“The question is, Can you learn to deactivate the insula?” said Dr. Volkow said. “Now, everybody’s going to be looking at the insula.”