Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Goin' Fishin'

I'll be away from this blog for a couple of weeks. Pressing obligations, etc., etc.

Stay safe, avoid the lurking Harpo and I'll be back to this page when I can.

The Mound of Sound

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Miserable Truth of Afghanistan

Another report stating the truth about Afghanistan - we're losing the hearts and minds of the Afghan people to the Taliban.

A Senlis Council survey found that fully half the men in the hotspot provinces of Helmand and Kandahar believe the international community will be defeated by the Taliban. In a counter-insurgency situation, half is not a 50/50 proposition, it's not even a C-minus, it's an F.

According to Senlis founder, Norine MacDonald of British Columbia:

- woefully inadequate aid and development, and misguided counter-narcotics policies, are turning people against NATO forces and making their work much more dangerous

- the survey shows alarming gains in Taliban support in the south, with 27 per cent of respondents backing the militants, compared with only 3 per cent in December 2005

- Eighty per cent of people surveyed said they worry about feeding their families, and 70 per cent know how to fire a weapon. People are hungry and angry, and when bombing campaigns level villages, it's not difficult to see how those facts come together

- In Kandahar and Helmand provinces, 80 per cent of respondents said the international troops were not helping them personally, and 71 per cent believed the Afghan government was also unhelpful.

"Meanwhile, a survey by the independent monitoring group Integrity Watch Afghanistan said that in the past five years – after the Taliban lost power –'corruption has soared to levels not seen in previous administrations,' and about 60 per cent of responders believed it was the most corrupt government in two decades.

"The poll of 1,258 Afghans said that under President Hamid Karzai, money 'can buy government appointments, bypass justice or evade police' with impunity. Weak law enforcement was mainly to blame, said the group's executive director, Lorenzo Delesgues.

"'Corruption has undermined the legitimacy of the state,' he said yesterday in Kabul.

Canada sent forces to Afghanistan treating it as a predominantly military issue. Our top general swaggered and boasted that his combat brigade was going to Kandahar to kill a "few dozen ...scumbags." It's becoming apparent that Hillier didn't bother learning the history of the place which would have shown him that these "scumbags" have, for centuries, proven themselves to be determined, skilled, resilient and courageous fighters who have repeatedly defeated larger, better organized and more powerful foreign armies. He didn't bother to learn the rudimentary lessons of counter-insurgency warfare, particularly the two fundamentals: you have to flood the place with large numbers of troops and you try to avoid using heavy firepower. Instead Hillier fashioned a force that was paltry in numbers and, in the result, unavoidably dependent on airstrikes and artillery to offset their weakness in numbers.

We committed our soldiers to Kandahar without regard to the shakey political dimension of this struggle. It was as though we assumed that Karzai's government was legitimate or perhaps we considered that to be America's problem. Either way, we're defending an illegitimate regime that most of the Afghan people in our area of operations utterly fear and loathe.

Deciding that the Karzai government deserved our support only because it wasn't the Taliban was naive, even stupid. Sending our soldiers over there equipped, staffed and trained to fight our notion of warfare, not the locals' was just as stupid, even irresponsible. Let's remember that support for the Taliban in Kandahar province has increased NINEFOLD since we assumed control of the place. If we keep going like this, where is that number going to stand by 2009?

We owe it to the men and women we send over there to fight and sometimes die to do what we neglected to do during Harpo's sham debate; to ask the tough questions and demand some straight answers from the government and General Rick Hillier, answers that are long overdue.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Finding Balance

There'll be an awful lot of talk about global warming in the runup to the next election. There'll be green and greener yet, even green with envy. We'll hear all about emissions caps, carbon taxes, carbon trading and carbon footprints. It's bound to be All-Carbon, All The Time. Therein lies the problem.

It's in the nature of the beast for politicians to latch on to whatever issue has the public's attention. Sometimes the pols engineer the issue (remember Saddam's WMDs?) and sometimes the issue is something extrinsic. Either way, whichever direction the public is looking at election time, that's where the politicians will be jostling for space.

Harpo's environmental conversion is a particularly telling example. This bozo has flip-flopped on one core principle after another since he assumed office. Liberal initiatives that he scrapped, he now shamelessly restores, claiming them as his own. However, one issue stands alone - the global warming question.

Our Furious Leader didn't embrace the global warming issue because he believed in it. He jumped onto this bandwagon because he realized it would cost him at the voting booth if he didn't. And, like his masterfully dissembling American Idol, he knew that seeming to take charge of the problem was actually his best way to defend his real concern, Big Oil and Big Coal. But I digress.

The real problem with the way the global warming issue is being approached - by all parties - is a lack of balance. It is a genuine and growing threat to us and especially to the generations to follow us and it requires measures that are as big as the problem, but... and here's the real but... it can't be allowed to distract us from the many other problems that also need to be confronted and not just at home but abroad as well.

This is an opportunity being thoroughly exploited and abused by the greenhouse gas deniers. Seizing upon a half-truth, they point out that climate change won't be cataclysmic and may even have some side benefits.

You may not have heard this before, but that is a thoroughly and disgracefully racist argument.

It's true that global warming probably will be less destructive, at least initially, in the northern hemisphere where the vast majority of the greenhouse gases are created. However, it is already having a devastating effect that will only worsen in vulnerable regions of the southern hemisphere, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. But they're blacks and the one thing the West has shown over the past two decades is that black people don't matter. They and their plight certainly don't matter to the greenhouse gas deniers because that would completely destroy their arguments that the problem is overblown.

So long as we take a "them and us" approach to global warming and associated problems, we'll never solve this. If we allow their homelands to become unable to support their populations, we'll force them to migrate. They're not responsible for the global warming that besets them, we are. When they have to migrate simply to survive it'll be because we made that necessary, we ruined their homeland.

They'll begin by migrating into neighbouring territories that are also distressed and least able to accommodate climate refugees. That will lead to a new sort of war, one that's already happening but we rarely hear mentioned in our media, wars of sustenance. Eventually this migration will affect more distant countries in normally temperate climes. This has already begun to plague Europe and it's a problem that's going to worsen rapidly and it's going to spread.

In wars of subsistence, it's the 'haves' versus the 'have-nots' and they quickly come to see and treat each other as genuine enemies. When the haves begin to worry about their own supplies of food and water, the have-nots loom large as mortal threats to be resisted and, if necessary, destroyed.

Leaving this unresolved reduces our options and flexibility and that, in turn, increases the dependence on military force as a default response. If we are to preserve our options, we'll have to begin by treating the welfare of the have-nots as critical to our own.

We should probably hope that the migrants never get beyond tribal status. Were they to organize into regional or even sub-continental movements, they might be able to add a political and even military dimension to the challenges they'll pose to us.

There is no problem or group of problems for which there are no answers. Indeed there are several answers to resolve each and everyone of these problems. If we choose not to pursue the best solutions, a less happy solution will become our reality. That's a little truth we all need to acknowledge. That's why we must begin treating the current situation as an opportunity not a burdensome scourge to be deflected or avoided. Only if we see it as an opportunity, a chance to take the best options still open to us, will we be able to avoid having to accept a poorer solution when today's best options are foreclosed.

The existing environmental challenges all result from neglect built on indifference and greed. This has generated a degree of finger pointing that only blinds us to the enormity of the challenges we face.

We rather arrogantly say we'll not act unless the emerging Third World economies, particularly India and China do the same. Without their equal sacrifice, our best efforts are relatively meaningless. Good point. They take a different approach. We Westerners have had the benefit of growing our industrial economies by polluting the world for many decades so we ought to clean up our emissions first before expecting others to do the same. That's a pretty good point too. Two arguments of varying moral and logical suasion but each sufficiently valid to create a stalemate of inaction. Unless both sides move past this nonsense, our respective indignation will be our collective undoing. Just how stupid can we really be?

So we need an abrupt attitude change on global warming. We need to approach it as a global problem in which we all share all the problems and share in the answers. We need to see the current situation as an opportunity and understand that we'll pay dearly for it if we don't.

We also need to understand that global warming can't be addressed in isolation of the many other challenges facing our civilization today. We must reach consensus on a global response to the many other threats that confront us today such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation, depletion of non-renewable resources, desertification, the spread of viruses, diseases and pests, the over-exploitation of ground water resources, our steadily disappearing stock of arable land and forests, exhaustion of our fisheries, species extinction, overpopulation, the list goes on.

Focusing on one or even a few of these to the exclusion of others will leave us off-balance. A narrow approach will also be ineffective. Taking a broader, inclusive approach offers the best chance of keeping these issues manageable while they're being sorted out. We will also find that the same solutions we apply to one problem will be similarly beneficial to others.

We need to find balance and to see these challenges as more than election issues. The way forward will entail a realignment of our economic, political and social models and philosophies, the way we see the world and interact with it. Xenophobic nationalism is a malignancy to the future health of this planet.

The best solutions to our array of problems are already long gone, closed off. In many respects we simply weren't aware of these gradually mounting threats so we couldn't even consider remedies. However even though some of our options are gone, many remain, but the best of them will be the first foreclosed. The longer we wait, the worse the solution will be.

It's sort of like the movies where the hot air balloon suddenly lifts off with a ground handler still clinging to one of the ropes. The handler panics and refuses to let go until he's gone past the point where he can survive the fall and yet the fall, now fatal, is inevitable. We still have time to let go of the rope but we're climbing higher all the time. Let's do it while we can still have a survivable landing.

The Bitter Truth

Canada's and NATO's policies in Afghanistan are fundamentally flawed. We're just not getting this right and it makes the loss of each of our soldiers killed over there especially bitter to take.

Since I began this blog back in August, I've been writing about the profound mistakes we're making in Afghanistan. If you do a quick search of this site you'll find those articles and there are plenty of them. Taken together, they stand as an indictment of our sitting prime minister and his top soldier, General Rick Hillier.

I wish that I had some genius no one else has, that I was prescient at a mystical level. I don't and I'm not. The fact is that everything I've drawn upon in coming to my criticisms is relatively common knowledge, not even very obscure. Insurgency and counter-insurgency is probably the most clearly defined form of warfare that exists. It's the only form of warfare in which the weakest side - the one that fights at a huge disadvantage in firepower, manpower, communications and mobility - almost always wins. It's been practised time and again and it's an experiment that produces consistent results. Every mistake that we're making in Afghanistan today has been demonstrated repeatedly in the past.

But what do I know. Fortunately I don't have to rely on my say so. The US military has finally come to its senses, digested the lessons of history (some of that history they themselves made) and produced a new counter-insurgency field manual FM 3-24. It virtually catalogues everything we're doing wrong in Afghanistan. Check out Lawrence of Arabia, Col. T.E. Lawrence has his excellent accounts of his successful insurgency in the Middle East in WWI. There are several others.

Now Thomas Walkom, writing in today's Toronto Star, summarizes a report written by Gordon
Smith, now director of the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria, is Canada's former ambassador to NATO and a former deputy minister of foreign affairs. His Canada in Afghanistan: Is it Working? was done for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, a Calgary think-tank that is not known for being squishy on matters military.

Smith maintains that negotiating with the Taliban is our only realistic option:

"'We do not believe that the Taliban can be defeated or eliminated as a political entity in any meaningful time frame by Western armies using military measures,' he says.

"The reasons for this are fourfold. First, the Taliban are still the dominant force among Pashtuns in Afghanistan's south, where Canadian troops are operating. NATO bĂȘte noire Mullah Omar 'remains unchallenged as leader of the Taliban,' Smith writes. 'There is no alternative representing Pashtun interests who has more clout than he.'

"Second, neighbouring Pakistan 'is highly ambivalent about crushing the Taliban insurgency.' While technically on NATO's side in this matter, important elements of the Pakistani state apparatus, Smith writes, continue to support the Taliban as their proxy in Afghanistan – mainly as a way to fend off what they see as hostile Russian and Indian influences.

"To destroy the Taliban would be to end Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, he says – which perhaps explains Islamabad's less than total support for the NATO mission.

"Third, the NATO strategy of using air power and heavy armour is backfiring. So is the policy of opium eradication. One destroys Afghan lives, the other their livelihoods. The net result, writes Smith (and here he echoes reports from the London-based Senlis Council), is to make Afghans even more hostile to NATO troops.

"Fourth, NATO countries don't have the will to fight a protracted war in a faraway country.
'If NATO states it will only be satisfied with a decisive military victory, the Taliban will call our bluff,' Smith says. 'The Taliban have demonstrated greater resolve, tactical efficiency and ability to absorb the costs of war over the long term than have NATO forces.'

"As a result, 'talking to the Taliban' emerges as the only feasible solution. 'Given the costs of war,' he writes, 'NATO needs to look candidly at the prospects – aware that there can be no guarantee – of a political solution.'"

Smith is clearly right that we're not going to somehow win this battle but he ends his discourse a bit too soon. Not mentioned is the real hurdle that will remain to be cleared - restoring some balance in political power in Afghanistan.

The Pashtun of Afghanistan are the Shia of Iraq - a majority. Thanks for 5+ years of Western indifference the Kabul government has come to be dominated by warlords, drug lords and common criminals of the minority Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaris and Turkmen. As far as they're concerned, the Afghan civil war is over and they're the victors. The Taliban are obviously not accepting that result and want to renew the civil war.
To settle this conflict NATO or the US or Pakistan or all of them (India included) will have to use their influence to get these mortal enemies, the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, to engage in some sort of legitimate power-sharing. The US will also have to use its influence to prevent India from exploiting Afghanistan to wage a proxy war against Pakistan. But, if we cannot broker some genuine agreement between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance we'll have to decide whether we're going to become embroiled in their civil war or step completely away from it.

This is a real conundrum but it's one that might have been avoided had George Bush not turned indifferent to Afghanistan in 2001 so that he could conquer Iraq. The US should have played a more direct role in shaping Afghanistan's first post-Taliban government. It should have developed a legitimate political entity to represent the majority Pashtun and it should have given Karzai essential support to prevent the warlords and drug lords from seizing political power. Our side should have kept that scum out of government and thereby prevented the corruption of the country's security services that simply drives the Pashtun into the arms of the Taliban.

We have to recognize that we can't turn back the clock to 2001 (unless we oust the warlords and go to war with the Northern Alliance mujahideen). We can't use firepower to legitimize a corrupted regime. We can't even expect our firepower to defeat this insurgency. So just what the hell are we doing there? It's time we revisited that debate.

Is Bush Just Reagan Without Restraints?

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman makes the case that George W. Bush is little more than a reiteration of Ronald Reagan. He notes that Reagan could have been like Bush if he'd had the same advantages - control of both houses of Congress, no pesky rival superpower, and an event like 9/11 that traumatized the nation and allowed an enormouse power grab.

I sometimes think that the shroud of nationalistic myth has done more for Reagan than it ever did for George Washington. Americans positively revere Reagan and that takes a willingness to ignore an awful lot of his true record.

For a notional conservative, Reagan transformed the US in just two terms from what had been the world's largest creditor nation into the world's largest debtor nation. He genuinely served the rich and powerful at the direct expense of the middle and lower classes. It was Reagan who drew the line between America's "haves" and "have nots". He violated his nation's laws, trashed its constitution and supported terrorism in Central America, South America and Africa. Reagan's hands were sopping with innocent blood by the time he left office. That this man should be revered rather than despised is quite phenomenal.

The Reagan miracle was that he knew what sold. He made America appear powerful again and, to its people, he restored their self-image as dominant and tough. With that parlour trick, Reagan was able to get a blank cheque for policy.

To draw comparisons, Krugman cites a 1993 article in The American Prospect by Johathan Cohn in which the author, "...described how the Interior Department had been packed with opponents of environmental protection, who 'presided over a massive sell-off of federal lands to industry and developers' that 'deprived the department of several billion dollars in annual revenue.' Oil leases, anyone?

"Meanwhile, privatization had run amok, because 'the ranks of public officials necessary to supervise contractors have been so thinned that the putative gains of contracting out have evaporated. Agencies have been left with the worst of both worlds — demoralized and disorganized public officials and unaccountable private contractors.' Holy Halliburton!

"Not mentioned in Mr. Cohn’s article, but equally reminiscent of current events, was the state of the Justice Department under Ed Meese, a man who gives Alberto Gonzales and John Mitchell serious competition for the title of worst attorney general ever. The politicization of Justice got so bad that in 1988 six senior officials, all Republicans, including the deputy attorney general and the chief of the criminal division, resigned in protest.

"Why is there such a strong family resemblance between the Reagan years and recent events? Mr. Reagan’s administration, like Mr. Bush’s, was run by movement conservatives — people who built their careers by serving the alliance of wealthy individuals, corporate interests and the religious right that took shape in the 1960s and 1970s. And both cronyism and abuse of power are part of the movement conservative package.

"In part this is because people whose ideology says that government is always the problem, never the solution, see no point in governing well. So they use political power to reward their friends, rather than find people who will actually do their jobs.

"If expertise is irrelevant, who gets the jobs? No problem: the interlocking, lavishly financed institutions of movement conservatism, which range from K Street to Fox News, create a vast class of apparatchiks who can be counted on to be 'loyal Bushies.'

"The movement’s apparatchik culture, in turn, explains much of its contempt for the rule of law. Someone who has risen through the ranks of a movement that prizes political loyalty above all isn’t likely to balk at, say, using bogus claims of voter fraud to disenfranchise Democrats, or suppressing potentially damaging investigations of Republicans. As Franklin Foer of The New Republic has pointed out, in College Republican elections, dirty tricks and double crosses are considered acceptable, even praiseworthy."

Krugman shows that modern conservatism is indeed "movement conservatism" a far-right wing ideology stripped of any progressive tendencies. It is a movement that advances by dividing, by exploiting wedge issues. It confounds and deceives the center so that it can serve its real constituents on the far right. It strives not for democracy but for oligarchy.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Tell Us Karlheinz, Please Tell Us

Some Canadians, like Stephen Harper for example, think the Airbus scandal is over, closed forever. Others, such as insider Karlheinz Schreiber, believe there's a lot more to this story to be told - and they're right.

Of course Harpo is now best buds with the very guy whose conservative government led to the breakaway of Preston Manning's Reform movement, Brian Mulroney. Looking into Airbus revelations will entail looking at Mulroney and that 2.1-million dollar settlement he extracted from Canada after suing for defamation.

One troubling issue concerns a statement made by Mulroney, under oath, when he was deposed in his defamation action. In his sworn testimony, Mulroney said that he had never had any business dealings with Schreiber. Faced with that statement, under oath, from a former Prime Minister, the Liberal government cratered and settled with the guy for cash and an apology.

A few years afterward, CBC got its hands on Schreiber's European bank records. The statements showed money paid to Schreiber by Airbus, money Schreiber claims was "schmeergelder" or grease money, a bribery fund related to the Airbus/Air Canada deal.

The bank records also showed three transfers from the Airbus money account, each to the tune of $100,000.

Schreiber later told CBC that the money went to Mulroney. He claimed that three times he met Mulroney in a hotel coffee shop and three times he passed him an envelope with $100,000 in cash.

When confronted with this allegation, Mulroney acknowledged the payments which he described as a retainer for legal services to be rendered to Schreiber although there's no evidence of any of this money going into Mulroney's then law firm's trust account or of any legal services actually rendered. Schreiber denies that Mulroney performed any legal services for him.

Another curious point uncovered by CBC was the way Mulroney seemingly handled the money for tax purposes. After the allegation surfaced and Mulroney came up with the retainer explanation, he did a retroactive and amended income tax return declaring additional income. The late Frank Moores, also associated with the Airbus scandal did the same income tax cleanup.

Other than CBC and The Globe & Mail, the discrepancy about the Schreiber payments has never been investigated. Surely if Mulroney claimed, under oath, he had no dealings with Schreiber and, later, when the records came out, admitted he'd received a "retainer" from Schreiber, the evidence our government relied upon in handing Mulroney two million wasn't true.

There's no question that Schreiber is raising this now to bring political pressure to bear while he waits for a May hearing by the Ontario Court of Appeal on his extradition to Germany. However, enough has been uncovered to clearly warrant re-opening the enquiry into the Airbus deal. With his clear conflict of interest, Harper should at the very least explain why he won't look into this.

Warmest Winter Ever

Blame it on el Nino I guess but the US government has determined this winter to have been the warmest since records began being kept in 1880, at least for the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere the period was the fourth warmest on record.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports the 3-month, boreal winter season in the northern hemisphere was 0.91C higher than the previous record in 2004.

The ten warmest years on record have occured since 1995. I guess that one's hard to brush off, eh?

The Greatest Democracy on Earth. Hardly.

Our friends to the south are brought up on a rich diet of America being the greatest democracy on earth. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they're never reluctant to repeat that claim whenever the opportunity arises. It's too bad. Had they a greater sense of the fragility of their democracy, they might do more to protect it from the abuses that are rampant in their system.

The White House/Gonzales/federal prosecutors scandal provides a window onto how American democracy has been corrupted by the neo-Republicans. The best that George Bush can come up with is that the eight attorneys were sacked because they were lax in prosecuting voter fraud cases. Today's editorial in The New York Times unravels that despicable ruse:

"In partisan Republican circles, the pursuit of voter fraud is code for suppressing the votes of minorities and poor people. By resisting pressure to crack down on “fraud,” the fired United States attorneys actually appear to have been standing up for the integrity of the election system.

"John McKay, one of the fired attorneys, says he was pressured by Republicans to bring voter fraud charges after the 2004 Washington governor’s race, which a Democrat, Christine Gregoire, won after two recounts. Republicans were trying to overturn an election result they did not like, but Mr. McKay refused to go along. 'There was no evidence,' he said, 'and I am not going to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury.'

"Later, when he interviewed with Harriet Miers, then the White House counsel, for a federal judgeship that he ultimately did not get, he says, he was asked to explain 'criticism that I mishandled the 2004 governor’s election.'

"There is no evidence of rampant voter fraud in this country. Rather, Republicans under Mr. Bush have used such allegations as an excuse to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning groups. They have intimidated Native American voter registration campaigners in South Dakota with baseless charges of fraud. They have pushed through harsh voter ID bills in states like Georgia and Missouri, both blocked by the courts, that were designed to make it hard for people who lack drivers’ licenses — who are disproportionately poor, elderly or members of minorities — to vote. Florida passed a law placing such onerous conditions on voter registration drives, which register many members of minorities and poor people, that the League of Women Voters of Florida suspended its registration work in the state.

"The United States attorney purge appears to have been prompted by an array of improper political motives. Carol Lam, the San Diego attorney, seems to have been fired to stop her from continuing an investigation that put Republican officials and campaign contributors at risk. These charges, like the accusation that Mr. McKay and other United States attorneys were insufficiently aggressive about voter fraud, are a way of saying, without actually saying, that they would not use their offices to help Republicans win elections. It does not justify their firing; it makes their firing a graver offense."

Impartial justice is the breath of democracy. Without it, democracy dies. When any nation's justice system is exploited to manipulate election campaigns, that nation's democracy is mortally wounded. Eight out of the ninety-three prosecutors are gone for failing to prosecute bogus voter fraud cases. What does that say for the remaining eighty-five?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I'm Guilty - Of Everything, Really I Am!

Khalid Sheik Mohammed, al-Qaeda mastermind, is singing like a canary taking the blame/credit for everything from the beheading of American reporter Daniel Stern to the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

The question becomes if he's just making a lot of this up? He's obviously aware that he's not getting out of this one alive. Rope, chair or injection, he's got a one way ticket to Allah. So what's he got to lose by taking responsibility for every outrage that's blamed on al-Qaeda?

KSM is taking sole responsibility for 28 attacks and plots and shared responsibility for three others including plots to assassinate Pope John Paul and Pakistan strongman Pervez Musharraf.

I wonder if he's responsible for the Hindenburg too?

Nighty Night, Turn Right at the Light

I don't even know if these products are sold in Canada but the US Food and Drug Agency is cracking down on 13-various sleeping pills including Lunesta and Ambien. Apparently they're having some really weird side effects on some users.

Fueled by television and print advertising, sales of these potent products has jumped 60% since 2000. Apparently they work, sometimes too well.

The FDA got involved due to a New York Times article published, "...after some users of the most widely prescribed drug, Ambien, started complaining online and to their doctors about unusual reactions ranging from fairly benign sleepwalking episodes to hallucinations, violent outbursts, nocturnal binge eating and — most troubling of all — driving while asleep.

"Night eaters said they woke up to find Tostitos and Snickers wrappers in their beds, missing food, kitchen counters overflowing with flour from baking sprees, and even lighted stoves.

"Sleep-drivers reported frightening episodes in which they recalled going to bed, but woke up to find they had been arrested roadside in their underwear or nightclothes. The agency said that it was not aware of any deaths caused by sleep-driving."

A study by a forensic toxicologist confirmed that some users really were having weird behavioural problems as claimed. The FDA has ordered that the pharmaceutical companies print more forceful warnings on the products' packaging.

Is It Environmentalism or Is It Managing Environmentalism?

Stephen Harper is a man of deep principles. You may not agree with them, and I hope you don't, but he's a believer in what he believes. That's why his chameleonesque transformation from Mr. "So-Called Greenhouse Gases" to environmental champion has such a hollow ring to it.

In his bid for a majority, Harpo is throwing around all that cash the Liberals left him and he's tossing it about in big numbers - a hundred million here, two hundred million there and there and there too. He doesn't show his face anywhere these days without packing along a 9-figure cheque for the locals.

He's made a lot of noise about the environment and he's doled out a lot of cash but the question remains whether he really gets it or is he really trying to manage what he sees as the fallout of environmentalism. I think Harpo sees the global warming business as something he must appear to accept if he wants to survive. I suspect he's also gambling that the public interest is a fad and that he can best serve his real constituency, the Tar Patch and the province of Alberta, by ensuring that Big Oil and Big Coal get off as lightly as possible.

Hell, the guy just used the Stemlach to fence $150-million tax dollars to the fossil fuel industry. The money went to the province but that was the best way to politically launder it. At the end of the day, it's still a subsidy to the impoverished oil companies, using federal taxpayers' money so that Big Tar doesn't have to spend its own on cleaning up its mess. He fenced it, and it will be laundered but it's still a giveaway to Big Tar.

Of course scores of millions of dollars is just the start of Harpo's gift basket to Big Tar. The real present will be "intensity-based" limits on greenhouse gas emissions. That's about as close to business as usual as our Furious Leader can get without getting lynched by the public. Besides, it's the very same sham policy adopted by his American idol, the chimp in the White House.

This isn't environmentalism. It's damage control and it's a scam.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Pushing Gonzales go the Edge

The US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, has been caught out - again. He may have just spun one tall tale too many about the firing of eight federal prosecutors.

All along he's assured Congress that the firings weren't politically driven, they were based on performance problems. New documents released show that it was two sides of the same coin. Yeah, they were canned because they didn't perform politically as required.

"D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, came up with a checklist. He rated each of the prosecutors with criteria that appeared to value political allegiance as much as job performance.

"He recommended retaining 'strong U.S. attorneys who have … exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general.' He suggested 'removing weak U.S. attorneys who have … chafed against administration initiatives.'

The corollary to this, of course, is that the other 87 must have been "strong" attorneys who very willingly accepted the administration's initiatives. With an administration as morally reprehensible as this one, chances are that meant being willing to politicize their prosecutions. That might account for the grossly disproportionate ratio of proceedings against Democrats instead of Republicans and the stunning lack of action on profoundly blatant voter fraud cases in Florida and Ohio. Any way you cut it, that's a perversion of justice for the purposes of partisan advantage, something you once saw in courts in dictatorships.

Maybe George Bush simply doesn't care any more. Everything he's put his hand to has pretty much failed - from Iraq to his Mid-East democracy initiative to his aborted Social Security reform. He's so fouled the American presidency that it may take years for American stature to be rehabilitated. So, what's one Gonzales, more or less in this compendium of incompetence and failure?

That's not to say Congress will agree to leave it at that. They've got Bush bleeding in the water and that inevitably attracts sharks.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Global Warming? Blame the Trees

Much of Vancouver Island is logging country. With the fishery and mining in decline, if it wasn't for logging half of this island might not be populated at all. Since the days of the first (white) settlement here, logging has been a way of life.

The logging industry has sometimes been the subject of controversy, at times heated controversy. Environmentalists, often called "tree huggers", have used legal and illegal means to try to halt logging in the remaining old growth forests. Then there's the way some forest companies harvest trees, leaving clear cut swathes when they're done.

Now there's a carbon factor to consider in felling trees. Trees soak up carbon dioxide as they grow. The decaying vegetation, moss and small plants on the forest floor can also, over time, evolve into a carbon sink.

Logging in Canada today creates more greenhouse gas than all the truck and car traffic combined. A Vancouver-based group, ForestEthics has released a report calling for curbs on logging in Canada's boreal forest, the type found in the northern regions of most Canadian provinces.

The effect of logging on global warming was identified in the IPCC reports which claim that a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions can be traced to logging and deforestation.

On Faith and Fundamentalism

Excerpted from American Fascists by Chris Hedges:

God is inscrutable, mysterious and unknowable. We do not understand what life is about, what it means, why we are here and what will happen to us after our brief sojourn on the planet ends. We are saved, in the end, by faith - faith that life is not meaningless and random, that there is a purpose to human existence, and that in the midst of this morally neutral universe the tiny, seemingly insignificant acts of compassion and blind human kindness, especially to those labeled our enemies and strangers, sustain the divine spark, which is love.

These small acts of compassion - for they can never be organized and institutionalized as can hate - have a power that lives after us. Human kindness is deeply subversive to totalitarian creeds, which seek to thwart all compassion toward those deemed unworthy of moral consideration, those branded as internal or external enemies.

Faith presupposes that we cannot know. We can never know. Those who claim to know what life means play God. These false prophets - the Pat Robertsons, the Jerry Falwells and the James Dobsons - clutching the cross and Bible, offer, like Mephistopheles, to lead us back to a mythical paradise and an impossible, unachievable happiness and security, at once seductive and empowering. They ask us to hand over moral choice and responsibility to them. They will tell us they know what is right and wrong in the eyes of God. They tell us how to act, how to live, and in this process they elevate themselves above us. They remove the anxiety of moral choice, the fundamental anxiety of human existence. This is part of their attraction. The give us the rules by which we live. But once we hand over this anxiety and accept their authority, we become enslaved and they become our idols. And idols, as the Bible never cases to tell us, destroy us.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Not Your Father's Terrorists

According to the Washington Post, today's terrorist pretty much defies any sort of ethnic profiling. Take, for example, Bouchra El-Hor from Holland.

"She studied business in college, hung out at the pub with her friends and was known for her fashionable taste in clothes.

"So residents of this 900-year-old river town were thrown for a loop last year when Bouchra El-Hor, now 24, appeared in a British courtroom wearing handcuffs under an all-encompassing black veil. Prosecutors said she had covered up plans for a terrorist attack and wrote a letter offering to sacrifice herself and her infant son as martyrs.

"...terrorism suspects from atypical backgrounds are becoming increasingly common in Western Europe. With new plots surfacing every month, police across Europe are arresting significant numbers of women, teenagers, white-skinned suspects and people baptized as Christians -- groups that in the past were considered among the least likely to embrace Islamic radicalism.

"The demographics of those being arrested are so diverse that many European counterterrorism officials and analysts say they have given up trying to predict what sorts of people are most likely to become terrorists. Age, sex, ethnicity, education and economic status have become more and more irrelevant."

Let'em Eat Canadian Geese

Ah the great Canada goose. We still are caught when we see formations of them fly overhead on their twice a year migration. We're also caught when we run into the leftovers of the growing number who decide they don't want to migrate any longer.

The state of Michigan has become overwhelmed with the waterfowl. A resident population that stood at 9,000 in 1970 has blossomed to 300,000 today. It's a problem that's shared by Canadian cities from Vancouver to Quebec, perhaps even beyond.

Michigan's answer, if it's approved, will be to cull the herd and feed them to the homeless. The slaughtered birds would be sent to Detroit soup kitchens to be served up to the needy.

"Birds have personalities. Some of them found it nice to stay. Once they stayed, they had young, and the young do what the old do and they don't have built-in migration programmed," University of Toronto professor Theo Hofmann said.

"If their parents don't migrate, they don't migrate, whereas other birds have built-in migration. So, regardless of the parents, they migrate."

Canada geese also tend to proliferate because they produce as many as seven goslings a year and have no enemies, he said. Prof. Hofmann has eaten goose -- albeit a domesticated, European species --and describes it as gamey and greasier than duck.

O'Connor Holds Kabul To A High Standard, Really He Does, He Even Says So.

Our slouch of a defence minister, Gordo O'Connor, has raced to Afghanistan after being caught asleep at the wheel (again), this time on the detainee issue.

Obviously not having a clue what he was talking about, O'Connor told the Commons that the detainees were fine because he would've heard from the Red Cross if they weren't. This veteran military man, a retired brigadier no less, had no idea how the Red Cross works.

So Harpo told Gordo to get his camos pressed and get his sorry ass to Kandahar and to be sure to wipe next time before he flushes. Here's what Galloping Gord told reporters when he arrived in Afghanistan. "I want to look the man in the eyes and I want to confirm that they are going to do what they say they're going to do"

Hey Gord, while you're at it, how about you take a few minutes to confirm that you're going to do what you say you're doing. It'd be a good start.

"We use the term detainee abuse but there's no proof that there is any detainee abuse," Mr. O'Connor said. "But it's an important factor because we hold the Afghan government to a high standard."

If he wants proof of detainee abuse, he should contact the US State Department which has issued its own proof of torture and disappearance of prisoners who fall into Afghan custody. As for the "high standard" bull crap, has this loser even figured out that control of this government has come into the hands of murderous warlords, drug barons and common thugs?

Scraping the Barrel to Surge reports that the US is ordering wounded troops unfit for duty back to Iraq to serve in George Bush's surge.

"'This is not right,' said Master Sgt. Ronald Jenkins, who has been ordered to Iraq even though he has a spine problem that doctors say would be damaged further by heavy Army protective gear. 'This whole thing is about taking care of soldiers,' he said angrily. 'If you are fit to fight you are fit to fight. If you are not fit to fight, then you are not fit to fight.'

"As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.

"On Feb. 15, Master Sgt. Jenkins and 74 other soldiers with medical conditions from the 3rd Division's 3rd Brigade were summoned to a meeting with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon. Jenkins and other soldiers claim that the division and brigade surgeons summarily downgraded soldiers' profiles, without even a medical exam, in order to deploy them to Iraq. It is a claim division officials deny."

Salon claims many of these soldiers are being sent to Iraq for their third tours.

Japan's War on Trial

Japan has never found itself able to live with WWII. From its Hiroshima museum to its history books and even its Shinto shrines, the Japanese perspective of the war and that nation's responsibility for it has been deflected if not completely falsified.

There has always existed a bellicose, nationalist force that reached the top levels of Japanese society but lurked in the shadows until recently. Now it lies behind efforts to restore Japan's military and remove the constitutional restraints on its use.
That whole effort now faces a threat to its mythmaking. According to The Guardian, 112 victims of the US firebombing of Tokyo are suing the Japanese government for compensation. The crux of their claim is that, by the time of the air raids, the war was already conclusively lost. Therefore the Japanese government owed its people a duty to end the war - as early as summer, 1944.
Today as Japan prepares to return to full membership in the international fold, it would be helpful for Japan and other nations that were brought into its war to have the true history of those events accepted by Japan and its people.

Manslaughter in Kandahar

A Canadian soldier has been charged with manslaughter in the shooting death last August of Master Corporal Jeffrey Scott Walsh.

The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service has charged Master Cpl. Robbie Fisher, based in Shilo with 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry regiment, with one count of manslaughter and one count of negligent performance of duty.

Details of the indictments haven't been released but the second charge, negligent performance of duty, suggests the shooting wasn't deliberate.

Is Alberto Gonzales a Marked Man?

George Bush's controversial Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, has to be feeling the heat. With Scooter Libby convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice and with a Democratic Congress happily exercising their power to drag folks in under subpoena to tell it all - under oath - the US administration has become surprisingly co-operative these days.

Despite all the talk about how the Dems are stumbling, their key to victory in '08 is to use little pieces of paper to rip the lid off the past six years of chicanery by the White House and its compliant, Republican Congress. There is much, much to expose and weasels like Gonzales can see the writing on the wall.

At the moment he's on the hot seat over the firings of 8 federal prosecutors. It was something that wouldn't have risen to the level of a belch while the White House was able to rule in secrecy but it's now grown into quite a scandal. What the Dems are eager to show is how the Bushies perverted the nation's justice system to serve their own, partisan ends.

What's at issue is whether the eight prosecutors were fired because they were instrumental in going after Republicans. The flip side to that is whether the other prosecutors, those still safe in their jobs, used their positions to unjustly derail Democrats, especially at election time.

There have been plenty of accounts of investigations announced against Democratic candidates in the midst of election campaigns, investigations that mysteriously evaporated once the polls closed. Does that smack of vote fraud by the justice system itself? Yeah, it does.

When this scandal first surfaced, Gonzales told Congress it was an "overblown personnel matter." He claimed the dismissals were the result of poor performance by the prosecutors affected. It didn't take long to show that was completely untrue. Now the whole business has been tied directly to the White House and Karl Rove.

Bush and his gang have persistently abused their powers since the day they took office in 2001 and they reigned for six years in a state of blissful hubris. Now the Dems, with their little pieces of paper, are about to put that abuse, and the guy who ruled like a monarch, on trial.

Blix Slams Blair on Iraq

Blix, in the eyes of US WarHawks
A common sop about the war against Iraq and the failure to find the WMDs used as a justification for invading is the line about "who could've known?"
Well, if anyone was listening, they could have easily known. The top UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, was telling everyone that they could find no evidence of any weapons of mass destruction. Remember that the UNSCOM inspectors would dutifully inspect, usually by suprise visits, every suspected site that US intelligence could or would point out to them.
Now Blix is poking a sharp stick at Tony Blair's performance in ginning up the evidence for pre-emptive war. In an interview with Britain's SKY News, Blix accused Blair of spinning the truth.
"Describing the conflict as "clearly illegal", Mr Blix, who led the UN search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq until June 2003, refused to specifically accuse the prime minister of open deceit.

"However, he said pre-war intelligence such as the UK government dossier which claimed Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and could deploy some within 45 minutes, appeared to have deliberately overstated the case for war.

"I would never dare to accuse any statesman of bad faith unless I had absolute evidence of it. I do think they exercised spin," said Blix.
So there it is. Blix suspects Blair of outright lying, I'm sure he doesn't have any doubt, but he won't say it unless he's given absolute evidence of it and I don't think TB is about to hand that over just yet.

Time to Cut'N Run - Straight Out of Iraq?

For the Pentagon it seems this is it. Either the current "surge" works or it's time to head for the door and get out of Iraq.

As hard as that may be to believe, the LA Times quotes Pentagon sources as saying it may be time to start gradually withdrawing US troops and concentrate mainly on training Iraqi troops rather than fighting the insurgency.

"'This part of the world has an allergy against foreign presence,' said a senior Pentagon official, adding that chances of success with a large U.S. force may be diminishing. 'You have a window of opportunity that is relatively short. Your ability to influence this with a large U.S. force eventually gets to the point that it is self-defeating.'

"The new round of planning is taking place in an atmosphere of extraordinary tension within the Pentagon, which is grappling with a war about to enter its fifth year and going poorly on the ground while straining U.S. forces worldwide.

"At the same time, the war has created divisions within the Pentagon. Some support the new commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who advocates using more American forces to protect Baghdad neighborhoods, whereas others back the position of Gen. John P. Abizaid, the retiring commander for the Mideast, who favored handing responsibility more quickly to Iraqis."

There are some, notably in the White House, who believe that even talking about withdrawal will make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Do You Realize What Being Liberal Means?

A real big thanks to Big City Lib for drawing attention to Conservapedia, the far-right's counter to Wikipedia. You can have some serious fun at this site. For example, I decided to look up Conservapedia's entry for "liberal." Here it is:

"Liberal is often a term used to describe any person who considers themself a strong proponent of a large and controlling government. They believe that powerful bureaucracies are needed in order to provide equality, personal safety and many other services such as health care.
Their speech and actions convey emotional or popular opinion which is often used as a method of solving the perceived problems of society.

Liberals also tend to admire popular or authoritarian figures such as dictators, movie stars, or anyone holding positions of power that are in line with a their own philosophy. Since the election of George W Bush in 2000 they have become overtly angry in their demeanor with anyone who disagrees with them while showing support for dictators such as Hugo Chavez (who recently nationalized many of the industries of Venezuela).

Liberals openly use their collective positions of power within government to perpetuate their causes such as the current popular notion of a man made climate change. (Man Made Global Warming) Scientists who have openly disagreed with this premise have been threatened by the removal of their licenses or titles.
Retrieved from ""

There you have it. We admire dictators, believe in man-made global warming and use intimidation and threats to silence scientists who disagree.

"The term "liberal" is used often in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Some examples of liberal beliefs include:

gun control

taxpayer funding of abortion

prohibiting prayer in school

equal rights for men and women

distributing wealth from the rich to the poor

government programs to rehabilitate criminals

same-sex marriage

amnesty for illegal aliens

teaching of evolution

increased taxpayer funding of public school

protection of endangered species

taxpayer-funded rather than private medical care

increased power for labor unions

disarmament treaties

increased taxes

dependence on government programs such as welfare

reduction of millitary expenses"

The site then gives us this, "An alternative definition of liberal is anything that is not conservative."

"For example, the American Heritage Dictionary includes this definition of "liberal": ' Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas ... '"

There's a real nihilistic element to this sort of thinking. It admits of no mutuality of interests or beliefs whether political, economic, religious or social. It thus casts liberals as the natural enemy of conservatives. We skulk about, using "our collective positions of power within government" to "perpetuate" our causes such as the preposterous notion of man-made global warming. There's a real McCarthyist phobia in this thinking.

Germany's Global Warming Albatross

Germany and the autobahns. They can seem almost inseparable and that's just the way most German leaders want to keep it.

Officials of other EU nations have ruffled German feathers by urging the imposition of speed limits on the autobahns. Up till now, speed on the autobahn has been pretty much regulated by the person behind the wheel and the horsepower under the hood.

A spokesman for the German transport ministry claims to have a study showing that a 100 km/hr speed limit would reduce GHG emissions by only 0.6%. Still, polls have shown growing support among the German people for speed limits to reduce GHG emissions.

In Name Only

California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is officially a Republican. Now into his second term a lot of his fellow Republicans think he's not Republican at all and they're griping about it.

One Republican state senator the governor's post-partisan approach as, "the process by which Arnold sits down with Democratic leaders and gets them to do exactly what they wanted to do all along."

Two of the governor's most heralded accomplishments are a plan for cutting prescription drug prices and a program to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. California's Republican legislators were nearly unanimously opposed to both initiatives.

Black - The Movie

Conrad Black is more famous now than at any time in his life. Even al Jazeera has run a story on the guy. His name has been splashed around every major newspaper in the English-speaking world. It's the story of Icarus flying too close to the sun and plumetting into the sea. A man of privilege and wealth who fell victim to his own greed. The stuff that gets churned into movies.

Now I know CBC did a docu-drama on the man but it was far too CBC for mass consumption. No, once the trial is over this will be the fodder for mainstream movie treatment. Perhaps the measure of Black's life will be whether that translates into a real flick or a made-for-TV yawner.

Here's the question: who would you cast to play Lord Black and the other half of this story, Barbara Amiel? I'm having trouble coming up with an actress to play Babs but I have a guy in mind to play Connie - cold, aloof, at times sinister. The only drawback is that he's dead. My pick is Charles Laughton:

O.K. Corral - Kajaki Style

The Independent reports that British commanders are gearing up for what they claim will be the decisive battle for control of Afghanistan. Put simply, the Brits (and NATO) are counting on the Taliban coming out this year, although hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, and either be destroyed where they stand or mauled so badly that their popular support among the Pashtun people collapses. This, of course, begs the question of whether the Taliban is willing to follow the NATO script.

If the Taliban are simply willing to commit suicide, the Brits' predictions may prove to be right on the money. If the Talib, however, don't want to fight the conventional war, the one where NATO holds all the cards, and instead fight their war, a war of insurgency, then the Brits are wrong. In any insurgency, the decisive year is the final year of the conflict and the odds are 4-1 that turns out to be the year the foreigners pull up stakes and leave.

NATO's Achilles' Heel still lies in the woeful lack of combat boots on the ground. This year they're going to try to clear - and hold - the area around the Kajaki dam to allow the power plant to be repaired. Beyond that, it'll mainly be "search and destroy" type missions, whipping around from place to place, clearing out the bad guys and then leaving and allowing the bad guys to move back in.

I really hope the Taliban are as stupid as NATO is counting on them to be. I hope they get totally trashed this year so that maybe we can just leave the country to the warlords and thugs and drug barons who run the government and get our troops home. I'm hoping and apparently so is NATO.

Stemlach & The Tar Boys Bluffing Ottawa

Alberta's Tar Sands boys are genuine operators, world class. They know how to use scare tactics to deflect problems that are ultimately of their own making. In Alberta Premier, Ed Stemlach, they have their ideal gopher.

The Tar Patch is concerned about the levels of pollution they create. Actually what really concerns them is that they might be compelled to clean up their operations. Clean up = Cost = Less Profit. The last item, profit, is taken to be a right and one that comes with precious few responsibilities beyond that of making more profit.

The ever-helpful Stemlach yesterday told the Tar Patch boys that Ottawa should but out. "We're the trustees. Those resources belong to Albertans and Albertans are the ones who will decide the best way to approach them."

So, let's get this straight: the bitumin (tar) belongs to Albertans and they should decide how it's produced although they are willing to freely share one part of the deal - the pollution - with the rest of Canada and the world. Stemlach's argument might have some validity if Alberta kept all the Tar Sands emissions in Alberta, all of it. But of course, in the many years his government has been in bed with Big Tar, they really haven't found it necessary to be particularly bothersome to this industry - not for ground pollution, nor for water pollution and certainly not for greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, Big Tar spokesman, Pierre Alvarez, wasted no time before playing Chicken Little. "There's the perception out there that the industry is just going to carry on and continue to grow regardless of what happens out there and I just don't think that is the case. ...we could be in for a period of tremendous uncertainty," Mr. Alvarez said. "When you're spending tens of billions of dollars a year, uncertainty is not helpful."

One thing is clear. Big Tar is willing to go just as far as they're shoved and not one inch further. It's a safe bet they'll continue to puff themselves up and complain and threaten. This bunch isn't going anywhere without a fight and, if it comes down to a fight, they'd much sooner fight a wimp like Stemlach any day.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Food for Thought

The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.

They claim to be superpatriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjugation.

Truman administration Vice-President Henry Wallace, April, 1944.

from American Fascists, by Chris Hedges

The Price of Peace

A genuine conundrum. Afghanistan has the wrong people in government.

Afghanistan's majority ethnic group is the Pashtun. They're in the south and along the border with Pakistan. They have only a marginally effective presence in their parliament and virtually none at all in the cabinet of Hamid Karzai.

The civil war was won (with essential American assistance) by the Northern Alliance, a cobbled-together alliance of warlords and murderous thugs from the Uzbek, Tajik and Hazari regions in the north. When the Taliban and al-Qaeda were driven out, the Americans helped create a supposed democracy. However, the victorious minorities were not about to see another government controlled by Pashtuns and they took over Karzai's cabinet. This is Karzai's conundrum.

The northerners have sought the backing of India, the traditional foe of Pakistan, and they've got it. India backs the Afghan government and its army, if only to give Islamabad fits. Pakistan, of course, has traditionally supported the Pashtun in Afghanistan whose tribal lands are pretty evenly split between the two countries.

Here's the rundown. The minority northerners, who control the Afghan government and army, serve as India's proxies. The majority Pashtun, through their home team, the Taliban, serve as Pakistan's proxies and its main hope of keeping Afghanistan within its influence.

The map shows what an Indian-dominated Afghanistan means to Pakistan. Already outnumbered and massively outgunned by India on its eastern border, it would also face a threat along its western border. Pakistan can't resist helping, or at least acquiescing, to the Taliban's activities in its tribal lands. This is Pakistan's conundrum.

It is not in the interests of the United States to see the Pashtun retake control of their government. America does not welcome the prospect of a return of the Taliban. Pakistan just doesn't have much clout with Washington. The nation they're courting is India, mainly as an ally in containing the threat of Chinese expansion. India is also economically far more important to Washington than Pakistan can ever dream of becoming. This is America's conundrum.

Afghanistan cannot become a genuine democracy when minorities hostile to the majority control the government's key ministries and its security forces. India seeks to undermine Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan and so supports the minorities in control, effectively putting India also in opposition to the Pashtun majority. America also sides with the northern minorities, undercutting Pakistan's influence.

There's your problem - India, Pakistan and America are each exploiting Afghanistan to advance their own, divergent interests. The stability and wellbeing of Afghanistan and its supposed democracy are really secondary factors if they factor in at all. It's the "Great Game" played out in yet another variant and history shows that it's a game that rarely turns out well for the visiting team.

The Nuclear Threshold

Little Bundles of Instant Sunshine

During the height of the Cold War a lot of attention was paid to the "Nuclear Threshold", the point at which the actions of one side would cause the other side to resort to its nuclear arsenal, the point of MAD or "mutually assured destruction", the end of everything.

Back then it was recognized that even tinkering with the nuclear arsenal could destabilize the balance of terror. During his term, Jimmy Carter considered the neutron bomb, a bomb designed to be very heavy on radiation and very light on blast. The idea was that you could use it on an advancing Soviet army, for example, without causing massive destruction and radioactive contamination of the site. The same thing for civilian targets. You could effectively depopulate a city but leave the buildings undamaged.

The neutron bomb was feasible but it was wisely rejected. Saner minds realized it would make nuclear weapons more tempting to use which would cause the other side (the Soviets) to be even more paranoid about an American first-strike.

That's what can happen when you tinker with a nuclear arsenal. It causes everyone else to speculate on what you're up to. It can also cause them to begin building up their own nuclear muscle just in case their worst suspicions become reality. The simple point is we don't need to get Russia or China acting on their worst suspicions.

Now George W. Bush is doing it up real fine. He's doing it up on foreign policy. He's doing it up on defensive systems. He's doing it up on offensive systems too. Let's see - we've got a guy who seems to be unstable staring us in the face and he's brandishing a new shield and a big, new sword. What could he be up to?

It's not what George Bush is up to, it's the perception he gives that is the greatest danger. He's gone unilateral, withdrawn from the nuclear treaty, begun deploying a missile defence system worldwide, and is about to begin production on a new generation of nukes. Add to this his proven willingness to conquer other countries on flimsy pretexts and that he has proclaimed a doctrine of unprovoked, preventative war to ensure that his country enjoys, in perpetuity, "strength beyond challenge."

Now I don't like math any more than the next guy but, pretend you're Moscow or Beijing, and run those six factors through an equation and see what you come out with. Hell, they've even talked about first strike being a valid option. They've talked about using nuclear weapons against Iran's bunkers.

This is the most bellicose president, possibly since 1812, certainly in the past half-century of American history. He's also deceitful, naive, impulsive and ill-informed - putty in the hands of others. Now, factor that into your equation.

Somebody has to pull this clown back from the edge. That has to start by derailing Bush's plan for a new generation of nukes. There's nothing wrong with the existing arsenal. They're reliable and devastating as ever. The new nukes Bush is after would simply make them easier and tidier to use, one warhead at a time. The rest of the world isn't fooled by this. Why should the American Congress allow themselves to be drawn into this lunacy? Why should we all be plunged into another Cold War?

Falwell and Gingrich Wed - Finally

Isn't One Quite Enough?

Hate the sin, love the sinner. Jerry Falwell, hot on the heels of Christain fundamentalist James Dobson, has wasted no time embracing Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich, as you've probably heard, just came clean about screwing around on his second wife during the Clinton impeachment hearings and then taking up with an aide 20-years his junior. That's like the second time the Newtster has pulled that one. However, now that he's considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination, he figured it was a good idea to get this little pecadillo out before he got outed by a rival.

Man, the Christian Right couldn't be happier with the guy. Even Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart had to go through a spell of fundamentalist purgatory but not Newt, no sir.

Now the fundamentalists have been going through a bad spell of their own. None of the early Republican candidates were really reliable enough - make that Christian enough - for the religious extremists. John McCain has been trying to turn himself inside out to win the born again backing but he's still not trusted and Rudy Guilliani, well he's a positively unrepentant sinner who is absolutely not to be trusted. Newt, however, there's a man you can deal with and just the guy for the Christian Right.

Oh yeah, back to Falwell. Falwell literally fell over himself to grant Gingrich absolution for his serial sins. No siree, Gingrich, says Falwell, is the real deal, a man redeemed:

"Falwell, in his newsletter, said he has usually been able to tell when a man who has experienced ''moral collapse' was genuinely seeking forgiveness. 'My sense tells me that Mr. Gingrich is such a man,' he wrote."

Now if King Grinch can just get Pat Robertson on side, he'll have the Republican Trifecta. Yes!!!

New York City - Weighing Its Options

There are some parts of the world that are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and worsening storms - Bangladesh, for example, or South Pacific island states such as Kiribati and Vanuatu. We don't tend to think of New York as one of these places but it is.

All three of New York's airports now experience some flooding each year and no one is expecting that situation to do anything except worsen. The city itself includes a large number of old, brownstone buildings that are built upon extremely fine sand, leaving their foundations very susceptible in the event of flooding.

It's not so much the rising water that New York fears so much as hurricane-force storms that are expected to increase in both frequency and intensity. Here's a map of areas that may be hardest hit:

Is this just a load of alarmist pap? Well, according to the New York Times, major U.S. insurers don't think so. They've already stopped renewing policies for areas they consider vulnerable:

"Among insurers, all of whom factor climate change into their risk assessments, some like Allstate are already refusing to renew homeowners’ policies in the eight downstate counties (including metropolitan New York) most vulnerable to hurricanes and other major storms that could proliferate in a warming climate."

"Structures at particular risk from storm-related flooding include tenements, brownstones and any building with old masonry foundations, said [structural engineer] Joe Tortorella.

"Mr. Tortorella noted that much of the West Village and Lower Manhattan — neighborhoods whose low elevation renders them vulnerable to flooding — is on a precarious perch. “It’s like the finest sand you can find, so that even if you could put it on a table, you can’t mound it up in a pile,” he said

"In a hurricane or severe northeaster, Mr. Tortorella said, “if the water moves fast enough and recedes fast enough, there could be scouring like a tide that takes sand with it on the beach. As the water recedes, it pulls silt out and could undermine the building. It could be a disaster of epic proportions in New York for the smaller buildings.”

This Sounds Highly Auspicious

Everyone knows the government of Afghanistan and its security services are crippled by widespread corruption. It's one of the main factors driving ordinary Afghans to support the Taliban insurgency. Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, takes the problem so seriously that he has appointed a boyhood friend to be the country's anti-corruption czar. Just one glitch - the guy is a convicted dope dealer. From The Independent:

"Afghanistan's new anti-corruption chief has a shady past. Izzatullah Wasifi served nearly four years in a US prison for trying to sell heroin to an undercover agent in Las Vegas for $65,000.
It is not the ideal CV for a man appointed to root out corruption in the country that is overwhelmingly the world's biggest supplier of opium, from which heroin in refined.

"Mr Wasifi's past came out after an investigation by the Associated Press, which pieced the story together from court records. They revealed that in 1987, Mr Wasifi was arrested at Caesar's Palace Hotel.

"Identifying himself only as Mr E, he tried to exchange a bag containing a pound and a half of heroin for $65,000 (£34,000) in cash, unaware the "customer" was a policeman. Mr Wasifi was released on parole after three years and eight months.

"The government of President Hamid Karzai has refused to say whether it knew about the drugs conviction when Mr Wasifi was appointed to his post two months ago. A childhood friend of Mr Karzai, today he heads an anti-corruption office of 84 people."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Speaking of Clots

Peter Brookes, The Times

But - Gee Whiz, What Happened to Scooter?

Steve Bell, The Guardian

Maybe the European Union Will Lead After All

Just a few days ago it appeared that France and several Eastern European states might sabotage the European Union's ambitions plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions and lead the fight to counter global warming. They tried but they failed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel held her ground and managed to bring concensus to the 27-nation union. From Spiegel Online:

"At first glance, Merkel -- currently occupying the EU's rotating presidency -- and [European Commission President] Barroso have a lot to celebrate. Everything they wanted to get passed got approved -- and even quicker than the day's agenda called for. For the first time in its history, the European Union has a comprehensive agreement on its climate and energy policy:

"By 2020, CO2 emissions across Europe are to be cut by 20 percent as compared to 1990 emissions.

"Renewable energy sources are to make up 20 percent of the EU's energy mix by 2020 -- up from their current 6.5 percent share."

Spiegel warns, however, that the toughest part is yet to come, implementation:

"The Council has only formulated an abstract goal. The real struggle is reserved for the EU Commission, which now has to negotiate with each individual member state over its emissions and its energy mix. At the summit, Merkel has already had a foretaste of just how much each country defends its own interests, whether that is cheap coal (in the case of Poland) or nuclear power (in the case of France).

"The decision over renewable energy in particular led to heated discussions which could only be defused on Friday morning. France joined together with several Eastern European countries to create a front against the plan proposed by Germany, the UK, Italy and the Scandinavian countries to set a binding target."

Still, the agreement is an important step even if only a tentative, first step. Much negotiation remains to transform the political commitments into tangible emission reductions but the first step has been taken. In this the EU has far outpaced anything proposed in North America.

Why We're Losing in Afghanistan

I've written at length as to why we're not going to win in Afghanistan but sometimes it's good to hear from an expert. Michael Scheuer is an expert - on al-Qaeda and Afghanistan. He retired from the US Central Intelligence Agency in 2005. From 1996 to 1999 he was the chief of the Bin Laden Unit at the CIA's Counterterrorist Center.

Scheuer recently wrote an article published in the journal of the Jamestown Foundation describing how we're mismanaging the campaign in Afghanistan:

"Afghanistan is again being lost to the West, even as a coalition force of more than 5,000 troops launches a major spring offensive in the south of the country. The insurgency may drag on for many months or several years, but the tide has turned. Like Alexander's Greeks, the British and the Soviets before the US-led coalition, inferior Afghan insurgents have forced far superior Western military forces on to a path that leads toward evacuation. What has caused this scenario to occur repeatedly throughout history?

Scheuer writes that Western forces keep making the same mistakes: "...the West has not developed an appreciation for the Afghans' toughness, patience, resourcefulness and pride in their history. Although foreign forces in Afghanistan are always more modern and better armed and trained, they are continuously ground down by the same kinds of small-scale but unrelenting hit-and-run attacks and ambushes, as well as by the country's impenetrable topography that allows the Afghans to retreat, hide, and attack another day." Gee, remember when Rick Hillier was swaggering around, boasting that we were shipping out to Afghanistan to kill a "few dozen scumbags"?

"The latest episode in this historical tradition has several distinguishing characteristics. First, Western forces - while better armed and technologically superior - are far too few in number. Today's Western force totals about 40,000 troops. After subtracting support troops and North Atlantic Treaty Organization contingents that are restricted to non-combat, reconstruction roles - building schools, digging wells, repairing irrigation systems - the actual combat force that can be fielded on any given day is far smaller, and yet has the task of controlling a country the size of Texas that is home to some of the highest mountains on Earth.

"Second, the West underestimated the strength of the Taliban and its acceptability to the Afghan people. When invading in 2001, the West's main targets were al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Omar and their senior lieutenants, and because the operation specifically targeted a group of top leaders, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was not sealed, and so not only did the pursued troika escape, so did most of their foot soldiers.

"Those escapees are now returning in large numbers, and are better armed, trained and organized than on their exit. It seems likely, in fact, that the force being fielded by the Taliban and their allies - al-Qaeda, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, among others - is at least equal in number to the coalition.

"Furthermore, the membership of the force is not just a few Taliban remnants and otherwise mostly new recruits; rather, they are the veteran fighters that the coalition failed to kill in 2001 and early 2002. The Taliban forces are not new; they are the seasoned, experienced mujahideen who are - like former president Richard Nixon in 1972 - tanned, rested and ready to wage the jihad.

"Western leaders in Afghanistan are also finding that many Afghans are not unhappy to see the Taliban returning. Much of the reason lies in the fact that the US-led coalition put the cart before the horse. Before the 2001 invasion, the Taliban regime was far from loved, but it was appreciated for the law-and-order regime it harshly enforced across most of Afghanistan. Although women had to stay home, few girls could go to school and the odd limb was chopped off for petty offenses, most rural Afghans could count on having security for themselves, their families and their farms and/or businesses.

"The coalition's victory shattered the Taliban's law-and-order regime and, instead of immediately installing a replacement - for which there were not enough troops in any event - coalition leaders moved on to elections, implementing women's rights and creating a parliament, while the bulk of rural Afghanistan returned to the anarchy of banditry and warlordism that had prevailed before the first Taliban era.

"Now in the sixth year of occupation, Western leaders are confronted not only by a stronger-than-2001 enemy, but also by the resurgent insularity and anti-foreign inclinations of the Afghan people.

"Today, the Afghans perceive themselves to be doubly ruled, and doubly badly ruled, by foreigners: the US-led coalition and the pro-Western, nominally Islamic, detribalized and corruption-ridden government of President Hamid Karzai. This perception of a "foreign yoke", along with spreading warfare, little reconstruction and endemic banditry, has created a fertile nationalistic environment for the Taliban and their allies to exploit.

"The future for the West in Afghanistan is bleak, and it is made more discouraging by the fact that much of the West's defeat will be self-inflicted because it did not adequately study the lessons of history."
Why are we hearing no discussion of these problems, nothing from Harpo, Gordo and Hillier? Why isn't the opposition raising these issues? Have we succumbed to "stay the course" and "support the troops" because no one has the courage to take a stand? If you really want to support the troops, don't waste their lives on a bungled cause.