Saturday, June 30, 2007

Now That's a Good Ally

Well they may not have a democracy but at least they've decided to stop mutilating their female children. Egypt, second-largest beneficiary of US aid, has banned female circumcision. It seems that Cairo became enlightened after the death of a 12-year old girl resulting from the barbaric procedure.

This form of mutilation was ostensibly banned in Egypt 10-years ago but you know how these things go, eh? A 2005 study by UNICEF of Egyptian women aged 25 to 49 found 96% had been "circumcised."

Has NATO Finally Gone Too Far?

Another airstrike. More dead Afghan civilians. How many? At least 30, possibly a lot more. This account from The New York Times:

“Five houses were bombed,” the mayor said, who proceeded to name some of the victims: Hajji Noor Muhammad, Amanullah, Abdul Wajeed and Hajji Muhammad Qasam.

“These were all civilians, and the dead include women and children. There were also militants killed. We are sending a delegation to the village to investigate,” he said.

Some early reports painted an even grislier picture, putting the civilian toll at more than 100.

“People tried to escape from the area with their cars, trucks and tractors, and the coalition airplanes bombed them because they thought they were the enemy fleeing,” said Hajji Zahir, a tribal elder who said he had been in touch with residents of the effected villages. “They told me that they had buried 170 bodies so far.”

Just what are we doing in Afghanistan? The supposedly sovereign government of this country - its head of state and its parliament - have repeatedly demanded that we stop these strikes and yet we carry on regardless. If we presistently reject this country's sovereignty what are we but an army of occupation and by what right do we hold ourselves as conquerors of Afghanistan?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Just Because...

The Dangerous Downside of Carbon Trading

Once you create a market where polluters can buy carbon credits it raises the problem of just who's buying, just who's selling and what's up for grabs.

Coming up with carbon offsets can turn into a potentially big bucks proposition, especially given some of the controversial, even wacky, technologies being floated these days.

Enter a Vancouver-based company, Planktos, Inc. The company plans to sell carbon credits it creates by pouring iron dust into the ocean near the Galapagos Islands. The iron is supposed to induce the growth of phytoplankton that then suck up atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The World Wildlife Fund argues that Planktos is taking unacceptable risks in the quest for profit. The WWF claims that Planktos' meddling may trigger a change in the make-up of the phytoplankton bloom which is the bottom rung of the oceanic food chain.

“World Wildlife Fund’s concern extends beyond the impact on individual species and extends to the changes that this dumping may cause in the interaction of species, affecting the entire ecosystem,” said microbiologist Sallie Chisholm, a WWF board member. “There’s a real risk that this experiment may cause a domino effect through the food chain.”

Planktos' CEO Russ George denies the WWF claims and says the iron dust experiment will be not merely harmless but beneficial to the ocean ecosystem.

Nobel Laureates Condemn Iraq Oil Law

You don't hear much about this in our media and, Lord knows, it'll never cross Harpo's sanctimonious lips, but people are beginning to be heard in opposition to the greatest scam of the Iraq War - the Iraq Oil Law crafted by the occupation to transfer control of Iraq's oil and much of its oil wealth to Western (i.e. American) oil companies.

Five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates; Betty Williams, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi and Wangari Maathai; yesterday condemned the coercive law:

"In support of the people of Iraq, we the undersigned Nobel Peace Prize Laureates state our opposition to the Iraq Oil Law. We also oppose the decision of the United States government to require that the Iraq government pass the Oil Law as a condition of continued reconstruction aid in legislation passed on May 24, 2007. A law with the potential to so radically transform the basic economic security of the people of Iraq should not be forced on Iraq while it is under occupation and in such a weak negotiating position vis-à-vis both the U.S. government and foreign oil corporations. The Iraq Oil Law could benefit foreign oil companies at the expense of the Iraqi people, deny the Iraqi people economic security, create greater instability, and move the country further away from peace. The U.S. government should leave the matter of how Iraq will address the future of its oil system to the Iraqi people to be dealt with at a time when they are free from occupation and more able to engage in truly democratic decision-making. It is immoral and illegal to use war and invasion as mechanisms for robbing a people of their vital natural resources."

Mitt Romney's Dirty Little Secret

Actually it's dog dirt. About 25-years ago, Mitt Romney's Irish setter, Seamus, crapped on the car during a 12-hour drive from Boston to the family cottage in Ontario on Lake Huron.

Seamus, it seems, wasn't too happy about being stuck in his crate, strapped atop the Romney station wagon ( the "white whale" shown above) for the duration the trip.

"It is commonsense that any dog who's under extreme stress might show that stress by losing control of his bowels: that alone should have been sufficient indication that the dog was, basically, being tortured," Time Magazine quoted Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as saying.

California's Controversial Canuck

California's state Republican Party has hired a Canadian, Christopher Matthews, to serve as the party's Deputy Political Director beginning October 1st.

The problem is a US Federal Election Campaign Act which prohibits foreign nationals from having any involvement, direct or indirect, with campaign finances and decision-making powers in a political committee. In his new job, Matthews duties will include political research, involving microtargeting potential voters and technology.

The California GOP claims to have structured Matthews' job so as to avoid conflicting with the law.

Harper Burned in Maritimes

The good folks "Down East" aren't buying what Stephen Harper is selling on equalization. A Decima poll finds that 69% of maritimers side with the premiers of Nova Scotia, Labrador and Newfoundland on the issue. Harpo scores a staggering 6% approval.

It turns out most of us in the rest of Canada tend to side with the premiers. Wait, what's that I hear? It's the springs straining on the trampoline! Is Little Stevie getting ready for another of his now famous backflips?

No More Paris Hilton

Broadcast journalism's latest champion is MSNBC anchor, Mika Brzezinski.

Brzezinski, daughter of Zbigniew, rebelled when handed a news bulletin about the release of Paris Hilton. At first she simply refused to read the copy, saying, "No, I hate this story and I don't think it should be our lead." From the Times Online:

"After getting away with her refusal the first time, the story came up again as Ms Brzezinski was asked to read it at the top of the next rolling bulletin - after which she took a fellow anchor's cigarette lighter and tried to burn the script.

"The third time around, she was ready. She took the script straight to the studio shredder and fed it into the machine.

"The anchor's stand appears to have made her something of a heroine, at least among those Americans who have had enough of the Paris Hilton jail saga. "
You can watch the whole thing here on YouTube. It's priceless:

Where Do You Put 50-Million Refugees?

Think about that for a minute. Fifty million people all looking for food, water and a roof over their heads.

A UN report says desertification could create 50-million refugees within ten years.

Ten years, in the greater scheme of things, amounts to scant moments in which to put into effect the measures that will be needed to respond to this threat. Yes, it's far more than just a problem, it's a threat.

The UN has identified sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia as the areas that will be most affected. The report notes that desertification currently affects the lives of between 100-200 million people and, in the long-term, could impact on a third of the world's population or two-billion people.

There are a number of causes for desertification but the main culprits are soil exhaustion from over-farming and excessive irrigation depleting groundwater resources. Naturally, global warming significantly compounds these effects.

Fifty-million refugees have an enormous spillover effect. The places into which they must first migrate and find sustenance will be those already stressed and least able to accomodate more mouths. It's an apocalyptic scenario.

"There is a chain reaction. It leads to social turmoil," said Zafaar Adeel, the study's lead author and head of the UN University's International Network on Water, Environment and Health.

What are the answers? Right now there aren't many. Whole economies need to be transformed and they really don't have the resources necessary for much choice in how to survive.

Perhaps before we worry about answers we'd do well to ask ourselves some hard questions. Are we willing to take responsibility for alleviating this looming crisis and, if so, just what are we able and prepared to do about it? Ultimately we may have to weigh how much of our wealth we're willing to surrender for these peoples' survival?

But What About Comrade Santa?

Russia says it has first dibs on the North Pole.

Moscow claims it has found a geological shelf that establishes its claim to much of the central area of the Arctic. The new areas claimed are shown in grey above on a map obtained from The New York Times.
Banking on the Lomonosov Ridge, Russia is claiming an additional 460,000 square miles of territory in the central Arctic.
Canada and Denmark have joined forces to claim that the Lomonosov Ridge isn't actually part of the Siberian continental shelf at all but forms part of the Canada-Greenland shelf.
Who cares? Canada, Denmark and Russia certainly do because at stake are potential shipping routes, mineral beds and fishing zones once global warming clears out the ice pack.

Speaking of Slums

The United Nations jabbed its big, multinational finger in the eye of the British Columbia and Vancouver city governments by shining a spotlight on Van's infamous slum, the "Downtown Eastside."

"It's one of the worst areas of urban blight that I've ever seen and I've travelled all over the world," said Patricia Leidl, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Population Fund.

The mayor's office defended Vancouver by changing the subject to something, anything else - such as how nice the other neighbourhoods are. Ms. Leidl replied that that's precisely her point.

They just don't get it. Of course while we're shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to host the 2010 Winter Olympics while griping that we can't afford healthcare costs, sometimes a few thousand homeless junkies just get overlooked.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Planet of Slums

Depending on who you listen to either half the world's population now lives in cities or it will by next year. Was a time when the planet's population was predominantly rural and agricultural by vocation but that has been giving way to urbanization for a long time.

What may surprise you is that the pace of this urban migration is only expected to speed up. The United Nations warns that our already congested cities will likely double in population by 2030. What's being predicted is a planet of slums. From The Independent:

"'The growth of cities will be the single largest influence on development in the 21st century,' the report states. It maintains that over the next 30 years, the population of African and Asian cities will double, adding 1.7 billion people - more than the current populations of the US and China combined.

"In this new world the majority of theurban poor will be under 25, unemployed and vulnerable to fundamentalism, Christian and Islamic.

"Mike Davis, a population expert, described this emerging underclass in his recent work Planet of Slums as: 'A billion-strong global proletariat ejected from the formal economy, with Islam and Pentecostalism as songs for the dispossessed.'

"George Martine, a demographer and the author of today's report, said: "The urbanisation is jolting mentalities and subjecting them to new influences. This is a historical situation. And now one of the ways for people to reorganise themselves in this urban world is to associate themselves with new or strong, fundamentalist religion."

Some highlights of the UN report:

* By 2008, more than half of the world's current 6.7billion population will live in cities.
* By 2030, the urban population will have risen to 5 billion, 60 per cent of the world's population.
* Half of the world's urban population is currently under 25. By 2030, young people will make up the vast majority of the 5 billion urban dwellers.
* Between 2000 and 2030, Asia's urban population will increase from 1.3 billion to 2.64 billion. Africa's population will rise from 294 million to 742 million, Latin America and the Caribbean from 394 million to 609million.
* Mega-cities do not have a monopoly on population growth. More than half of the urban world lives in cities with a population of less than 500,000.

The Not-So-Green Democrats

The environmental community is pretty much resigned to having to wait until George w. Bush clears out of the White House before getting a US administration really committed to tackling global warming. Right now a Democratic candidate seems most likely to become the next US president and they all seem to get the GHG issue, right? Sorry, but no.

Take the Democratic frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Surely they're green, right? There are some indications they're not. From The American Prospect:

"Last week, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton showed that despite efforts to build support with progressives suspicious of their close ties to corporate America, when it comes to real decisions and real votes, big business will often come first. This was reaffirmed when the two senators voted for an amendment to the energy bill offered by Montana Democrat Jon Tester that would have provided $200 million in grants and $10 billion in taxpayer loans for projects to turn regular old solid, black coal into new, shiny liquid coal to power cars and trucks. The coal companies love the idea, because replacing even 10 percent of gasoline with liquid coal would spur a 43 percent increase in coal mining, according to environmental groups. And proponents have tried to put coal liquefaction in the politically appealing framework of "energy independence" -- helping reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

"Alas, there are a few problems. At the top of the list is the fact that turning solid coal into liquid fuel requires massive inputs of energy. Indeed, liquid coal currently produces double the greenhouse gas emissions that regular gasoline does.

"... liquid coal backers had been peddling the argument that, with enough taxpayer subsidies, they could capture much of that dangerous carbon dioxide and bury it deep underground, keeping it safely out of the atmosphere for decades. "

"To answer critics who doubted the carbon sequestration promises, "[Montana Democrat Jon]Tester (a liquid coal backer) proposed his amendment requiring that any project that received taxpayer support had to produce at least 20 percent less global warming pollution than gasoline over the lifetime of the product, and initially capture at least 85 percent of the carbon dioxide.

"Faced with the possibility that they might actually have to live up to their promises, the Coal to Liquids Coalition (an unholy alliance between the coal industry and some elements of the AFL-CIO) suddenly changed its tune. In an about-face, the members opposed Tester's amendment, despite the subsidies windfall it promised. Rather than touting their ability to make liquid coal clean as they had in their Senate testimony, industry officials now said it would be unfair to require them to live up to the environmental standards they themselves had promoted.
"Imposing an unrealistic standard that specifically requires both a 20 percent lifecycle reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an 85 percent capture of greenhouse gas emissions would all but end any chance America has of using CTL fuels to reverse our growing reliance on foreign energy," the Coal to Liquids coalition wrote to New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman.

"This was an admission that all their grand promises about the potential of "clean" coal -- including their testimony to the Finance subcommittee -- were just plain lies. Even with $10 billion in low-interest taxpayer loans, and $200 million in subsidies, they doubt their own ability to actually make coal clean. The switcharoo didn't bother pro-coal Republicans, however, who followed in lockstep with the industry and voted against the Tester amendment.

"In contrast, all the other major Democratic presidential candidates are on record opposing liquid coal subsidies. A spokesman for John Edwards, for example, explained the candidate's opposition to liquid coal: "He believes that federal resources should support research into clean renewable energy." This is an important point. The cost of reducing greenhouse gases from carbon-rich coal will always greatly exceed that of producing that energy from sources that are clean to start with, like wind and solar power.

On Global Warming - Get On With It

Every good lawyer knows never to ask a question unless you already know the answer. Ignore that rule and you're apt to get an answer you don't want to hear.

It's a lesson that's been lost on our EnviroMin George w. Baird. A while back he asked for advice on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Canada by 50 to 70% by 2050 and advice he got in the form of a report from Environment Canada.

From The Globe & Mail:

"The slower Canada is to put a price tag on greenhouse gas emissions, the greater the damage to the economy will be, a report commissioned by Environment Canada will say Wednesday.

"But if Ottawa acts now to put a price on emissions - either through a cap-and-trade system, a carbon tax, or a combination of both - the long-term costs will be manageable, says the paper by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy."

Caps? Carbon taxes? Say it ain't so, Johnny boy!

"'If the government neglects to clearly communicate the [greenhouse gas] price schedule well in advance, it risks causing serious economic dislocation ... because society's capital stocks will not be well prepared,' the report warns.

"Done right, however, the costs over the long term will be small. If the government gives clear signals about how emissions will be priced, and how that price will rise over the long term, then companies and consumers alike can make environmentally sound investment decisions.

"For example, Ontario and Alberta both need to make multibillion-dollar investments in energy infrastructure in the next few years. If they know what kind of environmental rules Ottawa will impose, they can invest accordingly. But if Ottawa dithers, and the provinces make inappropriate investments, the cost to fix those decisions after the fact will be enormous. Much of the country's machinery and equipment will roll over in the next 15 years, and so time is of the essence, the report warns.

"But the price of carbon, whether it is arrived at through a market-oriented cap-and-trade system or through government-imposed rules, is probably going to have to rise to levels higher than most businesses expect, the report shows.

"'On the basis of current technologies, it requires quite a price shock to lower greenhouse gas emissions,' said Don Drummond, chief economist of Toronto-Dominion Bank, who has been doing similar research himself. 'The sooner we get going, the better.'"

The report puts Baird and Harper on the edge of a precipice, right where they don't want to be. Do they take the leap, do they dither and stall for time or do they turn and run for cover?

What I don't understand about this report is that it seems to adress GHG reductions only from the perspective of the industrial sector. When it comes to 70% GHG reductions, we can't get there from here. Industrial restraint is only one part of the solution just as industrial activity is but one part of the problem.
While carbon caps and taxes for the business sector are probably a good place to start, the government can't succeed without addressing all contributing sources of GHG emissions, the fossil fuel problem, alternate energy and energy conservation issues. That means you and me but especially you. Don't think I don't know you drive a Hummer.
My guess? The report will be allowed to gather dust. Harpo will say we can't do it unless the rest of the major emitters join in. That means China and India as well as the US. Asia, of course, has already made it clear they expect us, the biggest emitters (historically and on a per-capita scale) to act first.
No, I think the advice is strong but the political courage is weak.

The Ghost of Progressive Conservatism

Poor Old Steve. When he jello-wrestled Peter MacKay into submission and a merger between the PCs and Alliance, Harper was adamant that "progressive" have no place in the new party's name. No sir, none of that Red Tory stuff for Harpo. He was going to lead a party and a nation along the path of Republicanism.

Global warming? A "socialist scheme" over "so-called greenhouse gases." Afghanistan? "Stay the course" and never "cut and run." On policy after policy, value upon value, Harpo quested to steer Canada to the far right.

And then he hit a wall. Thanks to the sponsorship scandal from the Chretien years, Stevie was able to squeak past Paul Martin and into power. The Liberals, or at least public anger at the Liberals, put Steve in power. It wasn't Harpo's doing at all.

Harpo took the reins of power like a real manly man and set about to steer our collective wagon onto his path until the wheels fell off. He began to realize that the Canadian people didn't want to go down his road and weren't going to put up with it.

Suddenly Steve had to reverse course and lighten the load. He couldn't quite shake his megalomaniacal grip on his own party and his caucus but he quickly began to jettison his vaunted principles, his purported integrity.

Instead of fighting Canadians' mild socialistic tendencies, Steve began to go along. The gun registry? My goodness, it's still here. Global warming? A socialist plot no longer. Even his most delicious red meat issue, Afghanistan, has gone by the boards. No more "stay the course" or pledges not to "cut and run" but, instead, a meek plea for consensus. Can't we all just get along?

How the mighty has been humbled. It's almost as though Stevie had a visit one night in his dreams, a visit from the ghost of Progressive conservatism. Something sure scared the hell out of him. Now he looks like nothing so much as a pretender to the old PC throne.

Rule of Law Takes a Beating Globally

For 35-years Freedom House has been keeping an eye on, well on freedom or the state of freedom around the world.

Lately the results of their studies haven't been good as made clear in Freedom House's report on the state of the Rule of Law in today's world:
"A global decline in the rule of law, particularly in Africa and Asia, was a major political development in 2006, data released today by Freedom House indicated.

"According to the subcategory findings from Freedom in the World 2007, the most notable change in freedom in 2006 was global deterioration in judicial independence, due process rights, protection from torture, and freedom from war and insurgencies. These declines occurred in geographically and culturally diverse countries such as Chad, South Africa, Somalia and Ethiopia, as well as Afghanistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

"These subcategory developments point to broader worrying trends noted by Freedom in the World 2007 that threaten the stability of new democracies and provide obstacles to political reform in societies under authoritarian rule. According to the survey, the percentage of countries designated as Free has failed to increase for nearly a decade, suggesting an ongoing “freedom stagnation.”
The entire report can be found at:

Somebody's Listening to Limbaugh

America's youth may get the picture but a surprising percentage of average Americans remain thoroughly confused about 9/11 and their president's war on terror.

A Newsweek poll of 1,000 adults, the magazine's first ever "What You Need to Know Poll" came up with some pretty disappointing results:

"Even today, more than four years into the war in Iraq, as many as four in 10 Americans (41 percent) still believe Saddam Hussein’s regime was directly involved in financing, planning or carrying out the terrorist attacks on 9/11, even though no evidence has surfaced to support a connection. A majority of Americans were similarly unable to pick Saudi Arabia in a multiple-choice question about the country where most of the 9/11 hijackers were born. Just 43 percent got it right—and a full 20 percent thought most came from Iraq."

I guess there must be a lot more Dittoheads than I thought.

A New America? Youth Turn Left

It seems America's young people aren't as gullible or easily intimidated as their elders. A NY Times/CBS News/MTV polls finds Americans in the 17-29 age group leaning decidedly left. From the New York Times:

"Young Americans are more likely than the general public to favor a government-run universal health care insurance system, an open-door policy on immigration and the legalization of gay marriage, according to a New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll. The poll also found that they are more likely to say the war in Iraq is heading to a successful conclusion.

"...more Americans ages 17 to 29 than four years ago are paying attention to the presidential race. But they appeared to be really familiar with only two of the candidates, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

"They have continued a long-term drift away from the Republicans. And although they are just as worried as the general population about the outlook for the country and think their generation is likely to be worse off than that of their parents, they retain a belief that their votes can make a difference, the poll found."

"By a 52 to 36 majority, young Americans say that Democrats, rather than Republicans, come closer to sharing their moral values, while 58 percent said they had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, and 38 percent said they had a favorable view of Republicans.

"The survey also found that 42 percent of young Americans thought it was likely or very likely that the nation would reinstate a military draft over the next few years — and two-thirds said they thought the Republican Party was more likely to do so. And 87 percent of respondents said they opposed a draft.

"But when it came to the war, young Americans were more optimistic about the outcome than was the population as whole. Fifty-one percent said the United States was very or somewhat likely to succeed in Iraq, compared with 45 percent among all adults. Contrary to conventional wisdom, younger Americans have historically been more likely than the population as a whole to be supportive of what a president is doing in a time of war, as they were in Korea and Vietnam, polls have shown."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

As Far As Iraq Is Concerned, the Debate Is Over

The American media have finally thrown in the towel on the Iraq war debate. The Project for Excellence in Journalism or has found that media coverage of the subject has collapsed:

"News about the Iraq war last week also confirmed a recent pattern in the coverage. Given the significant U.S. military offensive and the announcement that 14 U.S. troops had died in a two-day period, events in Iraq constituted the second-biggest story. With a number of stories focused on care given to wounded veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, the impact of the war at home was also a top-10 story last week (eighth at 2%).

"At the same time, the Iraq policy debate—the Washington-based battle over war strategy—generated only 1% of last week’s coverage and failed to make the top-10 story list. Those findings are indicative of a trend in recent weeks in which coverage of the political debate over the war has diminished substantially.

"For the first three months of this year, PEJ found that the policy debate was the leading news subject by a large margin, accounting for 12% of all the coverage."

The group expects interest in Iraq policy to be dormant through the summer but surge again in September when US Commander, General Petraeus is scheduled to deliver his state-of-the-war report.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Pro-Abortion, Serial Divorcee Drag Queen
embraces Religious Fundamentalist Nutbar

10-Months for Dirty Steve Griles

Okay, a word about Steven Griles. He was a Bush appointee, serving as deputy-secretary, Department of the Interior from 2000-2004. What environmental credentials did Griles bring to the job? Well, he had been a highly-paid lobbyist for coal, oil and gas interests.

Never one to let conflicts of interest get in his way, Griles' record was called an "ethical quagmire" by an inspector-general.

Today Steve's karma came crashing down as he was sentenced to 10-months imprisonment on a felony conviction for lying to senate investigators about his dealings with Jailbird Jack Abramoff, former leader of the infamous K Street Gang.

The prosecution had asked for 5-months but the judge doubled it, saying, "Even now you continue to minimize and try to excuse your conduct."
Oh well, these days a criminal record is almost a badge of honour for a Bush Republican.

Jim Hightower Kicks Some O'Reilly Ass

Crazier Than a Cut Cat?

Ouch, that's gotta hurt! Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Jim Hightower weighed in on Bill O'Reilly today over the loudmouth's foaming outburst at a criticism of Fox News:

"What set him off was a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. It found that O’Reilly’s network, Fox News, has been devoting twice as much time as other cable networks to the Anna Nicole Smith celebrity story, while spending much less time than other networks on Iraq, a story of real importance.

"This caused O’Reilly to have a double-barreled brain jerk. First, he blasted the other networks for covering the violence in Iraq, saying that they’re only doing it to embarrass the Bushites. 'All their reporting consists of is here’s another explosion,' O’Reilly declared. 'Bang. Here’s more people dead. Bang.'

"He then went loopy, asserting 'CNN and MSNBC are actually helping the terrorists by reporting useless explosions. Do you care if another bomb went off in Tikrit? Does it mean anything? No. It doesn’t mean anything.'

"Well, actually, Bill, I don’t think terrorists are setting off bombs just to get on CNN. I think they’re setting off bombs to kill people, including U.S. troops. That’s what we call “news.” It certainly does mean something to the families of the dead, to the soldiers who served with the dead, and to the progress (or lack thereof) of Bush’s war policy. It means something every freaking time it happens."

Isn't it fun being a witness to broadcast stupidity writ really, really large?

Dion Ranked Among World's Top Green Politicians

Enviro-website has published what it considers the 15 most important "green politicians" in the world. Here's what they said about Stephane Dion, ranked number 10:

"Canada's other Dion, the recently elected leader of the Liberal Party, has pledged to unite the quest for a better environment, social justice, and economic growth into a holistic vision of sustainability. Called by one blogger "the environmental candidate for the non-environmentalist", Dion will be in the running to become prime minister of Canada when the nation holds its next election, expected sometime this year. He has proposed tax credits for energy efficiency and pledged to make a concerted effort to meet Kyoto Protocol goals; in fact, he loves Kyoto so much, he named his dog after it. No, really!"

See the whole list at

When All Else Fails - Blame Osama

The former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Todd Whitman, appeared before a congressional hearing yesterday where she had to face accusations that she misled New Yorkers about the dangers of air pollution resulting from the 9/11 attacks. Caught red-handed, here's how she tried to duck and weave:

"There are indeed people to blame. They are the terrorists who attacked the United States, not the men and women at all levels of government who worked heroically to protect and defend this country."

"Was it wrong to try get the city back on its feet as quickly as possible in the safest way possible? Absolutely not... We weren't going to let the terrorists win."

NATO Shrugs Off Dead Afghan Civilians

Problem, what problem?

The deputy commander of both US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Brigadier Joseph Votel, says there's no need for any new procedures to cut down on civilian casualties.

He told Voice of America, ""No, there's no particularly new procedures that we are using right now. We think the procedures we have in place are good. They work. They help us minimize the effects on this."

Votel, naturally, blames the spate of civilian deaths not on his own side's excessive reliance on air strikes and artillery barrages against residential areas but on the Taliban.

John Sifton of Human Rights Watch says both sides are crossing the line. "The Taleban is committing violations of the Laws of War in almost everything they do," he said. "NATO and the United States, by contrast, is not setting out to violate the Laws of War across the board. However, they're failing to take precautions in a lot of cases, and may occasionally cross the line and violate the Laws of War themselves."

Endgame for Iraq

Foreign Policy magazine has published an interesting memo on how Iraq will end based on an actual memo prepared for the US government during the Vietnam war. The only changes are substitutions: Iraq in place of Vietnam; insurgents in place of communists; and Iran in place of the Soviet Union. It makes a chilling read:

Britain's Permanent Underclass

Social mobility is worse in today's Britain than it was even in the 1950's.

A study by Britain's Sutton Trust finds that young people from poor homes are being condemned to a life of poverty as they are unable to get into a university or well-paid employment. The report follows on the heels of another report that found "white working class boys were becoming an unemployable underclass as they performed worse at school than any other racial group."

"Sir Peter Lampl, the chairman of the Sutton Trust, said that, despite 10 years of Labour government, the best schools remained "socially selective", with only middle-class children able to gain a place.

"He called for grammar schools to admit more children from deprived backgrounds and the return of a scheme - scrapped by Labour - to give poor pupils subsidised places at private schools."

Maybe They Would Make Good Priests

They're called "chimeras," human-animal hybrid embryos created in a laboratory. Britain will soon introduce a law allowing the creation of chimera with certain safeguards. One is a requirement that they be destroyed within two weeks of creation. Another is a prohibition on implanting chimera into a woman's body.

Britain's Roman Catholic Bishops are crying foul (or "fowl" perhaps) and have filed a submission arguing that the genetic mothers (egg donors) of chimera should have the right to raise them if they wish.

Chimera are created by injecting animal DNA into human embryos or vice versa. One purpose for the research is to determine if such creatures could be used to grow human tissue, perhaps even organs.
In their submission to the committee, they said: “At the very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings, and should be treated accordingly.

“In particular, it should not be a crime to transfer them, or other human embryos, to the body of the woman providing the ovum, in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them.

“Such a woman is the genetic mother, or partial mother, of the embryo; should she have a change of heart and wish to carry her child to term, she should not be prevented from doing so.”

The World According to a Guy Named Newt

In an editorial in today's far right Washington Times, Newt Gingrich says what America needs now is not less Bush but more, much more.

"...the lessons of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, New Jersey, the JFK plot, the Algerian bombings, the Iranian nuclear program, the conflict in Lebanon and now the defeat in Gaza all point to the need for a war policy that is substantially bigger and more robust than Mr. Bush.

"As the forces of modernity are being ground up by terrorism, our political process is not producing a Churchill or Roosevelt to rally the democracies but instead embracing advocates of surrender withdrawal and defeat. As women are being oppressed, we remain silent. Faced with the weakness, vacillation and inarticulateness of the leaders of Israel and America, the people see the violence as senseless, the bloodshed as repugnant and the current strategies as too flawed to continue to invest in them."

Newt, predictably, has the solution. He begins by claiming that Hamas and Hezbollah must be utterly destroyed but notes that America will need a new strategy, doctrine and "techniques" to do it.

Second, he says, "... the indirect strategies of propping up corrupt dictatorships have to give way to direct people-to-people help, securing private-property rights and direct financial assistance so we can improve their families' lives and they can be empowered to defend their neighborhoods from evil men."

Next, Gingrich proposes scrapping the United Nations, "...the U.N. camp system of socialism with unearned anti-humanitarian charity has to be replaced with a totally new system of earned income and earned property rights to restore dignity and hope to every Palestinian."

Gingrich goes on to call for completely new schools for Palestinian children "dedicated to genuine education and to teaching human rights rather than jihad and hatred," and a general cleansing of mosques, along the lines of the de-Nazification programme in Germany in 1945. "The haters have to be defeated, disarmed and detained if the forces of peace and freedom are to win."

Newt warns that these steps are "only the beginning" but doesn't explain what would follow in the Gingrichian World Order. First, however, he'd better start tracking down those folks who don't find "bloodshed repugnant."

In case you're tempted to dismiss Newt Gingrich as yesterday's news, understand that he's waiting on the sidelines and watching to see if he should seek the Republican presidential nomination. This guy is serious.

Blair's Skeptics

Tony Blair hasn't been officially annointed Special Envoy to the Middle East but the unfinished formalities aren't preventing his skeptics from speaking out. Even the Times of London has some serious doubts:

"It is the haste with which Tony Blair has scripted his own sequel as the world’s envoy to the Middle East that gives the impression of self-absorption. The rush by his team to try to announce some kind of role by today, the last day of his premiership, seems designed to ease the sting of surrendering high office more than to solve the problems of the Middle East.

"It is not that the idea is ludicrous, if you take a long step around Blair’s role as one of the architects of the Iraq invasion, and his support of Israel’s military action in Lebanon. Many Arabs loathe him just for that, and in a region that sustains grudges so easily for hundreds of years, the grievances of the past decade are hardly going to be set aside. But Blair’s passion for tackling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is beyond dispute.

"But the problem with any role for Blair is that it is impossible to define while the political route ahead remains so unclear, and that won’t be sorted out by a few hours of talks about what he is supposed to do. The speed with which Blair’s role has been written has left ambassadors and senior Foreign Office officials speechless in the past five days, gesturing with their canapés at garden parties to make up for an absence of words.

"The US-Israeli plan is now to pour resources into the West Bank, and to shore up Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, to make the contrast with Gaza as great as possible. But the hazards are huge. Abbas will not want to abandon the 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza (nor to seem like a US-Israeli pawn). Any revival of the West Bank economy would depend on Israel relaxing control of Palestinian movement, as argued in a World Bank report last month that was highly critical of Israeli policy. Yet Israel can say that this would expose it to insupportable security threats; Hamas has a significant presence on the West Bank and it is not going away."

It remains to be seen whether Blair will have any credibility left in the Middle East after Afghanistan and Iraq. He starts out with the reputation of being George Bush's poodle. If he fails to engage Hamas constructively, he'll likely be written off as Washington's stooge.

George w. Baird on Kyoto

The Harpies are still working out of the Bush playbook. They especially like the part of say one thing and then do whatever the hell suits you.

Now that the Kyoto bill has been passed into law, the Tories are doing just that. They say they won't ignore their obligations under the law, they just won't honour them in any meaningful way. Isn't that cute?

Here's how our EnviroMin Baird put it, "We'll respect and won't be dismissive of an act that Parliament passed, we'll file the papers accordingly." They're going to file papers. That's it. Instead of introducing enabling legislation to effect the law's objectives, Harpo is going to put the Kyoto issue in the dustbin.

Is this really the issue on which Harpo wants to fight the next election? I don't know, what do the polls say?

Flawed Logic

In the campaign to fight global warming, Asia is becoming a real troublespot.

Asian nations, and particularly China and India, are undergoing an industrial metamorphosis as once-Western multinationals pack up shop and relocate to their part of the world in search of cheap labour and relaxed or non-existant regulation. To Asians it's seen as a long-overdue, economic miracle and one they're not keen on seeing restrained.

That's why several Asian nations are becoming quite vocal about the West's fledgling movement to arrest global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. They don't like what they see coming and they're waging their own pre-emptive strikes.

Asian business and government leaders have accused rich countries of hypocrisy, saying they run polluting industries with cheap labour in China and then blame the country for worsening climate change.

Malaysia's deputy finance minister, Nor Mohamed Yakcop, is the latest to weigh in, accusing the West of "green imperialism." The thinking goes that Western countries are hypocritical because they run polluting industries with cheap labour in Asia and then blame the Asian countries for worsening global warming.

The flaw in this logic is that it assumes Western states "run" the multinationals. In reality, we stopped running them when we adopted the mantra of free trade, the free flow of capital unfettered by tariffs. By surrendering most of our ability to control access to our markets, we surrendered a great deal of our sovereignty to globalization and the multinationals.

The Asians do have a perfectly legitimate claim that, per capita, our emissions are already several times higher than theirs but that's an argument that can only be entertained in a more perfect world in better circumstances.

We need to come up with a means of compelling Asian co-operation in the GHG battle and we have one very powerful tool at our disposal - access to our markets. The wealth that is accruing to Asia from their industrial revolution is in no small part dependent on the ability of the multinationals to sell their manufactured goods in our market. Restrict those markets and Asia's economic miracle wilts.

Just Who Are We Working For?

The fall of the Taliban seemed to happen so fast that most people never got to know the other guys, our allies - the Northern Alliance. When I ask people today they have no idea what this group, whose leaders have insinuated themselves into the top ranks of the Karzai government, really did beyond battling the Taliban.

It strikes me that we ought to know, given that we're asking our soldiers to give their lives to support a government made up of these thugs. And I can't think of a better way to shed light on them than to reproduce the following press backgrounder from Human Rights Watch, October, 2001:

What Is the United Front/Northern Alliance?

In 1996, when the Taliban captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, the groups opposed to the Taliban formed an alliance called the National Islamic United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, commonly known as the United Front. The United Front supports the government ousted by the Taliban, the Islamic State of Afghanistan (ISA). The president of the ousted government, Burhanuddin Rabbani, remains the president of the ISA and is the titular head of the United Front. For the past year his headquarters have been in the northern Afghan town of Faizabad. The real power was, until his assassination in September 2001, the United Front's military leader, Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was also the ISA's minister of defense. The precise membership of the United Front has varied from time to time, but includes:

Jamiat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan (hereinafter known as Jamiat-i Islami). Jamiat-i Islami was one of the original Islamist parties in Afghanistan, established in the 1970s by students at Kabul University where its leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was a lecturer at the Islamic Law Faculty. Although Rabbani remains the official head of Jamiat-i Islami, the most powerful figure within the party was Ahmad Shah Massoud. Massoud's forces have received significant military and other support from Iran and Russia, in particular.

Hizb-i Wahdat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan (Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, hereinafter known as Hizb-i Wahdat). The principal Shi'a party in Afghanistan with support mainly among the Hazara ethnic community, Hizb-i Wahdat was originally formed by Abdul Ali Mazari in order to unite eight Shi'a parties in the run-up to the anticipated collapse of the communist government. Its current leader is Muhammad Karim Khalili.

Junbish-i Milli-yi Islami-yi Afghanistan (National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, hereinafter known as Junbish). Junbish brought together northern, mostly ethnic Uzbek, former militias of the communist regime who mutinied against President Najibullah in early 1992. Its founder and principal leader was Abdul Rashid Dostum, who rose from security guard to leader of Najibullah's most powerful militia. One of Dostum's principal deputies was Abdel Malik Pahlawan.

Harakat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan (Islamic Movement of Afghanistan). This is a Shi'a party that never joined Hizb-i Wahdat, led by Ayatollah Muhammad Asif Muhsini, and which was allied with Jamiat-i Islami in 1993-1995. Its leadership is mostly non-Hazara Shi'a. Its most prominent commander is General Anwari. The group has received support from Iran.

Ittihad-i Islami Bara-yi Azadi Afghanistan (Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan). This party is headed by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. During the war against the Soviet occupation, Sayyaf obtained considerable assistance from Saudi Arabia. Arab volunteers supported by Saudi entrepreneurs fought with Sayyaf's forces.

The United Front's Human Rights Record

Throughout the civil war in Afghanistan, the major factions on all sides have repeatedly committed serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including killings, indiscriminate aerial bombardment and shelling, direct attacks on civilians, summary executions, rape, persecution on the basis of religion or ethnicity, the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, and the use of antipersonnel landmines. Many of these violations can be shown to have been "widespread or systematic," a criterion of crimes against humanity. Although committed in an internal armed conflict, violations involving indiscriminate attacks or direct attacks on civilians are increasingly being recognized internationally as amounting to war crimes.

Abuses committed by factions belonging to the United Front have been well documented. Many of the violations of international humanitarian law committed by the United Front forces described below date from 1996-1998 when they controlled most of the north and were within artillery range of Kabul. Since then, what remains of the United Front forces have been pushed back into defensive positions in home territories in northeastern and central Afghanistan following a series of military setbacks. There have nevertheless been reports of abuses in areas held temporarily by United Front factions, including summary executions, burning of houses, and looting, principally targeting ethnic Pashtuns and others suspected of supporting the Taliban. Children, including those under the age of fifteen, have been recruited as soldiers and used to fight against Taliban forces. The various parties that comprise the United Front also amassed a deplorable record of attacks on civilians between the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992 and the Taliban's capture of Kabul in 1996.

Violations of international humanitarian law committed by United Front factions include:
Late 1999 - early 2000: Internally displaced persons who fled from villages in and around Sangcharak district recounted summary executions, burning of houses, and widespread looting during the four months that the area was held by the United Front. Several of the executions were reportedly carried out in front of members of the victims' families. Those targeted in the attacks were largely ethnic Pashtuns and, in some cases, Tajiks.

September 20-21, 1998: Several volleys of rockets were fired at the northern part of Kabul, with one hitting a crowded night market. Estimates of the number of people killed ranged from seventy-six to 180. The attacks were generally believed to have been carried out by Massoud's forces, who were then stationed about twenty-five miles north of Kabul. A spokesperson for United Front commander Ahmad Shah Massoud denied targeting civilians. In a September 23, 1998, press statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross described the attacks as indiscriminate and the deadliest that the city had seen in three years.

Late May 1997: Some 3,000 captured Taliban soldiers were summarily executed in and around Mazar-i Sharif by Junbish forces under the command of Gen. Abdul Malik Pahlawan. The killings followed Malik's withdrawal from a brief alliance with the Taliban and the capture of the Taliban forces who were trapped in the city. Some of the Taliban troops were taken to the desert and shot, while others were thrown down wells and then blown up with grenades.

January 5, 1997: Junbish planes dropped cluster munitions on residential areas of Kabul. Several civilians were killed and others wounded in the indiscriminate air raid, which also involved the use of conventional bombs.

March 1995: Forces of the faction operating under Commander Massoud, the Jamiat-i Islami, were responsible for rape and looting after they captured Kabul's predominantly Hazara neighborhood of Karte Seh from other factions. According to the U.S. State Department's 1996 report on human rights practices in 1995, "Massood's troops went on a rampage, systematically looting whole streets and raping women."

On the night of February 11, 1993 Jamiat-i Islami forces and those of another faction, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's Ittihad-i Islami, conducted a raid in West Kabul, killing and "disappearing" ethnic Hazara civilians, and committing widespread rape. Estimates of those killed range from about seventy to more than one hundred.

In addition, the parties that constitute the United Front have committed other serious violations of internationally recognized human rights. In the years before the Taliban took control of most of Afghanistan, these parties had divided much of the country among themselves while battling for control of Kabul. In 1994 alone, an estimated 25,000 were killed in Kabul, most of them civilians killed in rocket and artillery attacks. One-third of the city was reduced to rubble, and much of the remainder sustained serious damage. There was virtually no rule of law in any of the areas under the factions' control. In Kabul, Jamiat-i Islami, Ittihad, and Hizb-i Wahdat forces all engaged in rape, summary executions, arbitrary arrest, torture, and "disappearances." In Bamiyan, Hizb-i Wahdat commanders routinely tortured detainees for extortion purposes.

So, now that you know, is it any wonder that the new Afghan parliament's most significant legislative accomplishment to date has been to grant themselves amnesty for all of this?

This is what we're fighting for in Afghanistan and, on balance, it ain't much.

A GOP Coup to Oust Cheney?

Fred Thompson for Vice President? It's possible.

There's a growing movement led by Senator John Warner of Virginia, among others, to get Cheney out of the White House as soon as possible. For some reason, many Repugs now consider Cheney "toxic."

The thinking is to oust Cheney and install someone who has a chance to become president in 2008. It's not believed that Guiliani, McCain or Romney would want to be associated with Bush and the baggage he carries including Iraq. The Washington Post claims Thompson might just be the guy to pull this off:

"...Everybody loves Fred. He has the healing qualities of Gerald Ford and the movie-star appeal of Ronald Reagan. He is relatively moderate on social issues. He has a reputation as a peacemaker and a compromiser. And he has a good sense of humor.

"He could be just the partner to bring out Bush's better nature -- or at least be a sensible voice of reason. I could easily imagine him telling the president, "For God's sake, do not push that button!" -- a command I have a hard time hearing Cheney give.

"Not only that, Thompson would give the Republicans a platform for running for the presidency -- and the president a way out of Iraq without looking like he's backing down. Bush would be left in better shape on the war and be able to concentrate on AIDS and the environment in hopes of salvaging his legacy."

If there is a palace coup it's expected to take place this summer when Cheney has to undergo surgery to replace the batteries in his pacemaker.
Actually, replacing Cheney with Thompson might have another beneficial side effect - it could build a fire under the backsides of the Democrats in congress to actually do something. They've been acting an awful lot like a party that's waiting for the existing regime to enable them to win by default. Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like a certain party up here.

Say It Ain't So

In the 60's, US soldiers in Vietnam often showed their disdain for the military and the war by decorating and altering their uniforms to their liking and sometimes even using weaponry as a sort of fashion accessory. Thus was born the Rambo image.

In the course of the Afghan and Iraq war, American soldiers have played it straight - regulation gear, properly worn. That's why this picture in today's New York Times struck me like a blast from the past:

There you have it. Bandana, no helmet, sleeveless tunic, tatoo, grenade bandolier, the whole deal. The soldier was involved with a surge mission in Baquba, Iraq.

Monday, June 25, 2007

No Takers For America's Military in Africa

Concerned about the expansion of Chinese influence into Africa, the US Military has been keen on establishing an Africa Command or AfriCom. The trouble is, the Pentagon can't find an African country that will have them.

A US delegation has returned home after knocking on the doors of Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Djibouti and with the African Union (AU) and finding nobody home anywhere. From The Guardian:

"The Libyan and Algerian governments reportedly told Mr Henry this month that they would play no part in hosting Africom. Despite recently improved relations with the US, both said they would urge their neighbours not to do so, either, due to fears of future American intervention. Even Morocco, considered Washington's closest north African ally, indicated it did not welcome a permanent military presence on its soil.

"'We've got a big image problem down there,' a state department official admitted. 'Public opinion is really against getting into bed with the US. They just don't trust the US.'

"Another African worry was that any US facilities could become targets for terrorists, the official said. Dangled US economic incentives, including the prospect of hundreds of local jobs, had not proven persuasive."

They don't trust the US? What could they be thinking?

Outsourcing the Elderly

Norway is looking for ways to save money on caring for the country's elderly and one way it's found is to send the oldsters to sunny, balmy Spain.

Elderly Norwegians can wind up languishing in the Costa Blanca for from six weeks to forever. All that's needed is a doctor's note. Bizarre as this sounds this benefit works out very well for Norway. From The Guardian:

"In a new twist on care for the elderly, thousands of Norwegians are relaxing in the Spanish sun and taking health cures at a growing number of geriatric and rehabilitation centres run by Norwegian municipalities and staffed almost entirely by Norwegians in the Alicante region.

"'Instead of building a new treatment centre in Oslo, local authorities can just build one in southern Spain,' said Lotte Tollefsen, a spokeswoman at the Norwegian embassy in Madrid. 'It is easy to find qualified medical personnel and the climate is very beneficial to the patients. Compared to the Norwegian winters, it's a soothing balm.'

"Salaries, land prices and ordinary living expenses are also considerably lower in Alicante than in Norway, one of the most expensive countries in the world. Many doctors and nurses are even willing to accept lower pay in exchange for the chance to work for a year or two in sunny Spain."

Tony Blair New Mideast Envoy

Two days before he's officially out of work, British prime minister Tony Blair has been appointed a special envoy responsible for getting the Palestinians ready to negotiate with Israel.

Ah, there's the rub. Will Blair, who has always buckled to US pressure, engage Fatah, America's choice? If he does he will be turning his back on the democratically-elected Hamas. the landslide choice of the Palestinian people.

Blair will be representing the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

LA Drought

Southern California is in for a hot, parched summer. Residents are facing a major drought in the Los Angeles area. In the year ending June 30, LA has seen 3.2" or just 8.15 cm. of rain. That's for a whole year. A couple of thousand miles to the north, we get that much in a day.

The Los Angeles Times calls it the "perfect drought" when Mother Nature runs headlong into human nature:

"According to the National Drought Mitigation Centre, southern California faces "extreme drought" this year, with no rain forecast before September. One climatologist referred to the temperatures in Los Angeles as "Death Valley numbers".

"The Sierra Nevada mountains, which typically provide Los Angeles with 50% of its water, have provided just 20% of their normal volume this year, and the snowpack is at its lowest for 20 years. Pumping from an aquifer in the San Fernando Valley was stopped this month because it was contaminated with chromium 6.

"While the waters dry up, demand for the scarce resource increases. Not only has southern California seen a growth in its population of two-to-four times the national average in the past 50 years, but neighbouring states such as Nevada and Arizona are also experiencing population booms. And they all claim water from the same source, the Colorado River."

Is it global warming? That certainly seems to be one cause but it joins the line of over-population and excessive reliance on regional groundwater supplies. The American southwest is learning what other parts of the US, China, Africa and India are learning - you can't take groundwater at more than its "recharge" rate without running dry often when you need water most.
Whatever you do, please don't get smug about this. Canada may appear to have limitless sources of freshwater but appearances can be misleading. We don't get much more rain than a many other places and it's rainfall, not the number of lakes and rivers, that is the key. We can drain those lakes quickly with a canal system but it'll take a long time for them to fill up again. That's one inconvenient truth that those who want us to export our water would rather not discuss.

Stephen Harper's Non-Stop Photo Op

NatPo's John Ivison wrote an illuminating piece on Stephen Harper suggesting that, for Harpo, style trumps substance.
"...while Stephen Harper's Conservatives have proven adept at crafting a long-term strategy, they have looked embarrassingly inept when dealing with events they don't control.

"Mr. Harper has redefined how politics in Canada is practised by adopting the permanent campaign model elevated to an art form by former U.S. president Bill Clinton -- a strategy that blurs the lines between campaigning and governing.
"In his first 17 months as Prime Minister, Mr. Harper racked up 153 public events, 85 of them outside Ottawa, according to his Web site. This works out to nine events a month, more than half of which were on the road.

"By comparison, Paul Martin held 143 events in two years (outside of the 2004 election campaign), of which 39 were out of town. This breaks down to six events a month, fewer than two of which were outside the national capital region.
"Conservatives have been much more adept than their rivals at using marketing techniques to evoke feelings, both positive and negative. They have highlighted Liberal failures, used national symbols such as hockey and micro-targeted swing voters with policies and tax cuts.
"The success of this strategy explains why the Conservatives were nudging 40% support in late March. Yet their numbers have nose-dived since then, and one recent poll had them trailing the Liberals. The most obvious reason has been the inability of Mr. Harper and his immediate circle in the Prime Minister's Office to react to events beyond their control.
"The plan in crisis situations has been to avoid the media. One MP said the only advice the Prime Minister's communications director, Sandra Buckler, was able to offer to caucus was the location of the back door.
"A run of bad headlines has turned the Conservatives' biggest asset -- their leader -- into a liability. In recent weeks, Mr. Harper has negated much of the natural advantage of governing by taking combative positions, such as his dare to the provinces to sue the federal government over the Atlantic Accords.
"A number of Conservatives say Mr. Harper's aggressiveness is a cover for fundamental insecurity. 'He's the nerd, the chess player, who in his own mind is smarter than the other kids. He's got a chip on his shoulder that he and the kernel of people around him are against the world and he gets angry very easily,' said one source.

"This trait wasn't a problem when he was leader of the Opposition, a job that demanded a vitriol Mr. Harper did not need to contrive. But no prime minister can control all the moving pieces of government and when things go wrong, as they inevitably do, he is the one who has to defend the position. Mr. Harper's instincts are not defensive -- he prefers to get his retaliation in first -- with the result that television news clips have regularly shown him looking like an irate hockey coach protesting an unjust penalty."

The Oil That Binds Us

Only a small minority of Americans approve of the Iraq War. Most want it ended and US troops brought home to safety. The Repugs are terrified of the prospect of having to fight an election on the war.

According to the LA Times, Bush administration officials such as Gates and Khalilzad are hinting that a compromise is in the works. Having forced the Democratic congress to back down once, the Bushies apparently realize that this is one battle they just can't keep winning. And so, some sort of deal is being thrown together, a political peace offering.

Will the US leave Iraq? Don't bet on it. The Bush regime may deny that oil was behind their decision to invade but oil certainly is a major factor, perhaps the major factor that will force at least some US military presence to soldier on. It may be smaller than the 150-thousand strong force deployed today (it will have to be) but it will stay on.

It's all about oil or, rather, the prospect of the Middle East's oil wealth falling into Shiite control. If you take Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, you have the lion's share of Arab oil. Iraq is obviously going to be dominated by Shia just as Iran has always been. Most folks don't know it but Saudi Arabia's key oilfields are in areas where that country's Shiite majority dominate and they're becoming restless. The prospect of a Shia bloc with its hand on the tap of Middle Eastern oil is more than Washington could bear.
It is Iraq's very instability that has Washington shoving and pushing, threatening and cajoling the Baghdad government to approve its draft oil law. Ostensibly it's about establishing an equitable arrangement for distribution of oil wealth among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. That's the window-dressing. The real significance of the law is that it would vest control of much of Iraq's oil wealth in foreign, i.e. American, companies. Once American companies have long-term rights to develop, produce and control Iraqi oil, the US government has rights it can protect and enforce, militarily if need be.

And that's why the United States won't be leaving Iraq anytime soon.

Go and Surge No More

The answer to Iraq's horrific violence cannot be
an illusory military surge that aims
to bolster the existing political structure
and treats the dominant parties as partners.
- International Crisis Group
In its latest report, the influential International Crisis Group warns that Iraq is on the brink of collapse and that, if the US and Britain want to avoid that, they'll have to stop backing the same Shia bosses that rule the government in Baghdad.
"Far from building a new state," their Iraqi partners "are tirelessly working to tear it down," warns the ICG.
The think tank criticizes the US/UK coalition's "surge mentality" as counterproductive and points to Basra where British forces first gave it a go. From The Guardian:
"Operation Sinbad was a 'superficial and fleeting' success, and ended with British troops being driven off the streets in what was seen as an ignominious defeat by the city's militias, now more powerful and unconstrained than before. Some British data about its achievements, particularly about improved police performance, 'defies credibility', the group notes.

"The key failure in Basra, argues the report, has been the inability to establish legitimate government to redistribute resources, impose respect for the rule of law and ensure peaceful transition at the local level - a lesson it says has to be learnt across Iraq as a whole.

"'Basra's political arena remains in the hands of actors engaged in bloody competition for resources, undermining what is left of governorate institutions and coercively enforcing their rule. The local population has no choice but to seek protection from one of the dominant camps. Periods of stability do not reflect greater governing authority so much as they do a momentary - and fragile - balance of interests or of terror between rival militias.'
"'Should other causes of strife - sectarian violence and the fight against coalition forces - recede, the concern must still be that Basra's fate will be replicated throughout the country on a larger, more chaotic and more dangerous scale. The lessons are clear. Iraq's violence is multifaceted, and sectarianism is only one of its sources. It follows that the country's division along supposedly inherent and homogeneous confessional and ethnic lines is not an answer. It follows, too, that rebuilding the state, tackling militias and imposing the rule of law cannot be done without confronting the parties that currently dominate the political process and forging a new and far more inclusive political compact.'"
From a purely Iraqi perspective it's hard to disagree with the ICG's take on these surges. What they don't mention, however, is that the current surge is as much about Washington politics as Iraqi security. The "surge" was pitched to George w. Bush by the neo-cons such as Kagan as a way of rescuing his legacy and it now must be played out so that the US president can craft a scenario in which he can blame the Maliki government for failure and then withdraw US forces from an "undeserving" Baghdad government. It's all political theatre but, then, losing a war of this strategic magnitude is bound to be.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Is "The Mission" Dead?

Has Stephen "Rambo" Harper truly had a change of heart over Canada's mission to Afghanistan? He recently said he didn't want to extend our commitment to Kandahar past 2009 without a consensus in parliament and the country.

So what made Harpo stop banging his war drum and has he really decided that Canada has outstayed the course?

Thomas Walkom, writing in the Toronto Star, says "the mission" is all but dead:

"The reasons are twofold and intertwined. First, NATO's war against Afghan insurgents is not succeeding. Second, there is not enough political support for that war here at home.

"This does not mean Canada will be out of Afghanistan altogether. The Liberals – and even the NDP in some of its statements– say Canada should continue to play an undefined role there. Harper too made reference to that on Friday.

"But whatever that role is, it won't be the current one. Canadian troops won't be undertaking search and destroy combat missions in Kandahar. They probably won't be in Kandahar at all."

What happened? For starters, Canada suffered a chronic failure of leadership. De Hoop Scheffer, NATO's Secretary General, turned out to be a bag of stale wind; Harpo failed to persuade Canadians that Afghanistan was remotely worth it; and Generalissimo Rick Hillier acted like an encyclopedia salesman, a pitchman who made grand promises and utterly failed to deliver.

Under NATO's protection, the Karzai government steadily weakened and the Taliban grew steadily stronger. With our help Karzai had no choice but to reach out to the Taliban for a deal and even the Kabul parliament had to go along.

Sure we built some roads and a number of schools but that was still little more than window dressing for a people on the brink of starvation. The urban populations of Kabul and Kandahar city were better off, but only so long as the barbarians were kept from the gate. The countryside became the fiefdom of insurgents, terrorists, drug lords and common criminals. The narco-economy flourishes and we have utterly failed to come up with an alternative.

This whole, sorry business went wrong from the start, by which I mean the moment at which the Northern Alliance sent the Taliban and al-Qaeda running for the hills. The Bush regime was so unsophisticated and indifferent as to blithely swallow the "my enemy's enemy" nonsense. The reality was that we stepped into a gang war and helped one bunch of murderous thugs put the boots to their rival gang of murderous religious zealots.

Then we installed Hamid Karzai as boss because we knew he was someone we could work with but we failed to vet the people who would shortly become his lieutenants, the real power in the Karzai government. We told him we didn't want many of these in his government but completely failed to give him the support he needed to hold them at bay. Not surprisingly the warlords and criminals wasted no time in installing themselves in positions of power in the military and security services.

If you don't believe this, here's some proof. One of Karzai's long running complaints has been that NATO and US forces don't co-ordinate with their Afghan counterparts before running operations. In other words, we don't pre-clear our activities with the Afghans. Why do you think that is? Could it be because we know they're thoroughly infiltrated, hopelessly corrupt and little more than a conduit to the bad guys? We don't trust them! We have enough problems with ambushes already.

We went over there with token forces to wage a counter-insurgency war. Even NATO officials have admitted the job requires hundreds of thousands of soldiers, troops that don't exist. That leaves us hunkered down in garrisons and fortified outposts from which we run patrols and occasional search and destroy missions (think France in Indo-China). That, in turn, yields control of the countryside to the insurgents and leaves the villagers unprotected. Worst of all, our lack of numbers leaves us dependent on massive firepower in the form of air strikes and artillery barrages that far too often winds up killing innocent civilians. In other words, "the mission" is tailor-made to the needs of the Taliban. Oh sure we may whack a few of them every now and then but not enough to make an appreciable dent in their capabilities and, worse, we often cause as much, perhaps even more damage to the very government we're supposed to be defending. We don't have these guys on the run. They're bringing the fight to us.

Then there was genuinely awful military leadership from our very own macho-man, Rick Hillier. Remember that he pitched the Kandahar mission on the basis of an opponent he described as "a few dozen ...scumbags." That was the enemy for which he crafted a 2,500-strong force. Since then he's been on cruise control but never passing up a photo op.

Now we're facing not Hillier's "few dozen" but several hundred insurgents who come and go pretty much as they please, who control large parts of "our" Kandahar province and who have seized the initiative. When night time comes, we get our heads down and wait for the dawn. The telling part is that we're still trying to do the job with the same size force (although with a few tanks that aren't particularly suited to fighting a guerrilla war anyway).

If General Hillier supports the troops, why hasn't he been clamouring for an additional 15- 20,000 soldiers? Modern military thinking holds we'd need that number to actually control the 55,000 sq. km. Kandahar province and provide genuine security to its people. Why hasn't he been raising proper hell about the predicament we've dropped our soldiers into? It's not as though he hasn't had ample opportunity to speak out.

No, like Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Pace and Harper and O'Connor, Hillier has been stuck in "stay the course" gear, unable to shift into second or even reverse. Meanwhile Karzai is in decline while the Taliban ascends.

Yet another key failure has been our unwillingness or inability to deal with Afghanistan's narco-economy. We have had to let this flourish even as we knew the opium wealth was filling the Taliban's coffers to help them wage the war against us and the Kabul government.

You may have played Whack-A-Mole, a carnival game in which the player uses a mallet to try to hit mole-like targets that pop up at random from various holes on the board. The object is to whack them all. We're playing Whack-A-Mole in Afghanistan but our version is slightly different. We're only trying to hit one mole out of four. We aim at the Taliban moles but leave untouched the Narco moles and the Warlord moles and the Criminal moles. If you're only swinging at 25% of the targets it's mighty hard to win, eh?

So, the smart money seems to predict that Canada will bail out of Kandahar with the mandate lapses in 2009 and seek safer turf, presumably in the north. How much longer the Afghan north will remain safer is unclear. Let's face it. The warlords and narco-barons and criminals that have ensconced themselves in the Karzai government are there for what they can get out of it. If Karzai gets much weaker, how long before they jump ship and the democracy project is right back to square one, the country back in the direct rule of the warlords?

At the end of the day we're left with "support the troops." Just what does that mean? Is it putting a little plastic ribbon on the trunk lid of my car? I suppose but that really doesn't accomplish much. How about NATO supporting the troops by all those member states that have been dodging "the mission" taking their turn in the cauldron? If they're not (and they aren't) then it's facile to claim that NATO itself is supporting the troops. How about our politicians and our generals supporting the troops by demanding the necessary reforms, resources and commitment to make a lasting difference? They're not and so it's ingenuous to say they're supporting the troops. Just who, then, is supporting the troops? I don't know. Tell me.