Friday, August 24, 2007

A Champion of Global Warming Skeptics

Robert Murray doesn't believe in global warming. It seems he doesn't place too much stock in mine safety either.
Murray, who sells about $800-million in coal annually through his companies, appeared before a House hearing on clean energy to denounce "so-called global warming" as "skewed and totally one-sided,' because the news media, Congress and pundits have been 'preoccupied with possible, speculative environmental disasters.”
Murray Energy Corporation is the owner of the Crandall Canyon Mine the scene of a collapse that took the lives of six miners and three rescuers. The tapped-out seam collapsed while miners were conducting "retreat mining", culling the coal pillars used to support the tunnel roof. Murray bought the mine from Analex Resources that thought the idea just too risky.
The New York Times reports that Murray owns 19-mines in five states, "several with safety records far worse than the Crandall mine."

Monday, August 20, 2007

Black People Are Evil

Thought that might get your attention. Of course they're not evil but a visitor from space might be forgiven for drawing that conclusion if it landed in a US prison yard.

In the America of George w. Bush, over two million sit behind bars. Of those, about half are from the country's black minority. The nice thing is, all that incarceration doesn't seem to be working.

Got your attention again, eh? What's "nice" about having all those prisons housing all those inmates? To you, probably nothing. Decent people ought to find that appalling. Then there are those who drive America's booming Prison/Industrial Complex (PIC), the commercial side of that country's penitentiary system. They see things differently from you decent folk.

We know the Chinese have a long history of using prisoners as slave labour. The Chinese are embarrassed enough about it to try to hide it. Not so in the US. In selling prison labour the Americans make it seem humane by only taking 80% of the inmate's "wages" to offset the costs of incarceration. The remaining dollar a day goes to the prisoner and that supposedly makes the practise entirely different than slavery - or at least slavery as enshrined in American history.

It's natural to see both sides of this problem but you can't sit the fence on this one, you have to decide whether the state has any right to enrich itself through forced prison labour. Maybe if the money went to social programmes or benefits for the prisoners themselves if, for example, the prison population determined how it would be spent, that would be different. Maybe if the money, the state's share at least, went to more properly compensate victims of violent crime, that would be different. Maybe if it went to help young people in the high-crime neighbourhoods learn skills to stay out of prison that would be different. But that's not where the money is going. Most of it winds up in the treasury of the private companies that now run many of America's prisons.

Ironic, isn't it? We know that unemployment and poverty drive crime. When an economy is booming, crime rates fall. That's perfectly logical. But, let's take jobs that ought to be available to those who need them, and make inmates do those jobs for a fraction of a fair wage. What does that create on the street? Could it be more unemployment and more poverty? Could it be more convicts to feed the Prison/Industrial Complex? Bingo. What it also creates is a pool of infamously cheap labour that allows the PIC's customer companies to drive up their profits.

See, everybody wins. Everybody except the poor. They lose. But don't worry, there's a bunk in a cell waiting for them plus three squares a day.

Here's a little parting twist. We all know that the US has but five per cent of the world's population yet contributes 25 per cent of our planet's greenhouse gas emissions. That same five per cent of the world's population also has imprisoned fully 25 per cent of the world's inmates. Kinda neat, eh? And they're just getting started.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Just Stopped In to Say Hi

I've been away for a couple of weeks and it seemed almost like a reprieve from the daily drudgery of right versus left. Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Darfur and Washington were all monitored from a distance that created a somewhat fresh, if no more optimistic, perspective.

Then there's Stephen Harper. Having seen one initiative after another falter and collapse and in the wake of a dismal caucus retreat that did nothing to rejuventate Canada's Stalled Government, Harpo now seems to have found a niche issue - the Arctic.

It's a no-brainer. A clear cut issue of Canadian sovereignty under threat from those Russian bastards we spent half a century learning to distrust. While most Canadians never venture further north than cottage country we none the less hold this soulful attachment to our country's "far north." We see it as something that belongs to us that is worth defending. Even Jack Layton understands the enormous political impact of the Arctic.

The Arctic is an issue that ideally suits both Stephen Harper's strengths and his weaknesses. No one cares if you have the personality of a sandbag when it comes to this sort of issue. There's no East versus West landmines to weave through. It is perhaps the lone issue on which right and left, at least for now, seem to agree. The Arctic offers all the benefits of being a "wartime prime minister" without the ugly necessity of an actual war and the all the risks that entails.

The Arctic is an issue that can be used to manipulate public opinion. Granted it's not the same as squadrons of red-starred bombers over Toronto but that's not necessary to instil a measure of anxiety and a sudden desire among the electorate for a steely tough leader. It is not difficult to subtly depict the Arctic of the 21st century as the Hungary of the 50's or the Czechoslovakia of the 60's facing the approaching threat of a ravenous and omiverous Red Bear.

Harper watched how his American Idol was able to manipulate the emotions of his people to distract them and allow him to pursue legislative goals that would otherwise have blown up in his face. Imagine taking your nation to war and cutting taxes for the rich at the same time, leading to huge deficits - and managing to get re-elected, albeit with a good dose of chicanery.

I expect Harper to try to showcase the Arctic as "his" issue, to use it as a foil to cast the already-bookish Dion as weak and not fit for the challenge. How can a leader hope to become prime minister if the voters perceive him as unable to defend them and their country?

Which brings me again to the same old question, where in hell is Stephane Dion? A Google search showed me he's been carping about some free trade deal with South Korea. Apparently he wants to protect the right of Canada's automakers to freely sell their cars in South Korea as if that's likely to happen. I guess it scores some points in Windsor and Oshawa but, beyond that, who cares?

No, Stephane Dion has used the summer break to all but consign himself to obscurity. Just because he won the student council election doesn't mean the kids are going to make him King on Prom Night, the runoff that counts.

The coming election is an extremely critical election. Treating any election as anything less than critical is to embrace defeat. The one leader who is not showing that he gets that is Stephane Dion. That the Liberals are tied with the Conservatives isn't because of Stephane Dion. It's despite him.

I'm going away again. See you in a week or two.

Monday, August 06, 2007

US Media Meltdown on Global Warming

The U.S. media are an enormously powerful engine driving public opinion in the most powerful nation in the world (wait a second, aren't all nations - by definition - "in the world"?).

Getting back to the point, the American media are now recognized as having been instrumental in misleading their nation's populace on the war against Iraq, WMDs and Iraq's connection to al-Qaeda.

A big part of the problem is the "new media" - the Fox News types that, in saner times, would have been consigned to the lunatic fringe but now enjoy a huge following of the easily deluded.

A new study suggests that what the American media did for Iraq it's also accomplished when it comes to public perceptions of global warming. This from, dare I say it, CanWest:

The report, in the latest edition of a magazine published by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, said there are multiple examples of major American media organizations watering down recent warnings from peer-reviewed scientific literature about the consequences of global warming and the human-produced pollution that is causing it.

The watchdog group based its analysis on a comparison of American and British headlines and articles about the release of a series of international reports that assessed the latest peer-reviewed on climate change.

"Where U.K. media generally presented climate change as an urgent crisis that requires immediate action, in the U.S. it's still widely portrayed as an unresolved debate," says the article, written by Neil deMause in the July-August edition of Extra!.

The coverage is helping to prop up U.S. government policies which suggest aggressive action to tackle climate change could be economically costly, deMause said. For example, he explained that many Americans were unaware of a British government study by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern that warned the cost of doing nothing would be much worse than immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"The Stern report is something that has been hashed out in the British and Canadian media and argued back and forth, whereas in the U.S., nobody has heard of it," said deMause in an interview. "That's the problem. It's not particularly what stand the media takes on what should we do about climate change, it's the information is getting out about climate change, and I think that in the U.S., it's a very limited debate."

Mugabe and Bush - Birds of a Feather?

Actually they're not quite the same. Mugabe's government passed a law allowing it to spy on his country's citizens.

Zimbabwe's new Interception of Communications Act provides for the setting up of an interception centre to listen into telephone conversations, open mail and intercept emails and faxes. The law also compels internet service providers to install equipment to facilitate interception "at all times or when so required" and ensure that its equipment allows full-time monitoring of communications.

Naturally this is an incredibly fascist measure directed by an anti-democratic, out of control government against its own people. So is the law just passed by Zimbabwe.

According to AFP: The government in Harare defended the new law saying it was necessary to protect the country from international terrorism and espionage. Does that sound familiar or is it just me?

Even CanWest Now Slags Harper

CanWest, normally the house organ of the far-right faction of the Conservatives, has come out accusing Stephen Harper of being an undemocratic, control freak:

Harper's claims of consensus government are at odds with the growing sense among many political observers and constitutional experts that Canada is run less like a parliamentary democracy in the Westminster model than like a private kingdom, in which the prime minister and a chosen clique of often-unelected advisers dictate federal policy, as long as their term in office allows them.
Three years ago, [Donald Savoie] published Breaking the Bargain, a landmark critique of the sidelining of the civil service, and the concentration of power in the prime minister's office. "What we've got today is less cabinet government, and more court government," he said in a recent interview. "Those with influence are those who sit in the prime minister's court."

But outside of a few individuals, "it doesn't matter a great deal who's in cabinet today, except that they get formal access to the court once a week - access to the king, the prime minister and his courtiers," says Savoie. "Generally, the cabinet no longer matters as a decision-making body."

As for Harpo, there's plenty of cabinet consensus: "I don't think outsiders are really in a position to make assessments of whether decisions are consensual or not, and to what degree the prime minister does or does not dominate the cabinet unless you're actually there, and you see the workings up close."

And when it comes to outsiders actually getting a glimpse of "workings up close" Harpo does his damnedest to make sure that'll never occur. Take, for example, the expulsion of reporters from the Charlottetown hotel where the Tory caucus was meeting.
I wonder if the right-wing media are becoming disenchanted with Harpo's inability to break out of his perilous, minority support from the Canadian public? It's pretty obvious that, unless he comes up with some enormously popular policies - and those would inevitably be Liberal policies - it won't be long before Harper might be facing some challenges from within. Stephen Harper's ace in the hole is that he has such a dearth of talent capable of doing better with Canadian voters.

The Ethanol Threat

The biofuel craze seems unstoppable. Ethanol is routinely touted as the superfuel of the future, the renewable alternative to gasoline. Just how good is ethanol and what social costs will we have to bear because of it? Those questions were explored in Asia Times by William Engdahl an observer of oil geopolitics who warns that we're about to experience a world food price shock to rival the recent world oil price shock:

The late American satirist Mark Twain once quipped, "Buy land: They've stopped making it." Today we can say almost the same about corn, or all grains worldwide. The world is in the early months of the greatest sustained rise in prices for all major grains, including maize, wheat and rice, that we have seen in three decades. Those three crops constitute almost 90% of all grains cultivated in the world.

He claims the American government's plan to push ethanol is founded less on environmental concerns and more on the interests of big business.

The heart of the plan is a huge, taxpayer-subsidized expansion of use of bio-ethanol for transport fuel. The president's plan requires production of 35 billion US gallons (about 133 billion liters) of ethanol a year by 2017. Congress has already mandated with the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that corn ethanol for fuel must rise from 4 billion gallons in 2006 to 7.5 billion in 2012. To make certain it will happen, farmers and big agribusiness giants like ADM or David Rockefeller get generous taxpayer subsidies to grow corn for fuel instead of food. Currently ethanol producers get a subsidy in the US of 51 cents per gallon (13.5 cents per liter) of ethanol paid to the blender, usually an oil company that blends it with gasoline for sale.

As a result of the beautiful US government subsidies to produce bio-ethanol fuels and the new legislative mandate, the US refinery industry is investing big-time in building new special ethanol distilleries, similar to oil refineries, except they produce ethanol fuel. The number currently under construction exceeds the total number of oil refineries built in the US over the past 25 years. When they are finished in the next two to three years, the demand for corn and other grain to make ethanol for car fuel will double from present levels.

Engdahl also takes exception to the glowing claims made about ethanol.

The green claims for biofuel as a friendly and better fuel than gasoline are at best dubious, if not outright fraudulent. Depending on who runs the tests, ethanol has little if any effect on exhaust-pipe emissions in current car models. It has significant emission, however, of some toxins, including formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, a suspected neurotoxin that has been banned as carcinogenic in California.

Ethanol is not some benign substance as we are led to think from the industry propaganda. It is highly corrosive to pipelines as well as to seals and fuel systems of existing car or other gasoline engines. It requires special new pumps. All that conversion costs money.

But the killer about ethanol is that it holds at least 30% less energy per liter than normal gasoline, translating into a loss in fuel economy of at least 25% over gasoline for an Ethanol E-85% blend.

No advocate of the ethanol boondoggle addresses the huge social cost that is beginning to hit the dining-room tables across the US, Europe and the rest of the world. Food prices are exploding as corn, soybeans and all cereal-grain prices are going through the roof because of the astronomical - US Congress-driven - demand for corn to burn for biofuel.

This year the Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a report concluding that using corn-based ethanol instead of gasoline would have no impact on greenhouse-gas emissions, and would even expand fossil-fuel use because of increased demand for fertilizer and irrigation to expand acreage of ethanol crops. And according to MIT, "natural-gas consumption is 66% of total corn-ethanol production energy", meaning huge new strains on natural-gas supply, pushing prices of that product higher.

The idea that the world can "grow" out of oil dependency with biofuels is the PR hype being used to sell what is shaping up to be the most dangerous threat to the planet's food supply since the creation of patented genetically manipulated corn and other crops.

A result of the biofuel revolution in agriculture is that world carryover or reserve stocks of grains have been plunging for six of the past seven years. Carryover reserve stocks of all grains fell at the end of 2006 to 57 days of consumption, the lowest level since 1972. Little wonder that world grain prices rose 100% over the past 12 months. This is just the start.

...we are just getting started on the greatest transformation of global agriculture since the introduction of the agribusiness revolution with fertilizers and mechanized farming after World War II. The difference is that this revolution is at the expense of food production. That pre-programs exploding global grain prices, increased poverty, and malnutrition. And the effect on gasoline import demand will be minimal.

Professor M A Altieri of the University of California at Berkeley estimates that dedicating all US corn and soybean production to biofuels would only meet 12% of gasoline and 6% of diesel needs. He notes that although one-fifth of last year's US corn harvest went to bio-ethanol, it met a mere 3% of energy needs. But the farmland is converting at a record pace. In 2006 more than 50% of Iowa and South Dakota corn went to ethanol refineries.

Farmers across the US Midwest, desperate for more income after years of depressed corn prices, are abandoning traditional crop rotation to grow exclusively soybeans or corn, with dramatic added impact on soil erosion and needs for added chemical pesticides. In the US some 41% of all herbicides used are already applied to corn. Monsanto and other makers of glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup are clearly smiling on the way to the bank.

Big Oil is also driving the biofuels bandwagon. Professor David Pimentel of Cornell University and other scientists claim that net energy output from bio-ethanol fuel is less than the fossil-fuel energy used to produce the ethanol. Measuring all energy inputs to produce ethanol, from production of nitrogen fertilizer to energy needed to clean the considerable waste from biofuel refineries, Pimintel's research showed a net energy loss of 22% for biofuel - they use more energy than they produce. That translates into little threat to oil demand and huge profit for clever oil giants that re-profile themselves as "green energy" producers.

So it's little wonder that ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP are all into biofuels. This past May, BP announced the largest ever research-and-development grant to a university, $500 million to the University of California-Berkeley, to fund BP-dictated R&D into alternative energy, including biofuels. Stanford University's Global Climate and Energy Program got $100 million from ExxonMobil; University of California-Davis got $25 million from Chevron for its Bio-energy Research Group. Princeton University's Carbon Mitigation Initiative takes $15 million from BP.

In the mid-1970s, secretary of state Henry Kissinger, a protege of the Rockefeller family and of its institutions, stated, "Control the oil and you control entire nations; control the food and you control the people." The same cast of characters who brought the world the Iraq war, and who cry about the "problem of world overpopulation", are now backing conversion of global grain production to burn as fuel at a time of declining global grain reserves. That alone should give pause for thought. As the popular saying goes, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you."
Is Engdahl right about ethanol? At least some of his claims are well founded, especially the impact on food stocks. Months ago Gwynne Dyer noted that the amount of corn required to fill the tank of an SUV with ethanol twice equals the amount needed to sustain an adult for a year.

Russia's Arctic Grab May Be More Serious Than We Suspect

An American law professor says the Russians weren't indulging in a quaint but meaningless ritual when they used a sub to plant their flag on the seabed beneath the north pole. He says that, as far as North America is concerned, "finders, keepers" is very much the law of the land. Robert J. Miller, a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, writes in the LA Times that the "Doctrine of Discovery" is alive and well.

The flag-planting ritual and the thinking behind the Russians' audacious territorial claims have their roots in the development and use of the Doctrine of Discovery by European and American explorers from the 15th through the 20th centuries. Starting with Pope Nicholas V in 1455, the Europeans conveniently declared their divine right to empty land or to land occupied by "pagans and enemies of Christ." The main requirement was just first-come, first-served discovery.

Canada is also facing off against Denmark over tiny Hans Island near northwestern Greenland. In 1984, Denmark's minister for Greenland affairs landed on the island in a helicopter and raised the Danish flag, buried a bottle of brandy and left a note that said "Welcome to the Danish Island." Canada was not amused. In 2005, the Canadian defense minister and troops landed on the island and hoisted the Canadian flag. Denmark lodged an official protest.

Planting a flag or burying brandy isn't enough these days to guarantee possession -- international treaties such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea are invoked. But historically, staking a physical claim is the first rule of the discovery doctrine. Spanish, Portuguese and, later, English and French explorers engaged in all sorts of rituals on encountering new lands: hoisting the flag, displaying the Christian cross and leaving evidence to prove who was there first.

As early as 1790, federal law reflected the discovery doctrine, but it wasn't until 1823 that the doctrine was formally recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court -- and its full meaning spelled out. In the Supreme Court case Johnson vs. McIntosh, about whether private citizens could purchase Indian lands, Chief Justice John Marshall, in a long, detailed opinion for a unanimous court, established that discovery had been the law on the North American continent since the beginning of European exploration. Indian rights "to complete sovereignty, as independent nations, were necessarily diminished, and their power to dispose of the soil at their own will, to whomsoever they pleased, was denied by the original fundamental principle, that discovery gave exclusive title to those who made it."

In short, Indians couldn't sell their tribal lands to private citizens because their conquerors -- the U.S. government by then -- essentially owned them. Today, that aspect of the 600-year-old Doctrine of Discovery still prevails in U.S. and international law. It remains the principle by which the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia continue to control the lands of their indigenous peoples.

As to the larger principle of "finders (or claimers) keepers," it also lives -- notwithstanding international treaties. The proof is in that symbolic Russian flag planted 2.65 miles below the North Pole, at the potentially lucrative, already contested bottom of the deep blue Arctic sea.

Asia's Wet Hell

A humanitarian catastrophe is looming in south Asia. Upwards of 19-million have been displaced by heavier than normal monsoon rains. The deluge has also destroyed massive amounts of crops in the countryside.

Now rescue workers are bracing for an epidemic of fever, acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea and snake bites among refugees. Simply finding food and water for the displaced is nearly impossible with stocks described as "perilously low."

Words alone cannot convey the tragedy that is unfolding. The Guardian has run a photo essay on the devestation from which the pictures below were taken. The first five photographs were taken in India. The bottom picture shows Beijing police linking arms as they conduct a search along a flooded street.

Iraq Suppresses Oil Union

Iraq's energy ministry has been accused of taking a page out of Saddam's book in suppressing the nation's oil workers' union. From the Guardian:

Iraq's energy ministry is using a Saddam-era decree to crack down on trade unions and stifle dissent against foreign exploitation of the country's vast oil reserves, the Basra-based oil workers' union claims.
Hassan Juma'a, the union's leader, has been at the forefront of a public campaign against the signing of a controversial new oil law - demanded by Washington - that would lead to long-term profit-sharing contracts being signed with multinational oil giants.

But Hussein Shahrastani, Iraq's oil minister, has now issued a directive banning unions from participating in any official discussions about the new law, 'since these unions have no legal status to work within the state sector'.

Juma'a said the minister's approach echoed an infamous law passed by Saddam Hussein in 1987 - the so-called 'Article 150' - suppressing trades unions. He insisted this weekend that his members would not recognise the directive, saying 'we are working for Iraq'.

The union argues that, like other Gulf states, Iraq should keep its oil ventures in state hands. With the second-largest reserves of quality crude oil, the union claims the country should borrow the funds needed to restore Iraq's oil production.

While the debate over the American-initiated oil law expands, Iraq's electricity grid is said to be on the verge of collapse as temperatures soar to 45 C. The country's electricity network fell into serious deterioration as a result of the sanctions imposed on Saddam's government after the 1991 Gulf war.

Compounding the problem are provinces that have better electricity generating assets taking their systems offline for their own benefit. Particularly hard hit by this is Baghdad.

Hazim Obeid, who sells clothing at a Kerbala market stall, said: "We no longer need television documentaries about the stone age. We are actually living in it. We are in constant danger because of the filthy water and rotten food we are having."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

190,000 Guns "Missing" in Iraq

Oh great. Apparently the US Defense Department has lost track of 190,000 weapons in Iraq issued to the country's security services including 110,000 AK-47s. Due to missing and incomplete records the department also cannot confirm it actually delivered 135,000 pieces of body armor and 115,000 helmets to the Iraqis.

As for those pesky AK-47s, they might ask this guy if he knows where they went:

"Mired in Minorityland"

That's how the Montreal Gazette depicts the sad state that we call Stephen Harper.

It's as if he hasn't noticed yet that the recipe he follows almost religiously remains unpalatable to a majority of Canadians. This week's summer retreat with his caucus in Charlottetown confirmed that he still doesn't get it.

There, in all its glory, he displayed again his obsessive control of his caucus and of short, simple and sometimes simplistic messages - something that helped him get elected, but that has started to put off more and more voters.

When reporters were "escorted" by RCMP officers from the hotel where the Tory caucus was meeting, allegedly because the families felt intimidated, it was just another embarrassing episode of Harper's continued paranoia about the media.

Still keeping his MPs and his ministers on a painfully short leash, Harper seems to feel that even after 18 months in office, most members of his government can't be trusted, or aren't smart enough, to have a conversation with a reporter without risking derailing his tightly controlled messages.

But even if the PM keeps repeating his tired recipe, he could still pull off another minority if Liberal leader Stphane Dion doesn't get his own act together in a more serious fashion.


What Would NATO Do?

I think this is a timely question that we, as Canadians, need to ponder. Can we rely on NATO to defend Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic?

Canada has been a NATO partner from the outset - half a century. We've maintained land, sea and air forces at home and abroad as part of that obligation.

Now the question becomes does that really mean anything or are we just another Czechoslovakia waiting for the wolves to show up at our door?

While ostensibly a mutual defence alliance, NATO's real role in the second half of the last century was to ensure the territorial integrity of Western Europe. That's why we put all those tanks and airplanes over there and why we had all those ships and planes prowling the North Atlantic to protect our sea lanes between Europe and North America.

Your Dad's NATO ain't the NATO of today. It's supposed to be, but the reality of that is unclear. From a Canadian perspective, there's no better time than now to test those waters.

NATO has gone to war twice - in Yugoslavia (Kosovo) and in Afghanistan. Neither of these wars has actually involved an existential threat to any NATO member nation. Self-defence really wasn't a factor unless you're willing to believe that the crimes committed by a bunch of religious nutbars on 11 September, 2001 truly threatened the most powerful nation on our planet.

Now, we're in Afghanistan for only one reason. Osama bin Laden. But for bin Laden and al-Qaeda, Afghanistan today would be just another dustbowl, languishing in an interminable civil war and ruled by religious nutbars who cruelly oppressed their country's opium traffickers. In supposed defence of the United States we dutifully stepped in to keep those nutbars at bay and all those opium traffickers have to be enormously grateful for our help.

What's not been tested is whether post-Soviet NATO would actually rally to defend the territorial integrity of one of its member states, particularly if that member state was - oh, say, Canada.

At the moment, Russia is asserting sovereignty over the resource-rich high Arctic, turf that we were brought up believing was our own. Peter MacKay may scoff at Russia's claims but that doesn't give me a lot of comfort coming from a guy who sold out the Progressive Conservatives and, more recently, Atlantic Canada. If he can't stand up to Stephen Harper, how can we trust him to stand up to Russia?

Russia's challenge to Canadian sovereignty is the most immediate but, when it comes to our northern front, we face a number of potential challengers. The NATO partner we went to Afghanistan to help is one of them and there are others.

NATO deterred Soviet aggression against Western Europe by openly declaring the alliance would not tolerate any infringement of its territorial integrity and we placed an enormous amount of ordinance and manpower there to prove it. We, that is the NATO nations, didn't wait for Soviet tanks to roll across the central German plain. At a cost of many, many billions of dollars we invested in the territorial integrity of Western Europe.

Now it's fair to ask just what NATO is prepared to do for us. If NATO doesn't recognize our territorial integrity, what earthly good is it to us? We've given and given and given to NATO, half a century's worth of giving. We've fought for NATO and paid a blood price.

I think the time has come for Ottawa to get in touch with Brussels and seek a little clarification. If NATO is willing to commit to defending Canada's territorial integrity - to draw a line in the sand in the same way we did for Europe - then we should back NATO wholeheartedly, even in that impossible fiasco called Afghanistan. Then we would be defending Canada by defending Kabul.

If, however, NATO is going to throw us to the wolves the way the West threw the Sudetenland to the Nazis, surely we've got better uses for our soldiers and tanks.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Whinin' Bwian Keeps His Dough - For Now

An Ontario judge has set aside Karlheinz Schreiber's $470,000 default judgment against Brian Mulroney - and sent the file to "case management" - a polite term for litigation rehab.

The appellate briefs were fascinating in but one respect - completely absent was the slightest mention of the $300,000 in cash-stuffed envelopes Muldoon pocketed from Schreiber (and I mean "pocketed") and just what he did, if anything, to deserve it.

C'mon people. Mulroney needs to answer just a few, simple questions:

1. Why did he state, under oath, in his defamation action that he never had any business dealings with Schreiber?

2. What was the money for?

3. If, as Mulroney has said, it was cash received as a retainer, where are the records showing it was received and disbursed in accordance with the Quebec Law Society's rules governing trust funds?

4. When did Mulroney declare the income he earned from this tidy sum for income tax purposes?

Everything else, including Mulroney's reputation, rides on the answers to those four questions. They're simple questions and easily corroborated by predictable paper trails. Let's get the answers and see the documents.

Stephen Harper ought to be demanding these answers on behalf of the Canadian public. Any guesses why Harpo has gone dumb and mute on this one?

Nuke the Mosques?

Repuglican presidential candidates want to appear tough on terrorism and Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo is no exception.

Tancredo's secret for deterring terrorism - bomb Muslim holy sites. Seriously, that's what he said he thinks would work. His advisor, Bay Buchanan, wife of Pat, said her guy is open minded and willing to consider other options.

“This shows that we mean business,” Buchanan said. “There’s no more effective deterrent than that.”

Well, if you're looking for business, an airstrike on Mecca should get you all the business you can handle. A State Department spokesman called Tancredo's statements "reprehensible" and "absolutely crazy"

If Washington Really Wants the Best for Iraq - Why the Sabotage?

Nobody's perfect. Stuff happens. We all make mistakes. This, however, isn't about mistakes. It's about sabotage.

The United States has sabotaged, perhaps irrevocably, the viability of the Iraq state and the future of the Iraqi peoples.

It happened partly through arrogance, partly through sheer stupidity and partly out of self-interest - taken together, a lethal combination.

Arrogance and stupidity are the very hallmark of Dick Cheney. He's the fool who believes that America's military prowess is enough to imbue it with diplomatic invincibility. That's the nonsense all these neocons spin. The world has had six years to observe how this "what we say, goes" attitude works in practice and, stripped bare by an unbroken succession of failures, the mantra looks just plain stupid.

It was arrogance that led Cheney's boys to believe they could fix their own intelligence and stupidity that led them to believe no one would catch on.

It was arrogance to believe they could conquer Iraq in short order and stupidity that led them to send a third of the soldiers they needed for the job.

It was arrogance that caused them to believe Iraq's Kurds would lick the boots of their American saviors and stupidity that led them to let the Kurds incorporate their own constitution, the very articles of their secession, into the constitution of Iraq.

It was arrogance that made them believe they would be able to institute a secular government of their choosing to replace the secular government of the man they would send to the gallows. It was the stupidity of this that led them to ignore the reality of Iran and Iraq's Shiite majority.

It was arrogance that led them to declare "Mission Accomplished" and their profound stupidity that left their military exhausted, nearly broken and firmly stuck in the Mesopotamian quagmire.

Their arrogance and stupidity has left a country in ruins and its peoples in desperate straits. And now, having brought these gifts to Iraq, the White House wants to ensure civil strife for decades to come thanks to an oil law, drafted by Americans to serve America, that, if enacted, will eventually lead to revolt when Iraqis come to realize they have been deceived and cheated.

America's oil law for Iraq is an act of sabotage. For the sake of Iraq and any slim hopes of peace that remain for that region, let's hope that Iraqi legislators recognize the trap that has been laid for them before it's too late.

What Cold War?

Russia plans to establish a permanent, naval presence in the Mediterranean.

"The Mediterranean Sea is very important strategically for the Black Sea fleet," Admiral Vladimir Masorin said during a visit to the base of the fleet in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol, RIA news agency reported. "I propose that, with the involvement of the Northern and Baltic fleets, the Russian Navy should restore its permanent presence there."

Russia is in the process of rebuilding its fleet after decades of neglect and deterioration. The Russian navy still has a base at Tartus in Syria which it could use to re-establish its presence and influence even as American influence in the Middle East wanes.

Russia, India and China are all moving to create world class navies.

It's Time to Out the Gougers

I'm a motorcyclist so this is something that's been bugging me for a long, long time.

Despite the loonie's rise to near parity with the US dollar, Canadian prices for some products are often disproportionately higher than what you would pay "south of the line."

Take BMW's F650GS motorcycle as a typical example. In the US, manufacturer's suggested retail price is $7,100 (USD). In Canada, the MSRP is $9,500 (Cdn) which works out to $9,015 (USD). Why the difference? Don't ask BMW North America, the company that imports all bikes for both countries. They won't even respond if you ask.

When I bought a beemer two years ago, I went down to Oregon to get it. Oregon has no sales tax so I wouldn't get dinged twice. I saved thousands. I still had to pay the GST and PST when I brought the bike back to British Columbia but, even then, the sales taxes were on the lower American price. I even saved hundreds in sales tax.

Now I realize we kicked their ass at Vimy and Falaise and beat them senseless all the way up the Scheldt estuary but is that any way to treat Canadian customers?

CBC offers more examples. A Nissan Altima on the block for $24,000 in the States, $30,200 up here. GAP jeans - $49.50 US, $79.50 Cdn. Walmart's price for a type of Baush & Lomb contacts - $44.72 US in Buffalo, $89.97 Cdn. in Toronto. Walmart? That outfit?

BMW, Walmart, GAP, Nissan and all the rest of you who want to gouge Canadians - Get Stuffed! If you have examples, add them below.

Truer Words

This is a danger to the Republic.
For when a people is divided
within itself about the conduct of its foreign relations, it is unable to agree
on the determination of its true interest. It is unable to prepare adequately for war
or to safeguard successfully its peace....
The spectacle of this great nation which does not know its own mind
is as humiliating as it is dangerous.
- Walter Lippman on pre-WWII American partisanship

Murder on the Cheap

I don't get it. You've been found guilty of conspiring to commit murder. That means you and at least one other person get into a conspiracy to murder someone, presumably before the event, which may or may not even follow. Then you are your conspirator(s) do murder someone. It's an Iraqi you suspect of being an insurgent because he's been arrested and released several times before. Then you take this Iraqi out on the street and - bingo - you murder him, kill him dead.

At trial you're convicted of murder but acquitted of premeditated murder.

I don't get it. If you conspired to murder this guy and then took him out on the street and murdered him, what's not premeditated about that? Pre- meditated. Thought out beforehand.

Oh I know. It wasn't "premeditated" because that carries a life sentence. And, after all, the murderer was a US Marine and the unfortunate loser he toasted, who probably deserved what he got anyway, was an Iraqi. That explains it.

The verdict in the case of Marine Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins means he could even be released without serving any additional time.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Harper to Shuffle Water Carriers

Stephen Harper is reportedly about to shuffle the lackeys who carry his water. In other governments they'd be known as cabinet ministers. This, however, is the Emerald City and Harpo is the Wizard hisself.

The fiercely top-down, uber control freak is supposedly going to shuffle a bunch of people whose names and identities are all but unknown.
Now, in fairness, Harpo may not be good at delegating authority, but at least taking on a cabinet portfolio in his government isn't a speaking role.

Why Iraq's Oil Law Really Matters

Whether it's a Repuglican or a Demutante, American politicians unanimously fret over the lack of progress on Iraq's oil law.

When they speak of the legislation it's to present it as the magic key to ethnic harmony in a unified Iraq - divvying up the spoils, as it were, equitably among all three ethnic groups.

What they almost never mention is what Washington is really after in this legislation - the transfer of control of Iraq's oil wealth to America's Big Oil industry. From The Guardian:

...the administration - particularly the vice-president, Dick Cheney - and the oil lobby are enraged that the oil law is stalled. The main reason is not that the Iraqi government and parliament are a lazy bunch of Islamist incompetents or narrow-minded sectarians, as is often implied. MPs are studying the law more carefully, and have begun to see it as a major threat to Iraq's national interest regardless of people's religion or sect.

This is the second bit of good news from Iraq. Civil society, trade unions, professional oil experts and the media are stirring on the oil issue and putting their points across to parliament in the way democracy is meant to work. The oil unions have held strikes even at the risk of having leaders and members arrested.

The pervasive outside image of Iraq as a country in free-fall where violence on a mass scale is an ever-present threat is not wrong. But it can mask the fact that "normal life" and indeed "normal politics" are still possible. The real reason why the Bush administration wanted the oil law rushed through was that it feared public discussion, and was worried that the more people understood what the law entails, the greater the chances of its defeat. Key parties in the Iraqi parliament oppose it, including the main Sunni party - which this week withdrew from government - as well as the Shia Sadrists and Fadhila.

Washington has promoted the law as a "reconciliation" issue, claiming its early passage would show that Iraq's ethnic and sectarian communities could share revenues on a fair basis. But this is a trick. Only one of the law's 43 articles mentions revenue-sharing, and then just to say that a separate "federal revenue law" will decide its distribution. The first draft of this other law only appeared in June, and it is clearly unreasonable to expect the Iraqi parliament to pass it in less than two months.

The law that Washington and the US oil lobby really want would set the arrangements for foreign companies to operate in Iraq's oil sector. Independent analysts say the terms being proposed are far more favourable for foreign oil companies than those of any other oil-producing state in the region, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Platform, an oil industry watchdog, warns that the Iraq oil and gas law could "sign away Iraq's future". Greg Muttitt, its co-director, says: "The law is permissive. All of Iraq's unexploited and as yet unknown reserves, which could amount to between 100bn and 200bn barrels, would go to foreign companies."
There is the true face of America in Iraq. Not content with having reduced the country to violence and ruin with their illegal war of aggression, they want to rob it of its wealth on their way out the door. Sleazy? You bet. Is it any wonder that Harper is enthralled with this gang of thugs?

Surge Working - Iraqis Liberated from Domestic Chores

The people of Baghdad are suddenly free. They're free from washing, free from cooking, why they're even free from drinking. The Bush/Petraeus surge has worked so brilliantly that the Iraqis don't even have to flush their toilets - if they have toilets. There's no water in Baghdad. Hasn't been anything in the pipes for a while now.

The city's pathetic electricity grid can't produce enough power to operate the city's water purification and pumping stations.

That's not to say the locals couldn't use a bit of water right now. It's summer over there and it gets wicked hot. From TorStar:

Baghdad routinely suffers from periodic water outages, but this one is described by residents as one of the most extended and widespread in recent memory. The problem highlights the larger difficulties in a capital beset by violence, crumbling infrastructure, rampant crime and too little electricity to keep cool in the sweltering weather more than four years after the U.S.-led invasion.

Jamil Hussein, 52, a retired army officer who lives in northeast Baghdad, said his house has been without water for two weeks, except for two hours at night. He says the water that does flow smells bad and is unclean.

Two of his children have severe diarrhea that the doctor attributed to drinking what tap water was available, even after it was boiled.

"We'll have to continue drinking it, because we don't have money to buy bottled water," he said.

Adel al-Ardawi, a spokesman for the Baghdad city government, said that even with sufficient electricity "it would take 24 hours for the water mains to refill so we can begin pumping to residents. And even then the water won't be clean for a time. We just don't have the electricity or fuel for our generators to keep the system flowing."

Noah Miller, spokesman for the U.S. reconstruction program in Baghdad, said that water treatment plants were working "as far as we know."

I believe "as far as we know" is the lexicon currently used by the occupation for "don't know, don't care."

The Faith-Based War President

Gary Kamiya has written an interesting piece for entitled, War, chaos and Bush's faith. The following is excerpted from that piece:

America is not the first country to be led like a half-hypnotized lamb to the slaughter by a delusional leader. The ultimate responsibility rests with Bush. Which raises a final question: Where did Bush's fatal hubris come from? Why did he think he could challenge God?

The question of how a president's faith affects his decisions is, of course, a matter of conjecture. But there is ample evidence that Bush's delusions about Iraq are inseparable from his religious faith. Of course, there are millions of deeply religious people whose faith has not led them to abandon reason. But Bush's faith appears to have only deepened his native arrogance: He sees it as a form of humility, a poor sinner's acceptance of God's will. Bush believes that God is on the side of this war, and that everything will therefore come out all right in the end. He does not care about the real world -- because for him it isn't the true reality. The war in Iraq, that horror in which real human beings are dying, is merely a stage before good finally triumphs over evil. And if that victory does not take place in our lifetime, it doesn't matter: All that matters is that he fought the good fight. This is why he did not concern himself, and still doesn't, with details such as whether this war is winnable in any non-biblical time frame.

So there are two related lessons America should take away from the Iraq disaster. First, don't treat war lightly. It is an insanely powerful and unpredictable agent, one that can destroy everything it touches. Second, beware of leaders whose devotion has not brought them real humility -- and beware of their wars. They will see war as a toy, which they control, or which is controlled by their God. But nobody controls war. Not even God.

Is MacKay Whistling Past the Graveyard?

Peter MacKay, standing in as foreign affairs minister while Harpo is busy with other things, blithely dismisses Russia's claims to the Arctic polar region:

"This isn't the 15th century. You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say, We're claiming this territory.'

"There is no threat to Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic ... we're not at all concerned about this mission -- basically it's just a show by Russia," he told CTV.

A "show by Russia"? That show seems to be about establishing a contiguous link between the Siberian shelf and the undersea surface of the area Russia is now claiming. This show is about creating a claim under international law to an area we claim as our own, sovereign territory.

Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in global politics and international law at the University of British Columbia, says Canada needs to identify possible underwater extensions to its own landmass before a 2013 deadline under the UN accord.

"Getting the work done on time will likely involve chartering a heavy icebreaker from Russia or Finland," Mr. Byers told CanWest News Service earlier this week. "So be it. The stakes involved more than justify the cost."

MacKay needs to get off his backside and tell us exactly what Canada is going to do - and when - to establish and defend our claim to this very territory. This is no time for whistling past the graveyard. The Russians aren't treating this as a joke.

"A Time and a Place for the Media"

From the day he became Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has been bitchslapping the Canadian media. He's shown them no respect, sharply limiting their access to him and other members of his caucus. He's still doing it because our national journalists have shown themselves too cowardly to stand up to him. They let Stephen Harper control the news. Astonishing.

They got another dose of Harpo's medicine in Charlottetown yesterday where the Tory caucus is holding its annual retreat. At the direction of the PMO, the press were booted out of the hotel where the caucus is meeting. Each and everyone of these bold, courageous scribes was put out on the street, just like the trash. From the G&M:

One RCMP officer told a reporter that "there is a time and a place for the media." Another said they were acting on the orders of the PMO.

National caucus chairman Rahim Jaffer defended the action, saying that spouses and children accompanying many of the 125 MPs and 24 senators may be intimidated by the reporters and cameras.

So if you're looking for that special gift for a member of the parliamentary press gallery - why not a lovely set of knee pads?

Killing With Impunity

Two years ago British police executed Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year old Brazilian electrician. He was killed in a subway car by counterterrorism police days after London's subway bombings.

De Menezes was shot, in the head, seven times. They blew his head off.

At the time the London cops explained said the man's bulky clothing and panicked manner led officials to believe he was a suicide bomber.

It was subsequently revealed that de Menezes wasn't wearing bulky clothing nor had he run or resisted arrest. The whole story that he'd basically brought this on himself was simply untrue, a ruse made up to take heat off the cops.

An inquiry into the shooting ruled out any prosecution of the officers involved. The commander of the unit has since been promoted.

They're Not Just Competing for Oil Any More

Milk prices in Germany are about to jump - by 50%. The culprit? The Chinese. The Chinese have discovered a thirst for milk and they don't have the dairy industry to meet their own demand. So, according to the Guardian, they're raiding German supplies:

The Chinese have been dubbed "milk snatchers" by German consumers for buying so much milk that prices of dairy products in Germany are expected to soar by 50%.

A third of all the milk produced worldwide is now being transported to China, much of it from the EU and a significant amount from Germany, which produces 27bn litres a year.

Now outraged consumer groups and politicians have called for the government to raise unemployment benefit to cover the rise.

Yesterday supermarkets across the country reported that shoppers were panic buying dairy products in an attempt to beat the price increase.

The only effective way to increase global milk yields without breaking the milk quotas, according to experts, is to encourage the breeding of cows outside the EU. German dairy farmers have duly been selling their best high-performance milk cows to Chinese farmers, who are receiving government subsidies if they switch to dairy farming.

So Broken, It Can't Be Fixed

It's a reality that the White House can't bring itself to accept. Iraq is just far too broken to be fixed.

The government, particularly the security services - the folks with the guns, is in the iron fist of the majority Shiites and they have no intention of letting go. Between the Shia and the Kurds, the fix is in. One more set of elections and their people will veto the very deal America is trying to impose on them. That'll mean no constitution for Iraq as a unitary state but, then again, the Kurdish constitution which is incorporated into the Iraqi constitution means there really is nothing unitary about that government.

Can Iraq survive as a federal state? Probably not. The two sides with decades-old grievances against the former Sunni ruling class aren't interested in any deal that raises the resource-poor Sunni triangle up to their level of potential wealth. That would mean a gratuitous transfer of economic and political power to the same group that suppressed them, at times barbarously.

Once you look at Iraq as a cluster of 3-states just waiting to happen, the American/Brit military forces take on a much different complexion. At that point the Western forces exist to try to impose a political reality that two of the three Iraqi groups want to escape. The infidels become an impediment to the legitimate aspirations of both Shia and Kurd. They revert to their original status as occupiers.

In an earlier time the United States might have put in place a strongman to impose order and a government to Washington's liking. In fact that's what the White House wanted for Iraq until Sistani forced Washington's hand to call an election in which the neo-con's handpicked, pro-Western, secular slate was stunningly defeated. That was the writing on the wall for Iraqi unity.

With the departure of the central government's main Sunni bloc, Iraq's political viability is at an end. The Sunnis can see what's coming and can only hope that their walkout, on the eve of the September assessment of the surge, will cause the White House to pressure Maliki to yield to their demands.

Why did Iraq's parliament go on holiday with nothing achieved on their legislative "to do" list?

Did they leave not realizing that they hadn't met even one of the benchmarks they were to have achieved by September? Is this a parliamentary temper tantrum?

Were they like a bunch of irresponsible college students skipping class in order to hit the beach?

Were they playing hookey or have they actually dropped out?

Is this an "I don't have to and you can't make me. You're not the boss of me" moment?

Isn't it curious that you don't hear these obvious questions bandied about much in the Western media? You don't hear Washington pols raising them either.

Think about it. The notionally sovereign government of Iraq having the nerve to stage a soft mutiny against Washington even as the Baghdad parliament begins to collapse.

We may be seeing the endgame in Iraq orchestrated not from half a world away but by the Iraqis themselves. Maybe they know what we haven't been willing to recognize - that the Iraqi state is now so broken, it can't be fixed.

Gates Apologia

If anyone needed any proof that the US effort in Iraq is still as muddled and inept as it was from the moment the first American tank rolled across the border, all they needed to do was listen to Rumsfeld's successor, Robert Gates' remarks in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

"We probably all underestimated the depth of the mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation which, let's face it, is not just some sort of secondary kind of thing.

"The kinds of legislation they're talking about establish the framework of Iraq for the future, so it's almost like our constitutional convention."

Probably underestimated the depth of mistrust? Just what planet have these people been on for the past four years? This isn't a mistake, some sort of oversight - it's full-bore incompetence. It's also a shocking admission of hubris - Washington continuing to believe that it will shape the future of the Iraqi peoples. This is the thinking of idiots and morons.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Transforming Science Into Policy

A two-day meeting is underway at the United Nations to try to find effective, global policies to combat global warming. From Environment News Service:

The two day informal debate that opened today is the first devoted exclusively to climate change. Delegates are seeking to translate the growing scientific consensus on the problem into a broad political consensus for action following alarming UN reports earlier this year on its potentially devastating effects.

[UN Secretary General] Ban ki-Moon called for "new thinking" to tackle the challenge, since how it is addressed "will define us, our era, and ultimately, our global legacy." He is convening a high-level meeting on climate change when the new Assembly session starts in September.

Ban highlighted the need for a comprehensive global agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Kyoto Protocol, the international community's current framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, expires in 2012, and Ban said countries must agree on a successor pact to be ready for ratification by 2009 to allow countries to enact it into law before the Kyoto Protocol expires.

President of the General Assembly Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa spoke of the "cruel irony" of the disproportionate effects of climate change on the countries least responsible for it.

"Greater variations of rainfall, combined with rising sea levels, will lead to more extreme weather, particularly in parts of Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America," she said at the opening of today's meeting. "We therefore have a special responsibility to help those countries most affected to adapt to climate change."

Sunita Narain, director of the Indian Centre for Science and Environment, said the debate over climate change, "is locked in the politics of the past. How to move ahead is the issue at hand."

Coming Soon - NEWS TRUST

Controlling the news is one of the surest ways to subvert democracy. It's what spin is all about and why it's so popular in a certain band of the political spectrum. Spin undermines informed consent. Media manipulation pays huge dividends. Big Oil knows that. Big Pharma knows that. So do the politicians in their pockets.

It's not uncommon in surfing media websites to find remarkably different takes on the same story. That's usually a sign that one side is manipulating the truth. Too often we're left unable to decide who and what to believe. Fortunately, that may be about to change.

Enter News Trust. It's creators describe it as: a social network model which uses the intellect of the masses to rate all manner of news content and news sources. ... In beta now and due out in early 2008, Newstrust will not only be a stand-alone site where consumers can come to find the best journalism as ranked by an army of volunteer media reviewers, but more importantly it will (we can hope) be deployed over all manner of online news sources so that readers will on any news-related website see an objective rating of that site's quality and of specific news content.

The concept is intriguing. Deceit and propaganda are the creations of a small core of players. Their numbers have to be limited to avoid exposure. An "army of volunteer media reviewers" may just hold the antidote to the spinmeisters.

If you're interested, check it out at

Too Lazy to be President?

Are Fred Thompson's presidential aspirations over before they even began?

The guy once thought to be the Republican's dark horse candidate may be heading out to pasture. According to The Independent the Law & Order actor's pre-campaign campaign has hit the doldrums.

The former senator's fundraising campaign set a target of $5-million for June but raked in only $3-mill. And Thompson's image doesn't seem to be holding up all that well.

Republican analysts fear he may have missed his moment. Party hopes soared earlier this year when he first hinted that he might enter the race, filling a gap in the field on the right. Mr Thompson was hailed as a true believer, with the Reaganesque star power to win the presidency in what is bound to be a difficult year for Republicans.

But although he comes second or third in many polls, procrastination has cost him some of his lustre. He also has a reputation for laziness, and there are claims that he does not have the energy for presidential campaign.

Leave Them Be

The plankton absorb it right out of the water. Then the krill eat the plankton and they absorb it into their bodies. The herring eat the krill and they absorb what the plankton and the krill ate. The large fish eat the herring and they absorb into their bodies what began with the plankton and then passed through the krill and the herring all along the chain. Finally the big fish and all their contaminants wind up in the bellies of the mammals - the orca, for example - who steadily build up dangerous levels of toxins such as mercury and PCBs.

It's a process called "bio-concentration" and it threatens the very survival of aquatic life, especially at the top of the food chain. Unfortunately many of these toxins concentrate in the flesh of the prey fish, instead of being eliminated, and give rise to a cumulative build-up as they move up the food chain.

Humans, at least those with a taste for marine mammals, can find themselves next in line. There's currently an uproar in Japan, a country that likes to dine on these creatures. School children in rural Japan get fed whale meat for lunch and it's now been discovered to have mercury contamination 10-12 times higher than recommended limits.

The meat is taken from short-fin pilot whales, a species of dolphin. With whaling season just around the corner, this meat was to be sent to schools throughout Japan. It's ironic but maybe the mercury might just be the salvation of Japan's pilot whales.

Canadians Want Different Afghan Mission

One in five Canadians strongly supports "the mission" in Afghanistan. Polling, however, suggests that can jump to one in two if Canada changes the focus of the effort to shift away from security/combat and into diplomacy and human rights efforts.

The Toronto Star reports that Canadians polled became much more enthusiastic about the mission when told of the non-military aspects.

...almost half of all respondents registered their strong support, when those surveyed were told about Canada's diplomacy and development efforts, such as ensuring human rights for women and supporting democratic institutions.

Combined with those who said they "somewhat" backed a mission that is balanced between combat and aid, support topped out at 83 per cent, compared with 44 per cent who supported the mission without being prompted about the development work that is being done.

"Support (for the mission) increased significantly after hearing more about Canada's role," says a summary of the findings by pollster Ipsos Reid.

What's not clear is just what the respondents were told about the mission's non-military aspects and the actual conditions on the ground in Afghanistan.

The Testicle Election

Even Hillary's sporting a pair. The 2008 American presidential election is being fueled by pure testosterone. Each candidate, on both sides, wants to show that he/she has the biggest pair on the circuit. The Repugs seem to be the most afflicted. Shia, Sunni - what does it matter? Nuke'em all! They can't tell one Muslim from another but they sure have an appetite for killing a lot of them.

Now the Dems - the Demutantes - are jumping in after them. At the moment, Hillary's pair beats Obama's but he's fighting back. Why today he's going to be giving a speech where he says - if I was President, why I'd damn well invade Pakistan. From the Guardian:
Mr Obama said the focus on Iraq had left the US in more danger than before the September 11 2001 attacks, adding that Mr Bush had misrepresented the enemy as Iraqis fighting a civil war instead of the terrorists responsible for the attacks six years ago.

He said that, as US commander in chief, he would remove troops from Iraq and put them "on the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan", adding that he would send at least two more brigades to Afghanistan and increase non-military aid to the country by $1bn .

It would be nice if America did relocate its military from Iraq to Afghanistan, really nice. That said, to designate Pakistan as "the right battlefield" is not terribly helpful to America's best ally in its war on terror - Pervez Musharraf. He's in enough trouble right now without some Yank promising the Pakistani people to make their country America's battlefield.

At the moment, Hillary's pair is leading Obama's pair among Democrats by a 43-22% margin. The polls also show that either pair, however, is big enough to beat Republican frontrunner, Guiliani's. For the Democrats, it sounds like this election is in the bag.

He'll Make Sure of It

The creepiest and possibly most dishonest vice president in American history, the Dick, is hyping the success of the surge in Iraq.

Having transformed an entire nation into one, enormous humanitarian disaster, Cheney says the next report on Iraq will show "significant progress" in the war. Cheney told CNN's Larry King, "The reports I'm hearing from people whose views I respect indicate that the Petraeus plan is in fact producing results."

What few seem to be noticing is the shell game going on here. The purpose of the "surge" was to allow the Maliki government to stabilize and establish a system of laws to unite the country and resolve sectarian differences. That hasn't happened, not a bit of it. So, instead of coming to grips with the reality of that total failure, Bush/Cheney are going to instead say American troops aren't getting shot up as badly as they used to. Therefore we're winning. Not.

Progress on the battlefield was not what this was about - not until now. With nothing else to show for the effort - nada, zip, zilch - they'll change the groundrules and award themselves a great victory. It's what liars and losers do.

Meanwhile, remember what the face of American success in Iraq really looks like. One in three Iraqis in urgent need of emergency aid. 40% of the country's doctors, teachers and engineers gone. Two million refugees abroad and another two million displaced in country. 70% without adequate access to clean water. 80% without adequate sanitation. 92% of children with war-related learning difficulties. 800,000 kids dropped out. Sparse to, at times, non-existent electricity service. Severe fuel shortages in a country awash in oil. A government in tatters. Civil wars smouldering. Elections looming that will see the Kurds and Shia veto their country's constitution. This is the face of Cheney's Iraq. How successful does that sound to you?

The leader of the free world is a cheap fraud. And yes, the September report will be glowing, you can count on it. That Dick will see to it personally.