Friday, November 30, 2007

Mission Accomplished, Jerk. Russia Suspends CFE Treaty

Dammit, where is Lee Harvey Oswald now that we need him?

You may never have heard of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty but it was a critical element in easing of military tensions between West and East at the end of the Cold War. That was the deal where we all said we were going to play nice for a change so that we could get a good night's sleep at long last.

It worked real well for a while until a moronic frat boy and his diseased, demonic sidekick arrived on the scene and decided to stir things up by putting missiles and radars on the other side's doorstep.

The upshot of this Oval Office lunacy? Big Vlad Putin has signed a law suspending the CFE. From the New York Times:

"The treaty, signed in the last days of the Cold War, limited the number of tanks, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, artillery and other heavy weapons that both NATO and Russia could deploy in Western Europe and the western part of Russia.

The U.S., the European Union and NATO had all urged Russia not to suspend the treaty, which was regarded in Europe as a cornerstone agreement in maintaining security on the continent."

America's Number One Nitwit has done a truly monstrous job at shredding the fabric of peace woven with enormous effort by his predecessors. Like an unruly little punk he got away with it because there was no one around able to slap him down when he needed it.

Now we have arms races foraging ahead in every corner of the northern hemisphere. Why? So these despicable Chickenhawks who ducked the fight at every turn when it was their turn can now act tough, maybe even manly. What a joke.

Who Says Brian Mulroney Took a Dime from Schreiber?

Ask yourself this, when did Brian Mulroney admit taking $300,000 from Karlheinz Schreiber? When has he acknowledged taking Dime One from Schreiber? Have you ever heard him say it? Have you ever read where he's actually said it to anyone? I haven't and I'll bet neither have you.

We've heard Schreiber say it. We've learned about it in the great reporting from the Fifth Estate and the Globe & Mail but I can't recall anyone even getting a chance to ask Mulroney if he got the $300,000 he's alleged to have received.

Okay, okay, I know, Mulroney's supposed spokesman, Luc Lavoie, seems to have acknowledged the fact, even called it his boss's worst mistake. But that's Luc Lavoie, not Brian Mulroney. We've all heard about Mulroney promoting Schreiber's pasta venture of the Bear Head armoured vehicle plant proposal - but we haven't heard that from the mouth of the one guy who, at this point, truly matters - Martin Brian Mulroney.

Coming into the upcoming inquiry, Mulroney is seemingly trapped by facts. No one can know what he's facing better than Mulroney and his counsel. But take a hard look at the facts that confront him. For all we know, he may have a case built up that will blow Schreiber out of the water and make Lavoie look like an ill-informed,loud-mouth klutz.

Schreiber is vulnerable, that much we know. Lavoie can always say he was working from assumptions. Get enough of the clutter out of the way and all Brian Mulroney may have to overcome is Brian Mulroney.

That's not to say he doesn't have a lot of explaining to do. It's merely to say that a lot of what appear to be hurdles that lie in his path probably aren't as daunting as we might see them. What I'm also saying is that we're beginning to let assumptions get the better of us and, in these matters, that's like leading with your chin.

Has Hillary Peaked?

For a while she was seen as having a virtual lock on the Democratic presidential nomination. Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, that was then, this is now and she still has a lot of "now" left before Dems decide who will run for them in 2008.

Hillary's problem isn't money or profile. It certainly isn't Bill. It's the American people. They don't like her. It's not that they disagree with her policies, they just find her disagreeable. When Zogby reports that fully 50% of Americans say they would "never" vote for her, a number that's trending upwards, Hillary slips from the asset column into the liability column for the Democrats.

Worse still, she continues to bleed. She led Obama by 23 points in September, that's now down to 14 and falling.

It's bold and ambitious having the two top candidates, a woman and a black, when Americans have never elected anyone but a white man to the job. But will it get the job done for the Democrats in November? Can the Dems afford to take the chance of losing the White House? If the Democrats field a black or a woman and that person loses in an election that is very much the Dems to lose, when will a woman or a black even be considered seriously again?

The Walls Close In on Brian Mulroney

How is he going to talk his way out of this one?

Until today I figured Mulroney was going to claim he earned the $300,000 he received from Karlheinz Schreiber by promoting the Thyssen/Bear Head armoured vehicle project. The story about Schreiber's pasta business seems to have turned into a pile of damp semolina, so the weapons plant seemed to be the last refuge.

Except the door on that one seems to have been slammed shut by Mulroney's own former top aide, Norman Spector. In a Canadian Press interview, Spector confirmed that Mulroney did indeed intervene to support the project to build light-armoured vehicles in Nova Scotia. The only problem is that, if he got paid by Schreiber for his services, this was long before Mulroney stepped down as Prime Minister.

Spector has added to the record being instructed by Mulroney to make Bear Head a reality. With that, Mulroney was transforming the proposal from a bureaucratic issue into a political matter. Spector also said that the sun set on the Bear Head deal when he informed Mulroney that the project would cost the government $100-million.

The ever dutiful scribe, Spector was even able to tell Canadian Press the date of the final discussion 16 December, 1990, and Mulroney's response: "In that case, the project is dead."

This seems to suggest that the Bear Head business was over, as far as Mulroney was concerned, in late 1990, while he was still prime minister.

If Bear Head is ruled out and the pasta story is just that, a story, what's left? Don't look at me, I'm not even going to say that.

After Drought, Rain Can Be Deadly

After an extended drought you might think that heavy rainfall would be welcome. Not always. In fact, in parts of California recently swept by brush fires, the rain can turn out to be even more deadly.

The fires wiped out trees and brush, vegetation that is essential in preventing flash floods and mudslides when the rain hits.

In parts of San Diego county, rainfalls as heavy as two inches, caused evacuation orders to be issued in some canyons. Malibu is also under a rain watch.

Gay Rights for the US Military

28-retired US generals and admirals have signed a letter to Congress asking that gays and lesbians in the American military be treated like first-class citizens. The group want Congress to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law.

President Bill Clinton wanted a total end to the ban on homosexuals serving in the US military but was forced to accept the "don't ask, don't tell" law as a compromise.

Among Democrats, Senators John Edwards and Barak Obama are strong supporters for scrapping the existing law. Obama compares it to the integration of blacks in the armed forces as both a moral issue and an achievable goal.

The Pentagon, however, isn't showing much enthusiasm at moving to fully integrate homosexuals in the armed services. No Republican presidential candidate supports scrapping "don't ask, don't tell."

Evel's Last Ride

Evel Knievel has jumped the celestial Snake River Canyon. The 69-year old daredevil died today from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis.
I think he wrote his own epitaph: ''No king or prince has lived a better life. You're looking at a guy who's really done it all. And there are things I wish I had done better, not only for me but for the ones I loved.''

Vancouver's Game Mascots

Some clever BC'er figured out how to tweak the Vancouver game mascots

An Offer Too Good to Refuse? Yeah, Sure

The Toronto Star has a John Wayne moment today, an article describing how Canadian army officers in Panjwai are getting all macho with the villagers. Here's an account of an ultimatum given the local chiefs:

"Align with us against the Taliban, the Canadians told the chieftains, and the people of embattled Panjwaii will reap untold rewards, starting with a large stack of Ottawa-and-Washington-backed development dollars poised for the first whisper of actual security.

"Remain mere observers to lawless insurgency and – here comes the stick – Panjwaii will be forgotten. Unless the elders soon seize their tribal entitlement to power and influence and take a stand, the spoils of stability will go to a more hospitable patch of Kandahar province.

"Though the ultimatum came without a deadline, there was an unmistakable urgency in the Canadian message yesterday to a rare full quorum of the Panjwaii tribal council. Repeated separately by three different officers, the or-else scenario was clear. Just how deeply the warning registered with the Afghan elders, less so."

The reality of the ultimatum is that it asks the chiefs to sign their own death warrants - for themselves and their families.

To accept this deal the villagers need to know that Canada will maintain sizeable forces in and around their villages, 24/7 for ever and ever amen. Because, if we don't, (and we won't) the Taliban will do what they always do. They'll come into their villages and kill them and their families for collaborating. Barbaric as that is, it's how insurgencies function. And, according to the report, the villagers know the deal:

"You tell me, how can we provide security?" asked Haji Ghulam Rasool, representative of the Noorzai clan in council, who said the foreign soldiers have an inflated sense of the tribal leaders' leverage over the local population.

"We are empty, we don't have weapons. I am a leader, but I am also really just a farmer. The authority of the tribe is weak. And until we have something in our hands to offer, plus stronger police and government to back us up, how are we supposed to act?"

The worst part of this ultimatum nonsense is that it has put the Canadian forces' credibility on the block. We've given them an offer they can't afford to accept and threatened them with consequences we can't afford to impose. They don't have much choice but to call our bluff. Are we going to let Panjwai fall under the control of the Taliban because the villagers don't have the ability to hold them off? Whatever we do, the result will say a lot more about us than about the chiefs or the Taliban and it'll be a message that'll spread quickly throughout Kandahar.

What a boneheaded stunt.

The US Supreme Court's Mute

US Supreme Court judge Clarence Thomas is never short of words when he wants to slag liberals but, on the bench, he's a mute.

This guy has to be the most disinterested judge in history, save for those old farts who just nod off (they really do exist, truste me). The thing is, Clarence somehow stays awake and yet he still has nothing to say.

Now, good judges usually allow counsel to have their say without undue interruptions. Every now and then, though, especially at the appellate level, they do need to question how a lawyer contends certain case law or statutes ought to be applied to the facts of a given case. It's at the highest levels that the law truly evolves to suit society's evolution.

So what's the deal with Thomas? In the course of this year's hearings, US Supreme Court justices spoke out 2,244 times. Justice Thomas' contribution to the legal discourse? 0, nothing, nil, nada... zip.

In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal's law blog, Supreme Court Justice Thomas, hasn't even farted since February, 2006. He's not asked a question, he's not made a comment, in almost two years.

No wonder he's got time to write tomes slagging liberals.

Has It Really Come to This?

Is the best way to deal with climate change to arm ourselves to kill off those we've harmed most?

That's Naomi Klein's take on an apparent recent surge in investment bucks, not toward green technologies, but into the weapons and security industries.

Klein gets this hot tip from "Douglas Lloyd, a director of Venture Business Research, which tracks trends in venture capitalism. 'I expect investment activity in this sector to remain buoyant,' he said recently. Lloyd's bouncy mood was inspired by the money that is gushing into private security and defence companies. He added: 'I also see this as a more attractive sector, as many do, than clean energy.'"

"According to Lloyd, the really big money - despite all the government incentives - is turning away from clean-energy technologies, and is banking instead on gadgets that promise to seal wealthy countries and individuals into hi-tech fortresses.

"So why is "homeland security", not green energy, the hot new sector? Perhaps because there are two distinct business models that can respond to our climate and energy crisis. We can develop policies and technologies to get us off this disastrous course. Or we can develop policies and technologies to protect us from those we have enraged through resource wars and displaced through climate change, while simultaneously shielding ourselves from the worst of both war and weather. (The ultimate expression of this second option is in Hummer's new television adverts: the gas-guzzler is seen carrying its cargo to safety in various disaster zones, followed by the slogan "HOPE: Hummer Owners Prepared for Emergencies". It's a bit like the Marlboro man doing grief counselling in a cancer ward.) In short, we can choose to fix, or we can choose to fortress. Environmental activists and scientists have been yelling for the fix. The homeland security sector, on the other hand, believes the future lies in fortresses.

"As Lloyd explains: 'The failure rate of security businesses is much lower than clean-tech ones; and, as important, the capital investment required to build a successful security business is also much lower.' In other words, finding solutions for real problems is hard, but turning a profit from those problems is easy.

"Bush wants to leave our climate crisis to the ingenuity of the market. Well, the market has spoken: it will not take us off this disastrous course. In fact, the smart money is betting that we will stay on it."

Is Klein just some Doomsday fantasist? I wish but I don't think so. This is a candle we're burning at both ends - increasing carbon emissions at one end, time to implement practical solutions at the other. As those two ends draw ever nearer, the pressures of climate change(compounded by other environmental challenges such as desertification, water exhaustion, resource depletion, peak oil and all the other problems) will inevitably draw more and more support toward defensive options over the remedial alternatives.

Unfortunately, I agree with Mr. Lloyd. In the West, too many people don't want to really think about these problems and what is really needed to deal with them. If you want examples of how populations in great nations from the past either didn't see or chose to simply ignore what was consuming their civilizations, read Jared Diamond's great book "Collapse." As a species, we're quite capable of doing ourselves in, we really are. We're also capable of overcoming enormous challenges, but only when we make conscious decisions - in time - to solve our problems.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Playing Semantics With Global Warming

Define "major emitters."

EnviroMin John Baird revealed his disingenous commitment to the fight against global warming today when he fell back on the old saw that all major emitters of greenhouse gases must agree to reduce their emissions or there'll be no deal, at least not for Canada.

Of course, Baird's con game is to ignore per capita emissions and consider solely total emissions. That completely ignores population disparities among nations. For example, India is now a "major emitter" of GHGs based on its overall population but not when you work out how much the average Indian emits compared to the average Canadian.

Baird wants a sweetheart deal for the white folks, you and me. We'll pretend we're not the real problem and haven't been for the past half century or better.

It's clearly open to the Indians to argue that they'll meet our conditions just as soon as Canada's per capita GHG emission levels come down to their own. How patently unreasonable. That would mean we'd have to cut our emissions by 90% or more, just for starters. Don't these backward (i.e. non-white) types know that we have some God-given right to be energy hogs and GHG swine? It's not our fault if they come in at a billion plus population.
Maybe what Baird should be saying is what he really means. If you want to play in our league, get rid of a billion or so of your people and then we'll have a level playing field. Now don't forget, Baird and Harper are the same Con-men who won't give up their "intensity-based" swindle for the TarSands.

Defending the Great Lakes

U.S. environmentalists are calling for stronger laws to defend the Great Lakes against demands for fresh water from the drought-striken southern states. From the Buffalo News:

“The Great Lakes are facing the one-two punch of global warming and water diversion,” said Noah Hall, an environmental law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit and a co-author of the report. “We have known for many years that existing laws are inadequate to protect the Great Lakes from diversions and overuse. Now we know that climate change is certain to put additional stress and pressure on the Great Lakes.”

The National Wildlife Foundation published the report, with the backing of Environmental Advocates of New York and five other environmental groups from across the Great Lakes states.

In some ways, Lake Erie, because it’s a very shallow lake, is facing a bigger problem,” Hall said. “This could really change the surface area and the shoreline.”

More shoreline will be exposed, thereby making current lakefront properties less attractive, the report said. In addition, docks and marinas may have to be relocated, and ships may have to reduce the amount of cargo they carry to avoid scraping bottom.

And that would be just the beginning of the region’s problems. Noting that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate, recently suggested a national water policy — and said “Wisconsin is awash in water” — environmentalists fear that the parched Southwest and South could try to divert water from the Great Lakes.

Great Lakes states have a chance to prevent that by ratifying — and getting Congress to ratify — the Great Lakes Compact as soon as possible, environmentalists said.

The proposed compact is an eight-state agreement that would call for joint management of the Great Lakes. The deal also would ban new or increased water diversions either within the Great Lakes basin or to other parts of the country.

If you think this problem is overblown, take some time to look through southern papers such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Then head west and check out some papers from Nevada and Arizona. There's a very serious drought going on down there and that's coupled with enormous population growth over the past two decades. Something has to give.

Mountie Who Shot Ian Bush Exonerated

The head of the commission for complaints against the RCMP has ruled that Constable Paul Koester acted in self-defence when he shot and killed Ian Bush.

"After carefully considering the circumstances, I concluded that Constable Koester had a reasonable apprehension of death and believed that he could not otherwise preserve himself from death other than to use lethal force. Accordingly, Constable Koester acted in self-defence."

Here's the nub of the problem. From Global News:

"Koester, who stands 6-4 and weighs 180 pounds, insisted the six-foot, 187-pound laborer was atop his back choking the life out of him when he managed to free his gun.

In a physical feat even RCMP investigators conceded was worthy of a contortionist, the Constable got the gun behind his own back, up to the back of Bush's head and shot him.

He refused to reenact what happened for investigators and the coroner's inquest that was held earlier this year. "

Koester "refused to re-enact" this amazing feat but you can try it for yourself. Lie on the ground. Have a friend stradle your back and place his hands around your throat. Then, face down, reach around behind your back and point your finger into the back of your friend's head. Don't worry about the extra distance that would be required to accomodate a gun, just try it with your finger. See if you can "re-enact" the shooting of Ian Bush. Then ask yourself why no one, including Koester, has been able to re-enact this self-defence shooting scenario. And then draw your own conclusions.

Paul Kennedy's punchline came in this astonishing finding: Kennedy said the RCMO conducted a highly professional investigation "free from any manner of conflict of interest, bias or partiality" into the slaying. Here's how the investigation into one of their own was conducted, you be the judge:

The force didn't interrogate the shooter, Koester, for three months after the killing. Investigators succumbed to the constable's demands that they submit questions in writing to him in advance. Koester was obviously treating the incident as a homicide, why weren't the investigators?

Free from any manner of conflict of interest? When the RCMP investigates one of its own there's an inherent appearance of conflict of interest. When you don't talk to the shooter for three months and then give him your questions in advance, that smacks of bias and partiality. Sorry Mr. Kennedy, you'll have to do better than that.

If It Walks Like a Duck

Trying to uncover what actually transpired between two suspect individuals is rarely easy and the outcome is even more rarely tidy. Counsel trying to unravel questionable dealings don't count on finding the great smoking gun. It does happen, but rarely. Instead, they usually have to be content with uncovering a fabric of little lies, half truths and inconsistencies. It's the way they point when they're all put together that settles the issue.

How does one go about that? There are techniques that can be pretty effective. One of these is to steer clear of the principals at the outset. Leave them be while you pursue paper trails and get the evidence of knowledgeable third parties. There'll usually be some credible individuals out on the periphery of any suspect deal - lawyers, bankers, managers, clerical staff - the sort of people involved in any legitimate deal. Individually they may not have the big picture but it can be astonishing how much they know about key parts of the scheme.

What you get, or hope to get, from this approach of working from the periphery toward the centre are building blocks of evidence. They may seem almost useless until you find something else with which they fit and, gradually, you may get to something that becomes recongizable. One makes sense of something else or corroborates part of the emerging picture.

Slowly what develops will become more focused and directed. That's when you can tuck your documents, facts and analyses into your pocket and start talking to the principals.

Let's say somebody claims to have been involved in a particular venture or project. If they're telling the truth there ought to be documentary evidence to corroborate their claims. What if there's not? Then it depends whether the venture looks suspicious. If it looks like a duck and waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, the court is entitled to suspect that it is indeed a duck. Having come to that suspicion, the court is then properly entitled to call upon the people who claim it isn't and never was a duck to come up with corroboration.

Enter Koop v. Smith, a 1915 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. The case involved a fraudulent conveyance but is useful for its wider discussion of badges of fraud and shifting onus of proof:

"Suspicious circumstances coupled with the close relationship between the transferee and the debtor make a sufficient prima facie case of fraud. From that point, the burden of producing credible evidence substantiating the transaction is upon those who set it up. If substantial valuable consideration is truly given for a transfer of lands, there must be better evidence of it than the recitals in the deed and the land transfer tax affidavit."

I think that this principle should apply to the Mulroney-Schreiber dealings. There was a close relationship going back to Mulroney's leadership bid. There are plenty of suspicious circumstances to be found in the record of both men. Mulroney's story has changed at least twice and his current position directly contradicts his sworn testimony many years ago. Schreiber too has changed his story when that has suited him.

I think there is an abundance of suspicious circumstances in this scandal to place a clear onus on Brian Mulroney to come up with "credible evidence substantiating the transaction" as he now alleges it. At the very least, Brian Mulroney has to come up with $300,000 worth of corroboration and that's a lot of paper and a lot of witnesses. And if he somehow manages to do just that? Well then he needs to explain why he said something entirely different at the outset.

Schreiber Talks - Sort Of

After telling the Commons ethics committee he wouldn't talk, Karlheinz Schreiber talked - sort of. News accounts show he hasn't exactly been a responsive witness but he did make a couple of interesting points.

Mulroney has said he earned the cash from Schreiber by representing his business ventures, in particular a pasta business. Schreiber told the committee today there never was a pasta business. "It had nothing to do with any pasta business. It simply didn't exist.”

Schreiber also says he had $500,000 for Mulroney but he stopped paying after the first $300,000 because Mulroney wasn't producing.

He told the committee that he wants to go through his documents before testifying, adding those papers are in Switzerland, Toronto and Ottawa.

Schreiber is apparently due back before the committee next Tuesday.

Karlheinz Dummies Up

Karlheinz Schreiber knows the only thing anyone wants from him now is what he knows about the Airbus affair and his pal, Brian Mulroney.

The artful dodger intends to keep what he knows to himself, hoping against hope to cut some deal. In other words, Schreiber, under subpoena to tell all, is defying parliament to extract a deal. In my books that's extortion.

Schreiber, or probably his lawyers, have crafted his objections rather neatly. He won't testify - not quite yet. First he has to go through his papers, refresh his memory. Now, that one's reasonable. It's the second one that's cute. He doesn't want to talk until his extradition case is resolved. What he's saying is that (a) he's currently before the courts in a dispute with the federal government, (b) what he has to say may be damaging to this same government, so (c) he doesn't want to prejudice his extradition case by speaking prematurely.

Of course, the other way to look at this is that Schreiber is saying he won't talk if he's going to a German cell anyway.

Here's something I'd love to know. Schreiber says he has a raft of documents and correspondence in his Ottawa home dealing with this business. Why has no one sought a search warrant for those papers? Why would anyone allow Schreiber to cull them and possibly cherrypick what suits his purposes?

If Karlheinz is going to dummy up, let's get that on the record and get rid of him, just as soon as the court has heard his final cry for help. But let's also get those papers and see just what story they tell.
And then, let's subpoena Schreiber's former lawyer, Robert Hladun. We should get Hladun's evidence about the overtures supposedly made to him by Mulroney and Mulroney's lawyer seeking a written statement from Schreiber claiming that no money changed hands between them.
Solicitor-client privilege is broad but it's far from absolute and I think this particular exchange would probably not be protected. Hladun's discussions about it with Schreiber may be privileged but I fail to see how the actual discussions he had with Mulroney or his counsel would be covered. He owes them no privilege. As I've said before, I thin Hladun could be the smoking gun in this one. If I was counsel to the committee, I'd be serving that subpoena on him this afternoon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

God Made Him Do It. No, Really.

Richard Roberts, son of Oral, has announced his resignation from his post as president of Oral Roberts University.

Roberts told an assembly of students that God told him on Thanksgiving that he should retire the very next day.

Oral Roberts U has sunk into a pile of scandal lately. Ricky is being sued for lavish, personal spending habits while the U sunk $50-mill into debt. Then there are claims that his wife, Lindsay, has had a thing for some of the very young, male students.

Roberts said God told him he would ``do something supernatural for the university'' if he stepped down from the job he held at the 5,700-student school since 1993. Amen, brother.

How The Other "Earth" Went Astray

The other "earth" is Venus and a European probe, called the Venus Express, is shedding light on how that planet, and ours, took differing paths. It all comes down to the "greenhouse gas effect". From The Guardian:

Scientists had puzzled over Venus's hellish characteristics. It is roughly the same size as Earth, with a roughly similar orbit. Both planets began life with similar atmospheres, but Venus underwent a ferocious greenhouse effect that left it with an atmosphere made up almost entirely of CO2 and almost no water.

"Earth and Venus were pretty much identical to start with ... It really made you think the physics was different, which obviously it couldn't be," said Prof Fredric Taylor at Oxford University. Some scientists had thought that Venus's proximity to the sun was key to its transformation, but the new data suggests a different explanation: "It's not evil, just unfortunate." Venus Express's data appear in a set of paper's in today's edition of Nature.

One finding is that the solar wind - a stream of charged particles from the sun - is stripping away water molecules from the atmosphere by breaking them into atoms of hydrogen and oxygen and blasting them into space. That cannot happen on Earth because its rotation creates a magnetic field that diverts the solar wind. Without water, CO2 in the atmosphere could not be laid down in oceans as carbonate rocks. "[On Earth] it's all in the white cliffs of Dover and places like that," said Taylor. The CO2-rich atmosphere led to a runaway greenhouse effect.

Venus Express has also found some intriguing features of the atmosphere. One instrument detecting electromagnetic frequencies has observed the tell-tale signature of lightning, something some scientists did not think was possible. "It is like some sort of echo," said Dr Magda Delva at the space research unit at the Austrian academy of sciences in Graz. "If you have lightning then chemical reactions are possible that would not under normal conditions take place ... At least on Earth this was important for the beginning of life."

Big Business (British) Goes Green

Some of Britain's biggest companies - car makers, airlines, banks and retailers - have joined together, pledging to offer greener products and pursue research into ways to reduce carbon emissions.

The group, which includes British Petroleum, Tesco and British Telephone, intend to set the standard for regular monitoring and reporting of carbon emissions, investing in technology and emission reducing products and promoting greener behaviour by their employees.

The 18-companies involved employ more than two million people worldwide and generate revenues of two trillion dollars annually. The group is to release a report on Monday setting out its plans. It notes that the real responsibility for cutting emissions lies with consumers who, through their purchases, directly influence some 60% of Britain's carbon emissions.

Deja Vu

Decisions, decisions. What's a president to do? According to CNN, these are some of the decisions beguiling the president:

" to get the Saudis more involved in solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, how to get them more engaged against terrorism, how to address the Arab view that the United States always sides with Israel and how to build up moderate Palestinians to counter extremists."

The president, however, wasn't George w. Bush, but Richard m. Nixon.

Declassified documents just released by the Nixon library show Tricky Dick was dealing with almost the same issues that confront Bush three decades later. And, yes, Nixon was just as successful in dealing with them as Bush has been.

Success In Iraq - Maybe Not

A survey released today at, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, doesn't tally with many reports about great progress being made in Iraq.

"...the journalists—most of them veteran war correspondents—describe conditions in Iraq as the most perilous they have ever encountered, and this above everything else is influencing the reporting. A majority of journalists surveyed (57%) report that at least one of their Iraqi staff had been killed or kidnapped in the last year alone—and many more are continually threatened. “Seven staffers killed since 2003, including three last July,” one bureau chief wrote with chilling brevity. “At least three have been kidnapped. All were freed.”

A majority of journalists surveyed say most of the country is too dangerous to visit. Nine out of ten say that about at least half of Baghdad itself. Wherever they go, traveling with armed guards and chase vehicles is the norm for more than seven out of ten surveyed. "

The survey included responses from 111 journalists who have worked or are currently working in Iraq. The vast majority, 90 of them, were in Iraq when they took the survey or have worked there in 2007, and most have spent at least seven months in the country cumulatively since the war began.

The journalists are from 29 different news organizations (all of them U.S. based except for one) that have had staff in Iraq—including newspapers, wire services, magazines, radio, and network and cable TV. This represents, by best estimates, every news organization in the U.S. save one that has had a correspondent in Iraq for at least one month since January 2006.

He'll Be Back Before You Know It

It sounds as though Conrad Black has some hope of getting off lightly when he comes up before a Chicago judge for sentencing next month.

Right now the consensus is that Black can expect to get something in the range of 5 to 7-years if the judge accepts the findings of a court-ordered report. The pre-sentencing report disputes some of the claims the prosecution is making in seeing a 20-year term for Black.

The report concludes the amount actually lost was about $6-million, not the $32-million alleged by prosecutors, notes that the crime was not a "sophisticated" as in meticulously planned fraud, and that most of the misconduct happened outside the U.S.

The National Post reveals how overzealous Black's prosecutors can be. They're asking that "the relevant-conduct analysis should consider not only convicted conduct, but also acquitted and uncharged criminal conduct that is proved by a preponderance of evidence." Say what? They want the judge to assess Black's sentence by incorporating conduct for which he's either not been charged or has been acquitted? I don't much care for Connie but this is really piling on

Wonder what Babs is going to do. Will she dump Connie and go for a new suitor or will she hang around and wait for her Lordship to come back to her open arms?

Success in Iraq - Too Little, Too Late

By most accounts, conditions on the ground in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, have improved noticeably over the past two months. There's disagreement on why but the improvement is pretty well accepted.

The outlook on the war among the American people has certainly picked up. A Pew Research poll found that 48% now believe the war is going fairly well compared to just 30% last February. Yet this growing confidence hasn't translated into improved support for either the war or for George w. Bush.

The percentage of Americans who want their troops out soon has held at 54% compared to 53% last February. It was telling that the percentage of Americans who still believe the Iraq war will wind up poorly hasn't changed at all. The latest figures from Pew shows Bush's approval rating has actually fallen a few points to 30%. Probably the economy and subprime mortgage meltdown have offset any extra support Bush might have hoped for from Iraq.

The numbers seem to suggest that a lot of Americans made their minds up about this war some time ago and improvements now are too little, too late to change their minds.

Mulroney's Achilles Heel

It's reported that the Commons Ethics Committee will have government lawyers open the questioning of Karlheinz Schreiber when and if he appears before them tomorrow.

If it was up to me, my first question would be to ask Schreiber if he would release his former lawyer, Robert Hladun, from his privilege restrictions concerning any communications between Hladun, Brian Mulroney and Mulroney's lawyer, Gerard Tremblay, during October, 1999, pertaining to funds that passed from Schreiber to Mulroney or Frank Moores.

Why focus on this? The answer is contained in this account from the Fifth Estate of events said to have transpired on October 17, 1999:

October 17, 1999

"Mulroney contacts Schreiber's lawyer Robert Hladun and asks him to ask Schreiber for a written statement indicating that at no time did Mulroney solicit or receive compensation from Karlheinz Schreiber.

Gerard Tremblay phones Robert Hladun and asks for a letter to keep on file from Schreiber, which is not to be disseminated, so that he can send a letter to the CBC which "would in his opinion shut down the airing of the fifth estate story on the "Airbus"—October 20th.

Mulroney contacts Hladun and tells him he has instructed Tremblay to send a letter to the fifth estate "indicating that if there was the slightest implication that Mr. Schreiber, Mr. Moores and Brian Mulroney were involved in any way then there would be terrible consequences.

He would issue the letter but first wanted an assurance or comfort in writing from Mr. Schreiber saying that he would confirm what he had publicly on many occasions, that at no time did Brian Mulroney solicit or receive of any kind from Schreiber. Mulroney called Hladun again that day, at which time Mulroney was told "I was no sure whether or not a letter would be forthcoming."

These events, to my mind, could be the most troublesome for Mulroney because of what they say if they're true and because they can be confirmed or denied by a person whose integrity is not questioned, Robert Hladun.

If Hladun corroborates this account it would put Mulroney in the spot of having to explain why he personally contacted Schreiber's lawyer asking for a letter from Schreiber denying payments that even Mulroney himself now acknowledges he received. It would also make it vastly more difficult for Mulroney to lay on the blarney about what he said under oath in his lawsuit and why he forgot to declare this income for tax purposes until it was disclosed in the media. In other words, any guy who would try to pull this stunt has just kissed goodbye the benefit of the doubt.

If these events didn't happen I think Hladun would be eager to set the record straight, if only to extricate himself from the controversy.

Global Warming Tourism

This little fellow is the Asian Tiger mosquito. With much of the world getting warmer, he's been arriving at all sorts of new places.
The Asian Tiger is being blamed for spreading chikungunya fever to Italy. The Italians have been dealing with an outbreak of 300-cases of the fever. Before this outbreak there had only been one case of the fever recorded in that country.
The spread of this mosquito is of particular concern because of two other gifts it often carries - dengue fever and yellow fever. Dengue fever has a 7% fatality rate.
The spread of the Asian Tiger has been remarkable. It is now firmly established in much of Latin America, in a minimum of 26 states of the US, in parts of Africa and much of southern and parts of central Europe. In North America it's credited with spreading West Nile, eastern equine encephalomyelitis and Cache Valley virus.

But Will He Talk?

Karlheinz Schreiber is on his way to Ottawa. Opposition MPs want the Speaker to let Schreiber spend tonight in his house, hoping that might make him more co-operative when he appears tomorrow before the ethics committee.

Will Schreiber talk? That's the great unknown. What more can he say about Brian Mulroney and Frank Moores than he's already said, on camera, to CBC? Maybe there's not a lot more to tell, although it would be helpful, to everyone involved including Mulroney, to get Schreiber's account under oath and be able to test his statements through cross-examination.

Even if Schreiber dummies up that won't put an end to Mulroney's troubles. He's already got too many facts and claims on the record, either personally or through his spokesmen, to avoid having to answer a lot of tough questions.

My instincts tell me not to expect too much tomorrow. I'm guessing that Schreiber's performance will be a real letdown.

Pakistan's Taliban

“When planning a military expedition into Pashtun tribal areas, the first thing you must plan is your retreat. All expeditions into this area sooner or later end in retreat under fire.”
So wrote British general, Andrew Skeen, in the early 1900s in his guide to military operations in the Pashtun tribal belt.
While NATO and the US are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, so is the Pakistani army in the tribal lands of North and South Waziristan along the Afghan border. Taking the fight to the Pakistani Taliban is of critical importance to NATO. It's about the only means of denying the Afghan Talibs safe sanctuary to muster their forces and support operations in Afghanistan. So, how is the Pakistani army making out? According to the New York Times, about as well as one might expect:
The only consistent reports of offensive action by the Pakistani Army involve the use of helicopter gunships and artillery to attack militant compounds. Aerial assaults, when carried out without support from “boots on the ground,” serve but one purpose: they help sustain the illusion that the Pakistani government is taking effective action.

The truth is that the soldiers have lost the will to fight. Reports in the Indian press, based on information from the very competent Indian intelligence agencies, describe a Pakistani Army in disarray in the tribal areas. Troops are deserting and often refusing to fight their “Muslim brothers.”

Nothing illustrated this apathy more clearly than the capture of hundreds of troops in August by the Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud with nary a shot fired in resistance."
So, what are the options? Throw more money at Islamabad? If money would do the trick it would have worked by now. Stop throwing money at Islamabad? No one's sure how that would turn out. Invade Pakistan? Please, we can't handle the job in Afghanistan. We're already grossly understrength. Where would we find the tens of thousands of soldiers that would be needed to repeat the Victorian British blunders in the Khyber?
That's what we're up against, seemingly insoluble challenges. It's not that the Taliban are better fighters than our troops, they're not. Our soldiers are better, they've got vastly better weapons and support technologies, they have better communications and total air superiority, better mobility. So why can't we just mop the floor with these backward warriors?
The Taliban have a number of advantages we've not been able to neutralize. One of them is in recruiting. Afghanistan is dirt poor but the insurgents have access to narco-bucks from the country's booming opium trade. This allows them to "hire" recruits. However there's another way they get support and that draws on their fiercely-held tribal code of Pashtunwali, particularly Mla Tarr. This requires all members of a man's family capable of carrying a gun to rise up when he's attacked. It's sort of a "kill one, get three free" plan.
The insurgents also have the "home turf" advantage. They have nowhere else to go, nothing else to fight for and, in fact, they're fighting for everything they have, their homeland. For the Pashtun, whether it's the half in Pakistan or the half in Afghanistan, the Taliban are the home team. Even Karzai, the country's president and himself a Pashtun, knows it.

We have the tactical advantage in firepower and technology - useful for fighting a tactical battle. The insurgents have the strategic advantage of time, as much time as it takes to keep wearing us down until we get tired and frustrated enough to leave. Put simply, their strategic advantage trumps our tactical advantage in the long run.
So General Skeen knew a century ago what our leaders have yet to understand. We can kill these people until we can't find any more bullets and then we leave. If the powerful Pakistani army can't control the Pashtun of Waziristan, all we're doing in Afghanistan is blowing smoke.

Another NATO Oopsie!

NATO warplanes in the Afghan province of Nuristan bagged 14-reconstruction workers.

The victims were labourers for an Afghan company contracted by the Americans to do roadwork. They were asleep in their tents when the bombs arrived.

“We just collected pieces of flesh from our tired workers and put them in 14 coffins.” - Nurullah Jalali, the executive director of the construction company.

NATO says - and this will surprise you - they thought the workers were Taliban. Ya think?

Talk about killing two birds with one bomb - wiping out a reconstruction team and sending the victims' relatives directly to their nearest Taliban recruiting office.

UN Slams Harper

Stephen Harper may hope Canadians are dumb enough to believe he's sincere in working for global warming solutions but he's not fooling the folks at the United Nations.

Stevie's been outed. From CanWest:

"Canada has a long history of global leadership on global atmospheric environmental issues, from acid rain to ozone depletion and climate change," said the UN's Human Development Report. "Maintaining this tradition will require tough decisions."

The UN report said Canada could achieve greater reductions in carbon dioxide emissions than the goals set by the government, "but not with current policies."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Merry Christmas Debbie Shank

52-year old Deborah Shank won't be having much of a Christmas this year. She's just been Scrooged by her former employer, Wal-Mart.

Shank used to work for the retail giant at its store in Cape Girardieu, Mo., until seven years ago when the car she was driving was broadsided by a tractor-trailer. The accident left Shank with permanent brain damage, unable to walk or even communicate with her family.

Wal-Mart's employee health insurance plan picked up the woman's medical expenses - until - until, that is, her family settled with the trucking company involved for a not-so-whopping $417,000. Wal-Mart, which had paid about $470,000 for Shank's medical care demanded the money, all of it, and a federal court judge agreed. Update - On March 18th, 2008, the United States Supreme Court crushed the Shanks' last hope, dismissing, without reasons, their final appeal. A local paper in their state called the situation "Dickensian."

No question about it. Wal-Mart was legally entitled to scoop Shank's entire settlement, every last dime of it. And so it did.

Of course the Shanks didn't have this problem front and centre on their minds for very long. Shortly after Wal-Mart won its case their son Jeremy was killed in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times summed up Wal-Mart's greed quite succinctly:

Doing what the law allows isn't the same as doing the right thing, however. The company made itself whole at the expense of a helpless former employee who will never be whole again. Instead of having some resources to improve her care, Shank will receive only the basic services afforded her by Medicaid and Social Security. Nor will the trust fund be in a position to reimburse Medicaid (i.e., taxpayers), which stood to collect any unspent money upon Shank's death.

Wal-Mart has spent the last few years working hard to rebut health care reformers, labor unions, anti-globalization groups and other critics who've argued that it puts profits ahead of humanity. While its advertising campaigns try to put a friendlier spin on the company, its behavior toward Shank tells a different story. If Wal-Mart can't restrain itself, perhaps Congress should prevent health plans from draining settlements won by injured workers with more bills to pay.

Do yourself and the rest of us a favour this Christmas. Stop shopping yourself or your neighbour out of a job - just say no to Scrooge, shun Wal-Mart.

WMDs in Iraq - Finally There's Proof

A growing number of credible scientists are reporting on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They exist and they've been used, widely it seems. The WMDs they refer to weren't built by Saddam. They were American and British.

The WMDs are in the form of radiation contamination caused by the widespread use of depleted uranium shells.

So much ammunition containing depleted uranium(DU) has been fired, asserts nuclear authority Leuren Moret, "The genetic future of the Iraqi people for the most part, is destroyed."

"More than ten times the amount of radiation released during atmospheric testing (of nuclear bombs) has been released from depleted uranium weaponry since 1991," Moret writes, including radioactive ammunition fired by Israeli troops in Palestine.

Moret is an independent U.S. scientist formerly employed for five years at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and also at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, both of California.

Adds Arthur Bernklau, of Veterans For Constitutional Law, "The long- term effect of DU is a virtual death sentence. Iraq is a toxic wasteland. Anyone who is there stands a good chance of coming down with cancer and leukemia. In Iraq, the birth rate of mutations is totally out of control."

Moret, a Berkeley, Calif., Environmental Commissioner and past president of the Association for Women Geoscientists, says, "For every genetic defect that we can see now, in future generations there are thousands more that will be expressed."

She adds, "the (Iraq) environment now is completely radioactive."

I hope these experts are wrong, flat out wrong. I hope they're just making this stuff up to advance some scurrilous hidden agenda. I hope this is all some vast, loonie left conspiracy. But, if it is, it's a conspiracy involving a lot of prominent scientists:

Dr. Helen Caldicott, the prominent anti-nuclear crusader, has written: "Much of the DU is in cities such as Baghdad, where half the population of 5 million people are children who played in the burned- out tanks and on the sandy, dusty ground."

"Children are 10 to 20 times more susceptible to the carcinogenic effects of radiation than adults," Caldicott wrote. "My pediatric colleagues in Basra, where this ordnance was used in 1991, report a sevenfold increase in childhood cancer and a sevenfold increase in gross congenital abnormalities."

Because of the extremely long half-life of uranium 238, one of the radioactive elements in the shells fired, "the food, the air, and the water in the cradle of civilization have been forever contaminated," Caldicott explained.

Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, writes in his "The Sorrows of Empire"(Henry Holt and Co.) that, given the abnormal clusters of childhood cancers and deformities in Iraq as well as Kosovo, the evidence points "toward a significant role for DU."

By insisting on its use, Johnson adds, "the military is deliberately flouting a 1996 United Nations resolution that classifies DU ammunition as an illegal weapon of mass destruction."
Moret calls DU "the Trojan Horse of nuclear war." She describes it as "the weapon that keeps killing." Indeed, the half-life of Uranium-238 is 4.5-billion years, and as it decays it spawns other deadly radioactive by-products.

Radioactive fallout from DU apparently blew far and wide. Following the initial U.S. bombardment of Iraq in 2003, DU particles traveled 2,400 miles to Great Britain in about a week, where atmospheric radiation quadrupled.

The End of the American Empire

Chris Hedges is one of the most clear-headed writers in America today. A minister's son with a doctorate in divinity from Harvard, Hedges has worked as a war correspondent covering just about every American conflict since Grenada. In a column first published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Hedges laments the end of America's greatness:

"The most damning indicators of national decline are upon us. We have watched an oligarchy rise to take economic and political power. The top 1 percent of the population has amassed more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined, creating economic disparities unseen since the Depression. If Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes president, we will see the presidency controlled by two families for the last 24 years.

Massive debt, much of it in the hands of the Chinese, keeps piling up as we fund absurd imperial projects and useless foreign wars. Democratic freedoms are diminished in the name of national security. And the erosion of basic services, from education to health care to public housing, has left tens of millions of citizens in despair. The displacement of genuine debate and civil and political discourse with the noise and glitter of public spectacle and entertainment has left us ignorant of the outside world, and blind to how it perceives us. We are fed trivia and celebrity gossip in place of news.

An increasing number of voices, especially within the military, are speaking to this stark deterioration. They describe a political class that no longer knows how to separate personal gain from the common good, a class driving the nation into the ground.

"There has been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders," retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former commander of forces in Iraq, recently told the New York Times, adding that civilian officials have been "derelict in their duties" and guilty of a "lust for power."

The American working class, once the most prosperous on Earth, has been politically disempowered, impoverished and abandoned. Manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas. State and federal assistance programs have been slashed. The corporations, those that orchestrated the flight of jobs and the abolishment of workers' rights, control every federal agency in Washington, including the Department of Labor. They have dismantled the regulations that had made the country's managed capitalism a success for ordinary men and women. The Democratic and Republican Parties now take corporate money and do the bidding of corporate interests.

Nothing makes these diseased priorities more starkly clear than what the White House did last week. On the same day, Tuesday, President Bush vetoed a domestic spending bill for education, job training and health programs, yet signed another bill giving the Pentagon about $471 billion for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. All this in the shadow of a Joint Economic Committee report suggesting that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been twice as expensive than previously imagined, almost $1.5 trillion.

The decision to measure the strength of the state in military terms is fatal. It leads to a growing cynicism among a disenchanted citizenry and a Hobbesian ethic of individual gain at the expense of everyone else. Few want to fight and die for a Halliburton or an Exxon. This is why we do not have a draft. It is why taxes have not been raised and we borrow to fund the war. It is why the state has organized, and spends billions to maintain, a mercenary army in Iraq. We leave the fighting and dying mostly to our poor and hired killers. No nationwide sacrifices are required. We will worry about it later."

The Catch-22 of Energy Conservation

One way often cited to improve energy conservation is by increasing energy efficiency. It sounds perfectly logical, in theory.

In practice, however, improved energy efficiency can actually backfire. From the Toronto Star:

A paper by CIBC World Market economist Jeff Rubin argues that, historically, improvements in efficiency that were meant to reduce the consumption of a commodity have increased usage as it became cheaper.
The result is that energy intensity strategies may not work in the battle to cut down the use of oil and gas, as well as carbon emissions believed to cause global climate change.

Rubin says the only sure-fire way of reducing energy consumption and, by extension, cut down greenhouse emissions is to shrink the economy, an unpalatable proposition to governments and industry.

While this is not an argument against attempting to increase energy efficiency in the economy, Rubin says that for greater efficiency to reduce usage, it will be necessary to ensure that consumers don’t see lower prices.

Whew, I'm glad this bit of wisdom came from a bank economist, not Greenpeace. Rubin's findings and conclusions may come as a shock to many but they're anything but new.

It's going to take a lot of adjustment and an awful lot of convincing skeptics, but the growth model on which we've based our national and global economies is over. It's not just climate change. It's resource depletion, species extinction, desertification, freshwater exhaustion, water and soil contamination, air pollution, chemical toxicities, overpopulation - you name it.

It may take a decade, maybe two, but we will gradually come to understand the need to shrink our economies. We'll do it not because we don't want wealth but because we want to survive even more. We're finding it extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, to get the necessary consensus to implement meaningful action on global warming. That's just one problem of many that we need to address, simultaneously.

The notion of shrinking economies has already been examined at length. The scientist, James Lovelock, has coined a term for it, "sustainable retreat." He uses that term to describe getting smaller but doing it as affordably and comfortably as possible. In other words, this process doesn't have to resemble a scene from some post-apocalyptic movie, the image the global warming deniers like to use to scare the public. In some ways it's as easy as doing a lot more of a bit less.

UN Calls for Realistic Emission Targets

Stephen Harper, the great snake oil salesman of global warming, says he's all in favour of binding emission targets just so long as they're applied equally across the board. Steve isn't being realistic. He knows that. He's posturing, knowing full well that will let him sound engaged on the greenhouse gas problem while ensuring that no effective action will be taken. He's not just selling snake oil, he's making it.

Back in the reality-based world, the United Nations warns we've got less than ten years to abruptly change course if we're to avoid "irreversible ecological catastrophe". Two words there that should sort of grab your attention: "irreversible" and "catastrophe". Think of yourself in a canoe in rough water. If you're not careful, your boat can tip so far over that you won't be able to stop it from capsizing. It reaches its tipping point, its point of no return, even before water begins pouring over the gunwales. That's what irreversible ecological catastrophe means.

Ten years as in ten years max. It could be less than ten years. It could be a lot less than ten years. Look at the IPCC's predictions. Almost all of them have been understated. Things they told us were coming in thirty years appear in five or ten. With that record, it's only prudent to consider this warning as ten years at the outside.

This from The Guardian:

" ...the 400-page [UN Human Development programme] report said that simply ignoring climate change would lead to unprecedented reversal in human development in our lifetime, and acute risks for our children and their grandchildren.

"The poorest countries and most vulnerable citizens will suffer the earliest and most damaging setbacks, even though they have contributed least to the problem," the report says.

"Looking to the future, no country - however wealthy or powerful - will be immune to the impact of global warming."

The panel says the greatest financial responsibility lies with the US and the other well-developed countries most responsible for the rising levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, mainly from the use of coal, oil and other fossil fuels.

As the world's richest countries bear the greatest responsibility, the UN Development Programme called on them to bear the largest burden in cutting emissions and in providing financial aid to the poor.

Developed countries, the UN said, should cut emissions by at least 30% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050. Developing nations should cut emissions by 20% by the year 2050."

This is the bullet that Harpo and Bush are struggling so hard to dodge - taking responsibility for having brought the planet to the perilous state that today confronts mankind. They have bottomless purses when it comes to (sort of) fighting Islamist fundamentalism but would prefer to do bugger all when it comes to a problem that poses a much greater threat to their nations and their people.

Summon the villagers, light the torches, get the pitchforks.

Is Mushie Really Quitting the Army?

It's a firm he's worked for since 1964, the Pakistani Army. Like Zia before him, Musharraf rose to the top in his military and then took over the government to boot. Now, under intense pressure at home and from the US, the Pakistani President is about to resign his command - or so we're told.

What I can't figure out is just how a head of state, a nation's very commander in chief, can ever actually resign as commander of his military. After all, President Musharraf was supposed to be General Musharraf's boss, wasn't he?

Then there's the question of succession. The man Musharraf has appointed as his successor, General Ashfaq Kayani, a former chief of the country's powerful intelligence service, is expected to take charge tomorrow. Kayani headed the ISI, Pakistan's powerful Inter-Service Intelligence agency, a hotbed of Islamist radical power within the Pakistani military. It was this same outfit that literally created the Taliban. Couldn't Mushie have found some stooge from the artillery or maybe the catering service?

It might be unwise to read too much into Musharraf's change of wardrobe. Even if this is a step ahead for democracy in Pakistan, it's not a very big step.

The Mask Drops, It Was About Oil!

American troops will be staying in Iraq indefinitely and American companies are going to get a leg up on the country's vast wealth, er oil. Hold on, this'll get your head spinning so fast it might just explode.

From The New York Times:

General Lute predicted that the agreement to negotiate formal bilateral relations would contribute to regional stability by proving America’s long-term commitment not just to Iraq, but also to the broader Persian Gulf area. A recurring message of senior Bush administration officials, intended in large part to deter what they see as Iranian mischief in the region, is to reassure Persian Gulf allies of a continued American presence there.

The United States also pledged to support Iraq’s economic development and to provide financial and technical assistance. Significantly, the document committed the United States to support Iraq in receiving “preferential trading conditions,” including joining the World Trade Organization and receiving most-favored-nation trading status with Washington.

Stripped of the Bushit, it means that upwards of 50,000 American troops will be permanently based in Iraq, a respectable Legion even by Caesar's standards. Better yet, American companies will get first dibs on Iraq's oil wealth - all in the name of supporting Iraqi's economic development, of course.

What remains to be seen is whether Maliki can sell this scam to his legislators and the Iraqi people and whether Bush's successor will be able to keep the American people onside for another adventure in imperialism.

Cutting Carbon Consumption

One way to cut our carbon emissions is by harvesting free energy. That, of course, is the idea behind solar and geothermal energy and the dream of tidal power. But there's another source of free energy we've overlooked, even though it's staring us right in the face, day in/day out.

Here's a clue. It goes up in smoke. It's the enormous, untapped heat plumes that come out of industrial smokestacks. Look at a picture of any coal-fired electricity plant. We focus on the smoke pouring out of the chimneys but fail to see the energy that's being lost along with it.

One company in the US has developed an energy scavenging system for smokestacks. It's really little more than a conventional boiler. The emerging gases heat water pipes that produce steam that propel generators that produce electricity. Put another way, it's a no-brainer.

It's estimated that by using power scavenging devices on the largest smokestacks it would be possible to generate about 14% of America's electricity requirements. The best part is that, by putting them on coal-fired generator plants, you recover energy that won't have to be produced by burning more coal. Neat, eh?

Look at Big Oil. There are a lot of smokestacks at refineries. There are also plenty of gas flares, in the refineries and in the oil fields, that burn off unwanted gas. Gas + fire = heat energy, ja? Maybe there's some good reason why they don't use those flares to generate electricity but I've been pondering this for a long time and haven't found any explanation yet.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Desalination Is A Damn Poor Answer

People who live in drought afflicted areas always point to desalination as the answer to all their problems.

Desalination may solve their problems but only by creating additional problems elsewhere. We don't have a lot of experience with desalination plants in Canada because we usually have enough rain and groundwater. Parts of the US, however, aren't so blessed. Now, with large tracts of the American south facing drought and water depletion, the clamour for desalination is getting louder and more strident.

Desalination - the production of freshwater by removing salts and other ingredients in sea water - sounds like the perfect solution. It's not. Desalination plants create enormous environmental problems. They're expensive to build and expensive to run. They use an awful lot of energy, typically fossil fuel, and generate a lot of greenhouse gases. The pipes tend to leak and saltwater causes immense problems once it gets into groundwater supplies (remember how the Romans took revenge on Carthage?)). The worst part, however, is the brine effluent that's left over.

The standard approach is to simply pump the brine, along with all the other chemical residue from the desalination process, right back into the coastal sea. There it plays utter havoc with the marine environment ranging from turbidity, salinity imbalances, destruction of fish habitats and stocks and algae blooms.

In North America, our coastal waters already face enough challenges. We don't need to add the consequences of desalination to the mix.

Water Wars - Right Next Door

George w. Bush might not get global warming, just yet, but he will when his beloved ranch in Crawford, Texas, turns into a sand dune.

I've been following the southeastern US drought for a while but didn't pay an awful lot of attention to the greater picture, at least not beyond the California wild fires. It didn't take much looking, however, to learn of a climate change that's already happened, the permanent drought in the US southwest.
Down that way it's become accepted that megadrought has arrived. It's been going on for 11-years already in Arizona and most other parts of the region aren't any better off.

"Being in the desert is unnatural," said senior researcher and geophysicist Richard Seager of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute at Columbia University. "The whole Southwest is dependent on massive works of engineering, all of which were built assuming there would be more water available than there really is. How is that whole system going to stand up to this kind of stress? Who gets the water?"

Five of America's ten fastest growing states are in the drought area: Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas.

The region is just beginning to see the start of water wars, in this case mainly non-violent disputes over who gets how much water for what. How much for the urban dwellers, how much for cattle, how much for cotton? The debate can get pretty furious.

Traditional reservoirs, such as Lake Powell (above) and Lake Mead (below) are already down by half and expected to empty before long.

Some of the region's cotton farmers are planning to give up on their crops and get rich selling their water quotas to city dwellers. Developers in some states are trying to access aquifers in neighbouring states. Naturally, folks are getting tempermental.
So, what's the answer? There's talk about desalination plants on the California coast but that's expected to take upwards of three decades to come online. In the meantime? That's unknown right now but, if you're looking for that retirement condo in Phoenix, you might want to wait a few years before diving into the pool.

Forget Global Warming, Global Drying Will Get Here First

The thing about global warming is that we're told the real consequences won't arrive for several decades at least, possibly even centuries. Whew! I'll be long gone by then. Don't worry, be happy - unless you live in one of the many spots around the world that have fallen strangely dry, and arid.
You see, long before the polar ice caps melt into the seas, maybe even before you get you start decorating next year's Easter Eggs, you'll be hearing a lot about what I like to call Global Drying. It's a craze that's positively sweeping the American south and it's the hottest thing in the eastern Mediterranean, southern Europe, Australia, big hunks of Africa, parts of Mexico and all sorts of other places.
Drought is here, and it's there, and over there too. But, until this year, it was often out of sight/out of mind. That, friends, is coming to an end.
Atlanta, Georgia is a booming metropolis of more than four million people and it's currently beset by drought. Take a look at the map above. See if you can locate Atlanta. What colour is that anyway?
Now that map shows you how the droughts affecting the US are expected to develop into February of next year. February is going to be a key month for the good folks of Atlanta - it's the month in which that city is expected to run out of water.
Interesting question - what do you do with more than four million people who find themselves without water? If you're Governor Sonny Perdue, the answer is obvious - you get down on bended knee and pray to Jesus for help. And that, sad as it may be, is about the best idea Sonny has come up with.
Now I'm sure there are answers to Atlanta's problems but, like most of these things, implementing them takes time and Atlanta appears to be as short on time as it is on water. For FEMA, Atlanta may make Katrina look like child's play. Atlanta isn't an isolated case. The drought spreads (as the map shows) across an entire, densely populated region and there's another one much like it now besetting the southwest and a developing drought along the states in between.
Scientists are now beginning to whisper the word "megadrought." Until very recently, most drought studies barely went back more than a century or two. However that's changing and we're now looking back, 1200-years and more. Can you say "oopsie"?

We've all heard of the Dirty Thirties and the seven-year drought that afflicted the prairie grasslands. What you probably haven't heard about are the 60-year droughts or the one that ran in North America from AD 900-1300, a full 400-years.

It's been less than 200-years since we really began filling up the US and Canada and less than a century since we created the "hydraulic society" that allowed the southwest to be populated thanks to massive government water projects. What we didn't understand at the time was that those regions, the Great Plains included, were enjoying an unusually wet period. We assumed there would be a reliable source of adequate amounts of precipitation that we could harness to let people live in deserts, complete with manicured lawns, artificial lakes and golf courses.

Even at our most optimistic moment, the illusion was never sustainable. We managed to empty the High Plains aquifer by more than a hundred feet. The once mighty Colorado River no longer flows into Mexico. We've sucked these things almost dry - just in time for the arrival of what might be a severe, multi-year drought.

So, keep an eye on the ice packs and the polar bears and the vanishing glaciers. These things are important. But, if your relatives from Atlanta call to tell you they're coming for a visit, they might just be staying for a while.

Back To the Basics - We're Filthy

Here are a few timely facts that should help you evaluate our furious leader's position(s) on global warming.

Let's begin with the OECD, the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD represents the wealthiest nations on the planet, no need to sully yourself with those impoverished sub-Saharans. This the the club of the "Haves."

So, compared to the Have Nations, how does Canada stack up on greenhouse gas emissions? Not so good.

On a per capita basis, Joe Canuck comes in 27th out of 29. But, hey, we're a huge country with a small population. Most of those other OECD countries have a lot more people, so, in the overall scheme of things, we're small potatoes, right?

Wrong. In total CO2 emissions, Canada came 25th out of 29. Only the US, Germany, Japan and the UK put out more. Not so neat, eh?

Canada puts out in excess of half a trillion tonnes of GHGs every year and we're still trending upward, fast.

Harper's Deliciously Perverse Logic

When it comes to global warming, trust Stephen Harper to say whatever suits him at the moment. Even with Canada's worst polluters, his beloved Tar Sands, he won't tolerate any talk about hard caps on emissions. There, the formula is "intensity based" targets. That's a scam. What he means is cleaning up bitumen extraction and processing - a little bit - while increasing overall extraction and processing - quadrupling or even quintupling operations. The net result - an enormous jump in GHG emissions from Big Oil at the Tar Sands.

When it comes to global warming and Stephen Harper - that's what you're dealing with. Fighting climate change will not come at the expense of Tar Sands expansion and that's the bottom line.

In order to make any sense out of what Harper says elsewhere, you need to keep his Tar Sands perspective in mind.

On the weekend, Harpo made Canada the pariah of the Commonwealth (alright, alright - we're still not up there with Zimbabwe or Pakistan, but... ) by scuttling a resolution calling for binding caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

Harper, being the sleazeball he is, wasn't candid enough to admit that he would not tolerate emissions caps because that would screw up his Tar Sands. Steve knows that sort of honesty could cost him big at home. Instead he resorted to the tried and true tactic of all swindlers - distraction.

Steve looked for another way out and found it - in India. He said the rest of the Commonwealth is flat out wrong in wanting developed nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions first. Harpo smugly described his knuckledragging as "the only right position."

"If we are all to believe that climate change is a major problem caused by greenhouse gas emissions then we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the only way we can do that is if all major emitters reduce their emissions. It's that simple, so we are not going to settle for anything less." - Harper

It is indeed "that simple" to a real con man. What's simple about it is that it tells it tells the emerging economies that, henceforth, we intend to preserve our per capita emissions differential. That means that every citizen of Canada is going to be entitled, indefinitely, to generate greenhouse gas emissions five or six times that of every citizen of India. Why? Because we're Canadians, civilized, still mainly white folks - and they're not. Why? Because we're already accustomed to monster SUVs and 4,000 square foot houses with three car garages - and they're not.

Then again, remember, this is a con - a distraction. Stephen Harper is not prepared to tolerate hard caps in any case. It's all about "intensity based" targets for him, so all this business about China signing on to this or India signing on to that is just smoke and mirrors.

That, my friends, is what Stephen Harper is all about - and he's laid it right out at your feet. He wants a return to the British Raj. That's what this is all about - White Man's Burden.