Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Taliban Are Winning

Further proof that the Manley Panel report is a load of political hogwash came today in the release of several reports showing that we're not winning in Afghanistan but the Taliban is.

The Atlantic Council of the United States, in a report prepared by former Afghanistan NATO commander, retured US general James L. Jones, warns that NATO is, at best, in a "stategic stalemate" as the Taliban expands its influence in the countryside and the Karzai government fails to carry out vital reforms and reconstruction. From the Washington Post:

"Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan," said the report by the Atlantic Council of the United States. "Afghanistan remains a failing state. It could become a failed state," warned the report, which called for "urgent action" to overhaul NATO strategy in coming weeks before an anticipated new offensive by Taliban insurgents in the spring.

A second report, by the Afghan Study Group, co-chaired by General Jones and US diplomat Thomas R. Pickering stressed the urgent need for the appointment of a UN High Commissioner to coordinate the international effort, a move that Karzai sabotaged last weekend.

Progress in Afghanistan "is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country," said the report by the Afghanistan Study Group.

Wow, we're not winning? The Taliban's winning? Odd that our military wunderkind, Rick Hillier, hasn't been sounding the alarm here at home, isn't it?

Of course we're not winning, something the Karzai government all but guarantees. Lest everybody realize how useless he is, Karzai blocks the appointment of Paddy Ashdown as UN super envoy, torpedoing it at the very last moment and setting the whole effort right back on its heels. You'll know Karzai is serious about salvaging Afghanistan the day he arrests his first drug lord. That's right, he hasn't arrested one of them in the past six years and it's so easy. All he would have to do is start with his own brother Ahmed who's reported to be in thick with the opium trade.

If there's to be any hope of saving Afghanistan we have to get rid of Karzai and the warlords and drug lords and common criminals who have insinuated themselves into positions of power in his government. We have to stop pretending that this guy is our guy. He's not.

Forget the helicopters, forget the extra troops, forget Manley and Harper. That's all meaningless nonsense until we can establish some sort of decent, functioning governance for Afghanistan. Maybe this is one of those Diem moments. Then again, how well did that turn out?

The Terminator is Not mitt Romney

Arnold Schwarzenegger has thrown his endorsement to John McCain. With the Guiliani endorsement locked up the backing of the California governor ramps up McCain's momentum.

If the last Republican debate before Super Tuesday, the tension between McCain and Romney was palpable. Huckabee and Paul took part but seemed merely a way for the two real contenders to take a break.

Despite his shameless touting to the evangelical right at the outset of his campaign, McCain is clearly the moderate amongst the Republican crowd. He says he'll keep the Iraq war going until America wins. How he hopes to achieve that in a nation whose people want this war ended will be interesting to watch if he succeeds the man he blames for screwing it up, George w. Bush.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Harper Screws the Messenger

It's up to the Canadian Forces to decide what they will and won't tell us about their actions in Afghanistan. That came from Blockhead himself, our Furious Leader, Stephen Harper, as he lovingly greased himself up to slip to safety from the detainee controversy. From the Globe & Mail:

"The military is free to release information about Afghan detainees if it chooses, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday, as he was criticized for excessive secrecy on how Canadian troops handle their prisoners.

"These are operational matters of the Canadian military. If the Canadian military chooses to reveal that information, that's their decision. But the government certainly isn't going to release it on their behalf," Mr. Harper said in the House of Commons."

There you have it, hands off from the Cons. Canadian Forces will say what they like, when they like and to whom they like, so don't blame the Harpies if they're not up front, blame the military. Wait a second, that doesn't sound quite right, does it?

It's not, that is unless Lardo has repealed the gag order he slapped on the Canadian Forces that came to light just two weeks before Christmas. That's when word got out that the Forces had been told that requests for information and interviews had to be pre-cleared with their political commisars, senior officials from the prime minister's office.

"The Privy Council directive applies to all matters of "national importance" but is primarily focused on shaping information relating to the war in Afghanistan."

Oh my goodness, Harper appears to be - lying. Worse, he seems to be hanging the Armed Forces out to dry to give himself political cover. Not Harper, he wouldn't do that, would he?

(the original story was posted on 10 December, 2007)

Edwards, Giuliani Out?

The New York Times and Associated Press are reporting that third-place Democratic hopeful John Edwards is going to bow out of his party's presidential nominaton race. Edwards is not expected to endorse either Obama or Clinton - at least not today. It seems he's waiting to see whether either of them will adopt his anti-poverty platform.

This means that both the Repugs and the Dems go into Super Tuesday with two-horse races. With Giuliani gone, it's down to McCain/Romney on the right and Obama/Clinton on the left (which is still, to us Canadians, right). Huckabee, of course, remains in the Republican race but that's now seen as a device to deny evangelical voters to Romney. There's a lot of speculation he'll be rewarded, if McCain wins the nomination, by being added as McCain's running mate.

It will be fascinating to see how the Edwards departure plays out. I expect Hillary is working on her Edwardian makeover even as you read this.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Harper A Bag of Overheated Hot Air - NATO

Our Furious Leader, Stephen Harper, has been made to look like a manipulative idiot by NATO. Actually, it wasn't NATO that made Harper look like a manipulative idiot. He sort of did that on his own. Yet a spokesman for the alliance did put Lardo in his place. From CanWest:

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper is engaging in unnecessary, irrelevant and “overheated” speculation when he suggests a Canadian troop pullout from Afghanistan could jeopardize the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a NATO official said here Tuesday.

Canadians have every right to debate the future of Canada’s “key” military role in Afghanistan that has led to a disproportionately high number of Canadian casualties, James Appathurai told reporters.

But he challenged Harper’s grim speculation about the future of NATO, an alliance founded by the U.S., western Europe and Canada in 1949 as a bulwark against the possible military threat from the old Soviet Union.

“I think that making links between this (Canada’s possible withdrawal) and NATO’s credibility are frankly . . . unnecessary,” he said.

“We understand the Canadian position that a thousand more troops are needed in Kandahar. But let’s not link what is a successful mission with 37 countries (or) NATO’s 60-year credibility to this. That simply is not really relevant.”

"This kind of overheated speculation (about NATO being in jeopardy) really needs to be cooled a little bit.”

Monday, January 28, 2008

Harper Vows to "Stay the Course" - Whatever That Is

We're a pretty cheap date. Throw another 1,000 soldiers our way and a few trinkets and we'll stay in Afghanistan. Our Furious Leader, Stephen Harper, has bought the Manley report - lock, stock and pickle. Now if we don't get our way, he says, we'll be gone early next year - gone as in "bye, bye."

Naturally Harper didn't let fast changing conditions on the ground in Kabul enter into his deliberations. Not a peep about how Kabul is undermining NATO or Hamid Karzai's weekend gamesmanship to defy the UN, NATO and the US. Of course it's easy to ignore all those realities - that put our soldiers' lives in danger - when you're busy playing political football.

If you want to weigh Harpo's bold decision against reality, take a look at the item "Karzai's Kabul Uprising" posted here earlier today.

The End of the World As We've Known It

These are fascinating times and we just may be witnessing a geopolitical power shift of seismic proportions; the decline of the West and the ascendancy of the East. The vehicle for this could be the looming recession.

There's an excellent analysis of how empires rise and fall in a book I reviewed earlier, "American Theocracy, The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century." It's author, a prominent Republican named Kevin Phillips, examined the consistent patterns found in the rise and fall of previous dominant states including the Dutch, the Spanish and the British empires and applied those patterns to his own country to conclude that America was approaching the end of its glory days.

One of Phillips' key observations was how mighty nations fell into decline when they abandoned their own manufacturing base in favour of offshore production, thus using their wealth to grow another nation's economy. Sound familiar? Accompanying this phenomenon, Phillips identified the shift from a production-based economy into a financialized economy (see "The Bubble Up Economy - Part Deux" posted here yesterday).

This transition is also discussed by Fareed Zakaria in his latest article in Newsweek entitled "The World Bails Us Out" in which he observes, "The United States is in the beginning of a period of relative decline. This is not defeatism, it's math."

"As the American economy slows down, there are no indications that other countries are tumbling. In particular, the fastest-growing big economies in the world - China, India, Brazil—appear set to continue with their robust growth. While a sharp American downturn will surely slow them down somewhat, those emerging markets will all continue to expand—to buy, sell and trade—and this will help the United States.

The quarterly results of many large American multinationals (other than banks) show how. Their profits are growing extremely slowly in the United States—at best a few percent—but are surging by 15 or 20 percent abroad. Adding all these companies together, we can see why America's trade deficit—which ballooned for decades—has begun shrinking dramatically, by $100 billion over the past year. This trend will accelerate as the U.S. dollar's decline continues to make American exports more affordable across the world.

The past few years have been very good to the world's energy-rich lands—Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Norway. Add to the list China and Singapore; they may not be big oil exporters, but they still have huge surpluses. These vast savings have to go somewhere, and sovereign wealth funds—the investment arms of these nations—have provided infusions of cash to otherwise desperate American financial firms. Imagine what the U.S. economy would look like without these investments. Many of its most illustrious banks and financial companies would have gone bankrupt, triggering cascades of gloom and doom across America.

These trends represent a large, ongoing shift in the global economic order. Power is moving away from the traditional centers of the global economy—the Western nations—to the emerging markets. To put it more bluntly: the United States is in the beginning of a period of relative decline. It may not be steep or dramatic, but the fact that it's happening is clear. Even if one assumes a slowdown, the other big economies will still grow at two and three times the pace of the West.

All this means that the political and economic clout of the West—and centrally of the United States—is waning. You can see this reality in the discussions at Davos, where Indian businessmen, Russian officials, Saudi investment advisers and Chinese academics are moving to center stage.

On the American campaign trail, the candidates talk about a world utterly unrelated to the one that is actually being created on the ground. The Republicans promise to wage war against Islamic extremists and modernize the Middle East. The Democrats deplore the ills of globalization and free trade, and urge tougher measures against China. Meanwhile Middle Eastern fund managers and Asian consumers are quietly keeping the U.S. economy afloat.

Karzai's Kabul Uprising

Hamid Karzai is on the warpath, in revolt, and his antics could have major repercussions for the US, NATO and us too. Over the weekend Karzai shook up his Western benefactors by torpedoing the appointment of Lord Paddy Ashdown who was slotted to become the UN's super envoy to Afghanistan. It's a tale of grand intrigue that our media totally missed. Fortunately the story is brilliantly laid out in Asia Times:

Kabul knew for months about the impending appointment of Ashdown as a key step in a new NATO strategy spearheaded by the US and Britain, aimed at stabilizing the Afghan situation. Karzai knew detailed planning had gone into the move involving NATO, the EU and the United Nations Security Council. But Karzai waited patiently until the eleventh hour before shooting it down publicly on Saturday in a interview with the BBC while attending the World Economic Forum meet in the Swiss resort town of Davos. The move was pre-planned and carried out in a typical Afghan way with maximum effect.

Karzai insists there has been a serious misunderstanding of motives because Kabul had never taken a "decision" on Ashdown's appointment. He is perfectly right in saying so. But in actuality, Karzai has put on display his proud Afghan temper. He has taken umbrage that Washington and London took the decision on Ashdown's appointment in consultation with Brussels and thereupon got UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to execute it, all the time taking Kabul's agreement for granted.

Karzai anticipated that Ashdown, true to his reputation in the Balkans, would function like a colonial viceroy. Karzai knows that the Western agencies and organizations operating in Afghanistan lack coordination. But a "unified command" under Ashdown would create a counterpoint in Kabul to Karzai's own authority. Karzai didn't want that to happen.

The bottom line concerns Karzai's political future. He sizes up that Ashdown is part of a political package leading toward a post-Karzai era. There has been persistent chatter in recent weeks that Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to the UN - an ethnic Afghan - is in the mix for a run as president of Afghanistan. According to Washington Post columnist Al Kamen, Karzai took the rumor seriously and point-blank asked Khalilzad about it when the two met in London in October, but Khalilzad "didn't give a Shermanesque response".

The UN's capacity to spearhead the political process in Afghanistan now stands seriously impaired. This deprives Washington of a neutral international bridge - but under its control - leading toward the Taliban camp, which is a pre-requisite for commencement of any meaningful intra-Afghan dialogue. Meanwhile, the war hangs perilously on the edge of an abyss.

Almost everyone is talking to the Taliban one way or another. Confusion is near-total. All this is happening at an awkward time when NATO lacks a counterinsurgency strategy. In particular, Britain, which lately assumed a lead role within NATO, has been embarrassed. Karzai singled out British operations in Afghanistan for criticism in an interview with the Times newspaper of London on the eve of his meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Davos on Friday. Karzai alleged that Afghan people "suffered" from the coming of the British. He had little praise for the 7,800 British troops deployed in Afghanistan. He said, "Both the American and British forces guaranteed to me they knew what they were doing and I made the mistake of listening to them. And, when they came in, the Taliban came."

As The Times commented, "British forces believe that, in many respects, their Afghan allies pose more of a challenge to their mission than the Taliban ... It is the Afghan government that is now proving more of an obstacle to stability in an area where a mixture of official corruption, ineptitude and paranoia are stymying British efforts." remains to be seen how long Washington can keep Karzai away from the reach of the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Russia and China-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization. From the Ashdown saga, Karzai must have realized his capacity to shake up US strategy in the region. In an interview with CNN in Davos on Thursday, Karzai said, "We have opened our doors to them [Iran]. They have been helping us in Afghanistan." Karzai then insisted that the Bush administration has "wisely understood that Iran is Afghanistan's neighbor".

Musharraf will know that his own defiance of Washington's recent attempts to dictate the nature of the political set-up in Islamabad now enters a conclusive phase. He will know that with such a first-rate mess-up in the war in Afghanistan, Washington is hardly in a position to be intrusive, let alone dictate terms of engagement to him. In a curious way, Karzai has considerably smoothened for him the passage from now until the elections in Pakistan on February 8. In all probability, Pakistan, which has excellent intelligence outfits in Kabul, knew in advance that Karzai was about to give shock-and-awe treatment to Washington. Clearly, Musharraf has begun finger-pointing at anyone who will even remotely suggest the need of deploying US troops on Pakistani soil.

Timely backing from China has also strengthened Musharraf's hands. In an extraordinary commentary titled "No more turmoil in Pakistan is permissible", China's People's Daily has come out with a whole-hearted endorsement of Musharraf's leadership. It said, "President Pervez Musharraf has resorted to a host of viable measures ... Pakistani government has been making unremitting efforts in defense of the supreme national interests ... Some opposition forces at home and a few powers overseas impose pressures or punitive measures against Pakistan in the name of 'democracy', 'freedom' and 'opposition to terrorism'.

Musharraf must be greatly relieved that Beijing has finally broken its silence and come down unequivocally in support of him at a crucial juncture in his desperate resistance of the US game plan to remove him from power and to disgrace the military by deploying American troops on Pakistani soil.

Increasingly, Karzai and Musharraf find themselves in a somewhat similar predicament. They cannot do without American support, but they do not accept US pressure tactics. They know US regional policies are part of their problem within their own countries and, therefore, they need to differentiate themselves for their political survival. Paradoxically, their attempt is to perpetuate the US's dependence on them while they work at consolidating a political base of their own, which is independent of US control. In Karzai's case, the 3-4 million votes that Musharraf can mobilize from the Afghan refugee population in Pakistan will always remain a decisive factor in his re-election as president. Besides, there are regional powers - China and Iran in particular - which are keenly watching the geopolitics surrounding Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Iranian thinking is that there is a concerted US-Israeli plot to destabilize Musharraf's regime with the twin objective of the US establishing a base in Pakistan for its military intelligence operations directed against Russia and China and at the same time for neutralizing Pakistan's nuclear capability.

...Both China and Iran are keen on the stability of the Karzai government. Both would like Karzai to continue to explore the parameters of a neutral, independent foreign policy free of US manipulation. Both visualize that Afghanistan can serve as a vital land bridge between them, playing a strategic role in the rapid expansion of Sino-Iranian relations.

Wheels spinning within wheels and we're stuck debating another thousand soldiers for Kandahar so that we can prop up a guy who is working hard at cross purposes and whose country appears headed in a direction of its own. Astonishing, unbelievable. Are we really so naive, so myopic, maybe even so stupid?

Private Health Insurance Has Its Limits

It seems some Americans are learning that their gold-plated, private healthcare insurance policies may not be all they bargained for. According to the Washington Post, if you get really ill, you could be in a lot of trouble - financial trouble.

"A small but growing number of American families beset by major medical problems are learning the hard way that simply having health insurance is sometimes not enough.

Those who need organ transplants or who have hemophilia, Gaucher disease or other costly chronic illnesses can easily rack up medical bills that blow through the lifetime benefits cap of $1 million or more that is a standard part of many insurance policies.

That has left some very sick people facing health-care tabs of hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, prompting their families to seek help from the government, or to scramble to change jobs or even divorce for no other reason than to qualify for new health insurance. And it has led some advocates for the chronically ill to plan a new lobbying effort in hopes of persuading Congress to require that insurers increase lifetime caps to as high as $10 million.

Statistics on how many people exceed the lifetime caps are hard to come by, but advocates note that the amount of many caps hasn't changed in decades, or at least has not kept up with health-care inflation and the sky-high cost of lifesaving new therapies, making it more likely that people will reach the limit."

Vancouver's Number One

According to a survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit, Vancouver is the world's best place to live. From BBC News:

The EIU ranked 127 cities in terms of personal risk, infrastructure and the availability of goods and services.
All the cities that fell into the top "liveability" bracket were based in Canada, Australia and Western Europe.

The Economist's Top Ten:


Playing Dodgeball in Paradise

The world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters are gathering in Honolulu this week to discuss, talk, chat, while away some time and, of course, work on those tans. From ENN:

"The two-day gathering, which starts on Wednesday in Honolulu, is meant to spur U.N. negotiations for an international climate agreement by 2009, so a pact will be ready when the current carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

The Bush administration rejects the Kyoto plan, saying it unfairly exempts developing countries from cutting back on emissions, and could cost U.S. jobs. Instead, Washington favors voluntary measures and "aspirational goals" to limit climate change, aided by easier transfer of environmental technology."

In attendance will be representatives from the United States, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

There hasn't been much publicity about this conference and there's a reason for that. Consider how James Connaughton, the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, described the objectives.

"I think these will be iterative discussions, which the initial goal will be to lay out a variety of options without holding any country to a particular proposal," Connaughton told reporters at a briefing on Friday. "... We're trying to do this in a collaborative way, rather than in the more classic 'You bring your number, I bring my number, and we start kicking them around."'

Is This Where Pandemic is Born?

The UN Humanitarian Affairs Office is reporting a disturbing outbreak of bird flu in Bangladesh. What's disturbing is that it's happening in Bangladesh:

"Bird flu or avian influenza is spreading across Bangladesh. In the last four days, over 1,000 crows have dropped dead in Barisal, Patuakhali and Dinajpur districts, with laboratory tests confirming they were infected with the H5N1 virus.

Initial reports suggest the crows had eaten bird flu-affected dead chickens thrown away by farmers.

Despite government efforts to burn or buy the dead birds, in many places the carcasses of dead chickens and crows can be seen rotting in the open."

What makes the Bangladeshi outbreak so troubling is the nature of poultry raising in that country. 70 per cent are "backyard chickens." This means the poultry supply isn't concentrated in farms that can be checked and, where necessary, culled. It also makes detection of the spread of the disease vastly more difficult.

"Habibur Rahman of Mymensing Agricultural University, a leading bird flu expert, and A.S.M. Alamgir, a virologist at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, now describe the situation as “alarming”.

"Not only crows, about 1,000 ducks died of bird flu in Naogaon District yesterday. Ducks usually carry the H5N1 virus, but do not die. When ducks die, it indicates that the virus is very highly pathogenic. Even the possibility of mutation of the virus can’t be ruled out."

One Bad Apple

This is no slur on Canadian soldiers. They're a good bunch and a lot better than the calibre of some we took in the 60s. But, just the same.

The National Spot has a story that indicates the Department of National Defence needs to keep a sharper eye on just who is signing up.

Private Stephen Cox had been at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu for all of 10 days when the complaints began.

In handwritten statements to a Military Police corporal, a dozen platoon members said Pte. Cox had claimed to be the Son of Man and the Second Coming of Christ.

He said God had chosen him to cleanse the world of evil and that he was going to kill the Jews, Catholics, blacks, aboriginals, gays and lesbians, they wrote.

"I heard Private Cox talk of mass genocide of all humans who do not share his beliefs," one complaint read. Said another, "It was revealed to him that he was the second Christ and it was his duty to join the Canadian Army and get into JTF-2 [the special forces] so that he would be in place for the apocalypse in 2012."

It turns out that Private Cox was known to police as a pot trafficker and that he once boasted about killing a B.C. couple but he says he revealed all to recruiters in Vancouver. They don't quite see it that way.

The good part of this story is that Cox' fellow recruits did the right thing in promptly informing their superiors about him. It wasn't just one or two but a dozen of his platoon mates acted and that's very good to know. Still, Peter MacKay and Rick Hillier need to make sure people like Cox don't get through the front door.

Stelmach Tucks Tail Between Legs and Splits

Special Ed has announced he'll jump on the short bus and split for Edmonton this afternoon while the gettin's good.

The Alberta premier has decided to head for the foothills before his fellow premiers begin their summit on climate change tomorrow. Stelmach, whose otherwise modest little province churns out a third of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, has apparently been stampeded out of Vancouver by the representatives of every other province in the country.

Instead of explaining and defending his feeble greenhouse gas plan, Ed seems to have figured that what's good enough for Dick Cheney is good enough for him and for Alberta and for Canada.

Argentina's Children of the Dead

Across Argentina, young men and women are discovering the truth, that their real parents were slaughtered and they were then handed out to the butchers' friends. From The Guardian:

"Horacio Pietragalla felt "like a cat raised in a family of dogs" and was puzzled that, at the age of 14, he was already taller than his father. It was only later that he discovered he was the child of a leftwing activist murdered by the Argentine military during the "dirty war". The executioners gave Horacio away to a general's maid more than a quarter of a century ago.

Now Pietragalla and dozens of other young Argentines are discovering who their real parents were and meeting their grandparents for the first time. Some are bringing legal actions against their parents' kidnappers, while others are going through the painful process of realising the people they thought were their parents had lied to them.

An estimated 30,000 people were killed by the junta that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983 before it finally collapsed in the wake of the defeat in the Falklands war. Most of the victims were young and some were pregnant when arrested. Around 500 babies are believed to have been born in the army's prisons. After their parents were tortured and killed, the children were handed over to military families.

Others who believe they may be children of the disappeared are now waiting to have their DNA tested, Estela Bravo said yesterday from New York. She added that one of the remarkable aspects of the operation to find them was that many had the same quirks as the parents they never knew. "Juan Cabandié likes to go off to the mountains, look up to the sky and find himself, and his aunt has told him that his mother did exactly the same," she said.

After the fall of the junta, a number of those in the military fled, many to the US and Miami in particular.

Start Spreading the News

Rudy Giuliani gets his pompous ass booted straight back to the Big Apple tomorrow. In the first Republican primary he's actually contested the only thing he has to look forward to are the flames.

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy has worked hard in Florida, campaigning for weeks while his rivals squandered their efforts in smaller states. So, how has that paid off? Just fine, actually. Right now Giuliani holds on to a solid fourth place - the ejection seat is armed.

These little town blues

Are melting away

I'll make a brand new start of it

In old New York

If I can make it there

I'll make it anywhere

It's up to you, New York, New York.

Bye Rudy, the world will just have to make do without you.

Levelling the Democratic Playing Field

In the blue corner, the Clintons. In the red corner, the Kennedys.

Let's face it, if Bill Clinton had been run over by a bus a year ago, Hillary Clinton would not be where she is today in the Democratic Party's presidential race. She's always had a powerhouse in her corner, the Big Draw, Bill. Oh sure, sometimes he's put his foot in his mouth but that's not always been accidental. Backfires happen, even when they're scripted. Nonetheless it's been a campaign waged by the Two-headed Clinton.

That makes it even more surprising that the challenger, underdog Barack Obama, has done as well as he has so far with his win in Iowa and his conquest of South Carolina. He's had to run uphill while his opponent, the heir presumptive, has enjoyed the high ground advantage.

That playing field is going to be a little more even today thanks to the levelling effect of America's greatest Democratic family, the Kennedys. Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late JFK, wrote an astonishingly emotive endorsement of Obama in the New York Times on the weekend in which she described the man as cut from the same cloth as her father. Today, the brother of that same president, Senator Ted Kennedy, will also lend his name to the Obama campaign.

I've always felt it was somewhat unseemly that the Democratic field should have to run against the Billary tag team. Maybe, just maybe, Caroline and Ted, the Kennedys, can unhorse part of the Clinton behemoth.

Without the intervention of the old man, GHWBush, and the Lee Atwater dirty tricks played by Shrub's Quasimodo, Rove, America might well have wound up in 2000 with Al Gore or John McCain as chief executive instead of having to splash around in the shallow end of the Bush gene pool for eight years. Imagine.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

For All of We Dog Lovers

The hound pictured above is my Mikey. If you're a dog lover, I thought you might like the following "compare & contrast" of dogs'n cats.

How To Give A Cat A Pill

1. Pick up cat and cradle it in the crook of your left arm as if holding a baby. Position right fore-finger and thumb on either side of cat's mouth and gently apply pressure to cheeks while holding pill In right hand. As cat opens mouth, pop pill into mouth. Allow cat to close mouth and swallow.

2. Retrieve pill from floor and cat from behind sofa. Cradle cat in left arm and repeat process.

3. Retrieve cat from bedroom, and throw soggy pill away.

4. Take new pill from foil wrap, cradle cat in left arm, holding rear paws tightly with left hand. Force jaws open and push pill to back of mouth with right forefinger. Hold mouth shut for a count of ten.

5. Retrieve pill from goldfish bowl and cat from top of wardrobe. Call spouse from garden.

6. Kneel on floor with cat wedged firmly between knees, hold front and rear paws. Ignore low growls emitted by cat. Get spouse to hold head firmly with one hand while forcing wooden ruler into mouth. Drop pill down ruler and rub cat's throat vigorously.

7. Retrieve cat from curtain rail, get another pill from foil wrap. Make note to buy new ruler and repair curtains. Carefully sweep shattered figurines and vases from hearth and set to one side for gluing later.

8. Wrap cat in large towel and get spouse to lie on cat with head just visible from below armpit. Put pill in end of drinking straw, force mouth open with pencil and blow down drinking straw.

9. Check label to make sure pill not harmful to humans, Drink 1 beer to take taste away. Apply Band-Aid to spouse's forearm and remove blood from carpet with cold water and soap.

10. Retrieve cat from neighbor's shed. Get another pill.Open another beer. Place cat in cupboard, and close door on to neck, to leave head showing. Force mouth open with dessert spoon. Flick pill down throat with elastic band.

11. Fetch screwdriver from garage and put cupboard door back on hinges. Drink beer. Fetch bottle of scotch. Pour shot, drink. Apply cold compress to cheek and check records for date of last tetanus shot. Apply whiskey compress to cheek to disinfect. Toss back another shot. Throw tee shirt away and fetch new one from bedroom.

12. Call fire department to retrieve the damn cat from tree across the road. Apologize to neighbor who crashed into fence while swerving to avoid cat. Take last pill from foil wrap.

13. Tie the little bastard's front paws to rear paws with garden twine and bind tightly to leg of dining table, find heavy-duty pruning gloves from shed. Push pill into mouth followed by large piece of filet steak. Be rough about it. Hold head vertically and pour 2 pints of water down throat to wash pill down.

14. Consume remainder of scotch. Get spouse to drive you to the Emergency room. Sit quietly while doctor stitches fingers and forearm and removes pill remnants from right eye. Call furniture shop on way home to order new table.

15. Arrange for SPCA to collect mutant cat from hell and call local pet shop to see if they have any hamsters.

How To Give A Dog A Pill

1. Wrap it in bacon.

2. Toss it in the air.

If We Could Only Put Children First

Imagine what our leaders would be like if they could somehow measure the impact of their decisions on the children who'll be affected as though those children were their own.

Would we be firing cluster bombs into populated areas and then leaving them there to kill the unwary if we knew our kids would be walking through there? Of course we wouldn't. So then, why is it okay when we do it if the foreseeable victims are someone else's kids?

This isn't an attack on Israel but it is about an attack on Israel. The UN Humanitarian Affairs Office has released a report on the psychological toll inflicted on Israeli kids in the town of Sderot from incessant rocket attacks from Gaza. While you read this, eliminate all thoughts of Palestinians or Israelis or their historical grievances. Just think kids.

"At least 75 percent of children aged 4-18 in the southern Israeli town of Sderot suffer from post-traumatic stress, including sleeping disorders and severe anxiety, new findings published in January say.

The report by Natal, the Israel Trauma Centre for Victims of Terror and War, comes after the town first came under Palestinian militant rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in 2001. In the last two years the number of projectiles has risen significantly, and in recent months rocket fire has become an almost daily event.

The Natal report, based on a representative survey, indicates that some 28 percent of adults suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. It suggests that the biggest impact was on the young, who suffer nightmares, loss of appetite and problems at school.

Some 120 children are currently undergoing long-term mental health therapy. This is not surprising, say experts, given that many times the rocket fire is timed for the early morning when children head to school.

During a visit by IRIN to the town on a school day, over 10 rockets landed in or near the city between 7am and 8.30am. Every time rockets triggered the warning siren - the now infamous `Tseva Adom' or `Red Colour' system - children ran for cover.

The system is only partially effective. One resident said the siren gives people between zero and 15 seconds to find cover - "and most of the time it's closer to zero".

Dalia Yossef, the manager of a local branch of a national organisation for trauma intervention, Hosen, said the challenge in treating the children was that the rockets continued to fall. "It's ongoing, there is no 'post'. How do you treat post-trauma in this situation?" she asked."

I suspect that, as long as each group targets, deliberately or inadvertently, the other side's children this is simply never going to end. By the way, the picture above is of Israeli kids - writing messages on shells about to be lobbed into Lebanon. I chose this picture to show just how sick both sides can be. That's nothing short of obscene.

The Grades are Posted

Canada and Afghanistan are both in the Top 10 nations in terms of corruption. Afghanistan sits comfortably within the 10-most corrupt nations while Canada stands among the 10-least corrupt nations. Here are the standings:

Somalia 1.4 Denmark 9.4

Myanmar 1.4 Finland 9.4

Iraq 1.5 New Zealand 9.4

Haiti 1.6 Singapore 9.3

Uzbekistan 1.7 Sweden 9.3

Tonga 1.7 Iceland 9.2

Sudan 1.8 Netherlands 9.0

Chad 1.8 Switzerland 9.0

Afghanistan 1.8 Canada 8.7

Laos 1.9 Norway 8.7

* The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI)

As you might guess, the higher the score (out of 10.0), the less corrupt the country and the lower the more corrupt.

The Skeletons In Billary's Closet

In today's New York Times, Frank Rich explains why Hillary Clinton may be the Republicans best hope of keeping the White House.

"Asked by Tim Russert whether the Clinton presidential library and foundation would disclose the identities of its donors during the campaign, Mrs. Clinton said it wasn’t up to her. “What’s your recommendation?” Mr. Russert countered. Mrs. Clinton replied: “Well, I don’t talk about my private conversations with my husband, but I’m sure he’d be happy to consider that.”
Not so happy, as it turns out. The names still have not been made public.

"Just before the holidays, investigative reporters at both The Washington Post and The New York times
tried to find out why, with no help from the Clintons. The Post uncovered a plethora of foreign contributors, led by Saudi Arabia. The Times found an overlap between library benefactors and Hillary Clinton campaign donors, some of whom might have an agenda with a new Clinton administration."

Great, just what America needs, another White House beholden to the House of Saud.

"The Republicans are not going to have any compunctions about asking anybody anything,” Mrs. Clinton lectured Mr. Obama. Maybe so, but Republicans are smart enough not to start asking until after she has secured the nomination.

"Not all Republicans are smart enough, however, to recognize the value of John McCain should Mrs. Clinton emerge as the nominee. He’s a bazooka aimed at most every rationale she’s offered for her candidacy.

"In a McCain vs. Billary race, the Democrats will sacrifice the most highly desired commodity by the entire electorate, change; the party will be mired in déjà 1990s all over again. Mrs. Clinton’s spiel about being “tested” by her “35 years of experience” won’t fly either. The moment she attempts it, Mr. McCain will run an ad about how he was being tested when those 35 years began, in 1973. It was that spring when he emerged from five-plus years of incarceration at the Hanoi Hilton while Billary was still bivouacked at Yale Law School. And can Mrs. Clinton presume to sell herself as best equipped to be commander in chief “on Day One” when opposing an actual commander and war hero? I don’t think so.

"Foreign policy issue No. 1, withdrawal from Iraq, should be a slam-dunk for any Democrat. But Mrs. Clinton’s case is undermined by her record. She voted for the war, just as Mr. McCain did, in 2002 and was still defending it in February 2005, when she announced from the Green Zone that much of Iraq was “functioning quite well. ” Only in November 2005 did she express the serious misgivings long pervasive in her own party. When Mr. McCain accuses her of now advocating “surrender” out of political expediency, her flip-flopping will back him up.

"Rush Limbaugh and Tom Delay hate Mr. McCain as much as they hate the Clintons. And they hate him for the same reasons Mr. McCain wins over independents and occasional Democrats: his sporadic (and often mild) departures from conservative orthodoxy on immigration and campaign finance reform, torture, tax cuts, climate change and the godliness of Pat Robertson. Since Mr. McCain doesn’t kick reporters like dogs, as the Clintons do, he will no doubt continue to enjoy an advantage, however unfair, with the press pack on the Straight Talk Express.

"If Mr. Obama doesn’t fight, no one else will. Few national Democratic leaders have the courage to stand up to the Clintons. Even in defeat, Mr. Obama may at least help wake up a party slipping into denial. "

Democrats also need to get some updated polls. With fully half of potential voters saying they would never vote for Hillary, no matter what, her husband and her popularity within the party are irrelevant. If she's that divisive to the electorate, she's toxic to the Democrats.

The Bubble Up Economy - Part Deux

A fascinating article in the February edition of Harper's in which veteran venture capitalist Eric Janszen predicts the next bubble for America's economy, arguing that, in the U.S., "...The bubble cycle has replaced the business cycle." Here are a few excerpts:

"A financial bubble is a market aberration manufactured by government, finance, and industry, a shared speculative hallucination and then a crash, followed by depression. Bubbles were once very rare - one every hundred years or so..."

"...Nowadays we barely pause between such bouts of insanity. The dot-com crash of the early 2000s should have been followed by decades of soul-searching; instead, even before the old bubble had fully deflated, a new mania began to take hold on the foundation of our long-standing American faith that the wide expansion of home ownership can produce social harmony and national economic well-being.

"...That the Internet and housing hyperinflations transpired within a period of ten years, each creating trillions of dollars in fake wealth, is, I believe, only the beginning. There will and must be many more such booms, for without them the economy of the United States can no longer function."

"A few weeks after D-Day, the allies met at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to determine the future of the international monetary system. ...The United States, now the dominant economic and military power, successfully pushed to peg the currencies of member nations to the dollar and to make dollars redeemable in American gold.

"Americans could now spend as wisely or foolishly as our government policy decreed and, regardless of the needs of other nations holding dollars as reserves, print as any dollars as desired. But by the second quarter of 1971, the U.S. balance of merchandise trade had run up a deficit of $3.8 billion, ...until that time the United States had run only surpluses. Members of the Bretton Woods system, most famously French President General Charles de Gaulle, worried that the United States intended to repay the money borrowed to cover its trade gap with depreciated dollars. Opposed to the exercise of such "exorbitant privilege," de Gaulle demanded payment in gold. With the balance of payments so greatly out of balance, newly elected President Richard Nixon faced a run on the U.S. gold supply, and his solution was novel: unilaterally end the U.S. legal obligation to redeem dollars with gold; in other words, default."

"...After 1975, the United States would never again post an annual merchandise trade surplus. Such high-value, finished-goods-producing industries as steel and automobiles were no longer dominant. The new economy belonged to finance, insurance and real estate - FIRE.

FIRE is a credit-financed, asset-price-inflation machine organized around one tenet; that the value of one's assets, which used to fluctuate in response to the business cycle and the financial markets, now goes in only one direction, up, with no more than occasional short-term reversals. With FIRE leading the way, the United States, free of the international gold standard's limitations, how had great flexibility to finance its deficits with its own currency. This was "exorbitant privilege" on steroids.

"...As FIRE rose in power, so did a new generation of politicians, bankers, economists, and journalists willing to invent creative justifications for the system, as well as for the projects - ranging from the housing bubble to the Iraq war - that it financed. The high-water mark of such truckling might be the publication of the Cato Institute report "America's Record Trade Deficit: A Symbol of Strength." Freedom had become slavery, persistent deficits had become economic power."

"...Deregulation had built the church, and seed money was needed to grow the flock. The mechanics of financing vary with each bubble, but what matters is that the system be able to support astronomical flows of funds and generate trillions of dollars' worth of new securities.

"...The media stood by cheeering, carrying breathless profiles of wunderkinder in their early twenties who had just made their first hundred million dollars; business publications grew thick with advertisements. The media barely questioned the fine points of the new theology.

"...In a bubble, fictitious value goes away when market participants lose faith in he religion - when their false beliefs are destroyed as quickly as they had been formed. Since the early 1980s, the free-market orthodoxy of the Chicago School has driven policy on the upward slope of an economic boom, but we're all Keynesians on the way down; rate cuts by the Federal Reserve, tax cuts by Congress, deficit spending, and dollar depreciation are deployed in heroic proportions.

"The Internet boom had been a matter of abstract electrons and monetized eyeballs. ...At the bubble's peak, $12-trillion in fictitious value had been created, a sum greater even than the national debt."

"...Historically, the price of American homes has risen at a rate similar to the annual rate of inflation. ...discounting the housing boom after WWII, that rate has been about 3.3 per cent. Why, then, did housing prices suddenly begin to hyperinflate? Changes in the reserve requirements of U.S. banks, and the creation in 1994 of "sweep" accounts, which link commercial checking and investment accounts, allowed banks greater liquidity - which meant they could offer more credit. this was the formative stage of the bubble. Then, from 2001 to 2002, in the wake of the dot-com crash, the Federal Reserve Funds Rate was reduced from 6 percent to 1.24 percent, leading to similar cuts in the London Interbank Offered Rate that banks use to set some adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) rates. These drastically lowered ARM rates meant that in the United states the monthly cost of a mortgage on a $500,000 home fell to roughly the monthly cost of a mortgage on a $250,000 home purchased two years earlier. Demand skyrocketed, though home builders would need years to gear up their production.

"...All that was needed for hypergrowth was a supply of new capital. ...for the housing bubble, starting around 2003, it came from securitized debt.

"...The U.S. mortgage crisis has been labeled a "subprime mortgage crisis," but subprime mortgages were only a sideshow that appeared late, as the housing-bubble credit machine ran out of creditworthy borrowers. The main event was the hyperinflation of home prices. Risks are embedded in price and lurk as defaults. Even after the faith that supported a bubble recedes, false beliefs continue to obscure cause and effect as the crisis unfolds.

"...The housing bubble has left us in dire shape, worse than after the technology-stock bubble, when the Federal Reserve Funds Rate was 6 percent, the dollar was at a multi-decade peak, the federal government was running a surplus, and tax rates were relatively high, making reflation - interest rate cuts, dollar depreciation, increased government spending, and tax cuts - relatively painless. Now the Funds Rate is only 4.5 per cent, the dollar is at multi-decades lows, the federal budget is in deficit, and tax cuts are still in effect. The chronic trade deficit, the sudden depreciation of our currency, and the lack of foreign buyers willing to purchase its debt will require the United States government to print new money simply to fund its own operations and pay its 22 million employees.

"Our economy is in serious trouble. Both the production-consumption sector and the FIRE sector know that a debt-deflation Armageddon is nigh, and both are praying for a timely miracle, a new bubble to keep the economy from slipping into a depression."

"..There is one industry that fits the bill: alternative energy, the development of more energy-efficient products, along with viable alternatives to oil, including wind, solar and geothermal power, along with the use of nuclear energy to produce sustainable oil substitutes.

".,..Supporting this alternative-energy bubble will be a boom in infrastructure - transportation and communications systems, water and power.

"...The next bubble must be large enough to recover the losses from the housing bubble collapse. How bad will it be? Some rough calculations: the gross market value of all enterprises need to develop hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, nuclear energy7, wind farms, solar power, and hydrogen-powered fuel-cell technology - and the infrastructure to support it - is somewhere between $2 trillion and $4 trillion; assuming the bubble can get started, the hyperinflated fictitious value could add another $12 trillion. Thus, we can expect to see the creation of another $8 trillion in fictitious value, which gives us an estimate of $20 trillion in speculative wealth, money that inevitably will be employed to increase share prices rather than to deliver "energy security." When the bubble finally bursts, we will be left to mop up after yet another devastated industry. FIRE, meanwhile, will already be engineering its next opportunity. Given the current state of our economy, the only thing worse than a new bubble would be its absence."

Buried Alive

Poor George w. Bush. Even really bad presidents don't get kicked into the gutter until they're out of office. Not so for Shrub. According to Paul Harris writing in The Observer, American pundits are already pronouncing judgment on the frat boy's dismal legacy:

"...George W Bush - whose successor won't take office until January 2009 - is ...suffering the indignity of having his historical legacy unfavourably examined while still having almost a year left of his second term. A slew of books and a planned major film are all starting to judge Bush's place in history even as he keeps the seat warm in the Oval Office."

"And so far, the verdict does not look good.

"The title of Jacob Weisberg's recent book says it all. The editor of online magazine Slate called his tome The Bush Tragedy. It is an exhaustive look at the Bush years that paints a portrait of disaster. A publicity blurb for the book, ignoring the fact that Bush has 11 months left in power, talks of the president's 'historic downfall'.

"To cap it all, film director Oliver Stone has announced plans to rush out a biopic on Bush in time for the November election. Though Bush may take some solace in being played by acclaimed actor Josh Brolin."

"...Experts say the rush to judge Bush's legacy in print and celluloid is a sign of the modern media times and also of Bush's powerlessness. Having lost control of Congress, he is effectively unable to drive any policy forward. Thus his legacy is already in place. 'Bush fatigue has set in. Part of that is him. Part of that is the nature of the modern presidency,' said Carl Cannon."

If Oliver Stone wants to save a few bucks, he should consider using the set of "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" as a substitute for the Oval Office.

What Lurks Across the Border Inside Pakistan

Canadian journalists have generally done an abysmal job of covering the conflict in Afghanistan and events in neighbouring countries. The embedded scribes seem to be the worst. They either turn into a weird sort of Florence Nightingale with a keyboard or they're reduce to parroting the litany of absurd claims that regularly issue forth from Canadian commanders.

Absurd? I wish I could recall how many times I've read some Colonel boast that we have the insurgents trapped here or there, leaving them to choose between surrender and death, only to have them vanish, in good order with their weapons, to come back and fight another day at a time and place of their choosing. According to the boss, the Big Cod, Hillier, there were only a "few dozen" insurgents in Kandahar when we went there. Well those few dozen must have an unlimited supply of lives given the casualties we claim to have inflicted on them.

It's not surprising then that we are left to wallow in near total ignorance of what is actually going on across the border in Pakistan's tribal lands. Military and political leaders freely state that this is the key to winning in Afghanistan. Every now and then one of them loudly proclaims the need to go in there and winkle out the terrorists. We regularly blame Islamabad for not doing enough. So just what is going on in the Pakistani border territories?

In the January 28th edition of The New Yorker, journalist Steve Coll has an excellent article on Benazir Bhutto which provides a fascinating window into the state of the "Tribal Lands." Here are a few excerpts:

"...During 2004 and 2005, as the Taliban and Al Qaeda increased in strength in Pakistan, they carried out attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The bush Administration urged President Musharraf to dispatch the Pakistani Army into South Waziristan to disrupt them, and Musharraf agreed to do so. The Army had never before entered the Tribal Areas to subdue them by force' after British troops were defeated there, during the late imperial period, colonial and Pakistani governments had favored a system premised upon local autonomy. The invasion began poorly and has been deteriorating ever since; the Army has taken significant casualties, and, while its forces have killed or captured some Taliban leaders, they have also set off popular resentment."

"...By late 2006, after sporadic battles that received little international attention, the Army had been, in essence, "militarily defeated" by the Taliban and Al qadea, as a US Defence Department official put it."

"...Tariq Waseem Ghazi, a retired three-star general who served as Pakistan's Defense secretary between 2005 and 2007, told me that, among Pakistan's top commanders, 'everybody felt there was a need for a political accommodation' in the Tribal Areas. 'I think it was unreasonable at any time that we should go into the Tribal Areas with the same kind of motivation and fervor with which the coalition went into Afghanistan or into Iraq' he said. '...I kept telling them, Shock and Awe is fine for you if you fly in from the U.S. or Canada, but shock and awe is no good for us when we have to live with the Tribal Areas as a part and parcel of Pakistan.'"

"...Pakistan could have several motives in undertaking a covert program to aid or protect the Taliban: appeasing Pakistan's radicalized Pashtun population; pressuring Afghanistan's government into political concessions favorable to Pakistan; or preserving a historically friendly militia as a hedge against an eventual American withdrawal from Afghanistan."

"...Shuja Nawaz, the military historian, said he doesn't think that among the senior generals and intelligence officers 'there's any consensus that the Taliban are the enemy.; He explained, 'so long as the Taliban don't attack the Army, it sees them as perfectly fine. And, potentially, if they take over Afghanistan, it sees them as a group that would have at least some sympathies with Pakistan and vice versa."

The good/bad news is that the Taliban and al Qaeda appear to be turning their attention, this year at least, away from Afghanistan and onto Islamabad instead. There is always some hope that this may shatter their support within the ranks of the Pakistani Army and its intelligence service. That, however, remains to be seen. Pakistan seems to be descending into a state of political, religious and military turmoil. Rather than pressuring Musharraf we may be better off doing everything we can to support him.
As for fanciful notions of going into the Tribal Lands and North West Frontier to clean out the Taliban and al-Qaeda, we'd better be prepared to go in with a much bigger force than we have in Afghanistan today and we'd better be ready, before we set foot in there, to accept very heavy losses for a very doubtful outcome.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Caroline Kennedy Endorses Obama

Fresh on the heels of his massive win in South Carolina, Barack Obama can add Caroline Kennedy's endorsement.

Writing in the New York Times Kennedy said Obama has the measure of her own father, John F. Kennedy:

"All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama
. It isn’t that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960.

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.
I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans."

I'm not sure this isn't a bigger win for Obama than South Carolina itself.

Obama Hammers Clinton 54-27

MSNBC reports that Barak Obama has trounced Hillary Clinton in South Carolina by a punishing 54-27% margin.

Remarks made by both Clintons in recent weeks seem to have alienated black voters who turned out in big numbers to vote 80% for Obama.

After sniffling her way to a win in New Hampshire, the South Carolina vote puts Hillary very much back in the ranks of just another contender, not the annointed one.

Driving a Stake Through Giuliani's Heart

Florida's highly popular governor, Charlie Crist, has endorsed John McCain in advance of Tuesday's primary in that state.

Crist's move is a blow to rival Mitt Romney and quite possibly a death knell for former frontrunner Count Rudy Giuliani who has been campaigning in Florida for weeks and is relying on that state to legitimize his nomination run.

Some pundits are now speculating that a crushing defeat in Florida could spell the end of Giuliani's "9/11" gravy train. As the New York Times put it, "Goodbye Rudy Tuesday."
There's now speculation that, if he wins the nomination, McCain may chose Crist as his running mate. From Associated Press:
Crist has been seen as a moderate Republican. He has championed efforts to curb climate change, and was praised by former President Clinton for his efforts to restore voting rights of felons who have completed their sentences.

He also pushed for a law that requires a paper trail in state elections, a measure that bans the electronic voting machines his predecessor, Gov. Jeb Bush, sought after the 2000 presidential election. That election ended in a hotly contested recount, which President Bush won by 527 votes.

An "Overwhelming" Victory for Obama

Based on exit polls, the Washington Post is predicting an overwhelming victory for Barak Obama in the South Carolina primaries.

Apparently the white vote was pretty much split with Clinton and Edwards in a near tie and Obama a close third. The black vote, however, is believed to have gone to Obama four to one.

More than half of the Democratic electorate was black, a slight increase over 2004 when 47 percent of primary voters were African-American. A desire for change was once again the key voting attribute of Democratic primary voters - as it had been in votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. And, as in Nevada, which held its caucuses last Saturday, the economy was the overriding concern of the voters.

During today's voting in South Carolina, there were indications of a heavy turnout -- especially in black precincts where Obama, the first African-American with a serious chance of winning the nomination, expects to win easily. Several black precincts near Columbia, the state capital, reported hitting 25 percent of all registered voters by midday, according to state party officials.

Time To Topple Karzai?

Hamid Karzai is turning into a royal pain in the ass and a useless one at that. Maybe it's come to the point where either NATO goes or he does.

Karzai has just blocked the appointment of UN super envoy, Paddy Ashdown. Lord Ashdown had made clear he wanted far-reaching powers to serve as overall co-ordinator for international aid and political efforts in Afghanistan. Now his candidacy is up in Afghan smoke.

From the Times Online:

"The latest snub came as British officials were already fuming over Mr Karzai’s criticism of the role of British troops in Afghanistan. In an outburst to journalists on Thursday, the Afghan leader claimed that British forces had failed in their mission in Helmand province.

“Without British troops in Helmand province there would be no control over the influence of the Taleban in the south, and no control over the Taleban’s exploitation of the poppy,” said one senior army officer who has served in Helmand.

The Afghan leader claimed that Helmand had been under Kabul’s control before the British troops arrived on the scene, and that the province was now overrun with Taleban.

The new tension has been caused by differences between the Kabul Government and the British troops on the ground over Mr Karzai’s choice of local officials to run the Helmand administration and the security forces.

President Karzai expressed particular frustration at the way he claimed the British had forced him to get rid of Sher Muhammad Akhunzada, his chosen and trusted governor in Helmand.
His deployment is yet another signal of Mr Karzai’s lack of faith in British policy in southern Afghanistan and his belief that warlords can succeed where governance fails."

In 2006, the Brits forced the ouster of Sher Muhammad Akhunzada and his replacement by Mohammed Daud. The Brits felt Akhunzada was a corrupt warlord with ties to the opium industry and considered Daud, by conrast, honest and reliable. Maybe Daud was but that didn't stop Karzai from sacking him in December, 2006. And Karzai has blamed the Brits ever since.

From The Telgraph:

"There was one part of the country where we suffered after the arrival of the British forces," Mr Karzai told journalists on the margins of the Davos Economic Forum.

"Before that, we were fully in charge of Helmand. When our governor was there, we were fully in charge. They came and said 'your governor is no good'. I said 'allright, do we have a replacement for this governor, do you have enough forces?'

"Both the American and the British forces guaranteed to me they knew what they were doing and I made the mistake of listening to them. And when they came in, the Taliban came."
Mr Karzai added: "The mistake was that we removed a local arrangement without having a replacement. We removed the police force. That was not good. The security forces were not in sufficient numbers or information about the province. That is why the Taliban came back in."

Karzai is up for re-election next year and this may be time a real leader for Afghanistan came forward. Karzai has just been too ineffective and his government too susceptible to warlords and drug lords to have done any good. According to a new book just released, Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop by Antonio Giustozzi, reviewed in Asia Times, Karzai has contributed to the resurgence of the Taliban:

"Giustozzi partially attributes the re-entry of the Taliban to the feebleness of President Hamid Karzai's administration, which is geared to accommodating tribal strongmen and warlords rather than to building a professional bureaucracy. Corruption, infighting and arrogance among provincial authorities delegitimize the government and open space for the Taliban to re-emerge. For instance, the abuses of Helmand's governor, Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, turned an uncommitted population into Taliban sympathizers by 2006. Harsh methods of the government's intelligence service drive many into the lap of the insurgency. The general weakness of the provincial administration alienates tribal elders who otherwise resent the Taliban's impudence. "

Trying to salvage Afghanistan from its insurgency is hard enough without being undermined by a hapless, corrupt central government. Next year's Afghan elections may be our best, last chance to sort out the Kabul conundrum.

The Economist's Take on Harper - "The Automaton"

What's wrong with the Conservative party, what's holding them back? It's not the opposition but it may well be Stephen Harper. According to The Economist, Steve just isn't connecting with the Canadian people:

"Mr Harper has been unable to do much more than survive. Respected for his competence, he has all the charisma of an automaton. “I thought that people needed time to get used to Mr Harper,” says Roger Gibbins of the Canada West Foundation, an Alberta-based think-tank. “But it's turned out that to know Harper is not to love him.” That is especially true for women. Opinion polls show little change in allegiance since the last election—except for a brief moment of Conservative advance last autumn..."

I don't know about "respected for his competence," a claim that seems to be unravelling the longer Harpo remains in office but really "Automaton?" You gotta admit, I think that nails it right on the head.

Down In The Dumps

When I was born, the gobal population was about 2.4-billion, all in.

Today we've grown to over six billion and that's expected to peak to over nine billion by 2050. Yet of today's six billion, two out of five, 41% don't have access to a latrine. That's 2.6 billion people living their daily lives without sanitation, more than the entire population of the planet when I was born. In Toronto, that would mean upwards of 800,000 people going on the street or in alleys or subway stations or behind your house or beside your car. Try to imagine what that would be like.

Of course we don't have to imagine that, we don't have to think about it at all. This is Canada and pretty much everybody has a pot to... well you know.

It's estimated that 1.5-million children die every year from lack of sanitation and associated hygiene threats. That's a lot of kids, isn't it?

Why am I bringing this up? Just to point out that, while problems like global warming and nuclear proliferation deserve our urgent attention, we can't turn our backs on a host of additional problems just like this one.

Oh, by the way, this is the International Year of Sanitation. There'll even be a World Toilet Summit held in Macao this November to find ways of meeting the goal of reducing by half the percentage of people without access to sanitation by 2015.

Slap Him In Irons If That's What It Takes

Brian Mulroney's lawyer is hinting the boss may not make another appearance before the Commons ethics committee "unless he gets assurances from the committee that it won't stray from its mandate" or at least what Mulroney contends is its mandate.

It's becoming increasingly obvious that there are plenty of areas Mulroney doesn't want the committee exploring, plenty of questions he'd rather not have to answer.

If he doesn't come back, subpoena him. If he doesn't answer the subpoena, proceed against him for contempt and have him brought forward in cuffs if he makes that necessary. Get Mulroney in the witness chair and, this time, get him under oath.

Maybe that'll mean he'll claim the protection against self-incrimination of the Canada Evidence Act, but so be it. At least let him wear that for the rest of his life if he so chooses. This is a guy who claims he's done nothing wrong, he has nothing to hide. Odd how he's done such a fine job of hiding so far.

Brian Mulroney's Cash Fetish

Whenever Brian Mulroney falls into controversy it always seems to involve cash. Long before he started pocketing envelopes of the stuff from Karlheinz Schreiber, Mulroney was awash in good, old fashion, paper currency - bundles of it.

The Commons ethics committee is planning on calling two men who can shed some light on this. One is Mulroney's former Chief of Staff, Norman Spector, and the other is the Mulroney's private chef, Francois Martin. From the Toronto Star:

"Spector, chief of staff to Mulroney in the early 1990s, wrote about the payments in a forward to Toronto lawyer and author William Kaplan's book about Mulroney's relationship with Schreiber.

He describes Mulroney's networking with wealthy and powerful people. He writes also of Mila Mulroney's "expensive lifestyle."

"Mulroney was not a rich man. Party funds were being drawn, and one of our staff was assigned to pore through personal expenses to determine if some might be reimbursed. Every month I cashed a cheque at a local bank and remitted the funds to Mila," Spector wrote.

The committee also expects to hear from François Martin, Mulroney's former chef, who has told of transporting thick envelopes of cash for the family.

In Stevie Cameron's 1994 On the Take, Martin tells of visiting Mulroney aide Fred Doucet in the Prime Minister's Office to pick up thick envelopes of cash and deliver them to Mila Mulroney.

"Cash came in like it was falling from the sky," he said in the book."

Author Stevie Cameron quotes Martin as telling her Mulroney kept a large safe in the basement of 24 Sussex Drive to hold the cash. She also claims that when Mulroney bought his $1.7-million retirement home in Montreal, he and Mila had it extensively renovated. The renos, she claims, cost close to $1-million and much of the cost was paid - in cash.

The Will to Leave - And Live

The Canadian Armed Forces have taken on a Herculean chore in Afghanistan. Maybe that's because we - and the handful of participating NATO nations - are stuck in peacekeeping mode.

I have nothing against peacekeeping. I believe that's what Canadian forces do best, where they make the greatest contribution. That said, Afghanistan isn't about peacekeeping. It's counterinsurgency warfare. Yet we're still approaching it as though it was something else and that's why, six years down the road, we still sit around with our thumbs up our backsides sending our soldiers out trolling for IEDs.

We're told the biggest task is to train an Afghan army of somewhere between 40,000 to 70,000 soldiers to ensure the security of the country and the central government in Kabul. What have we accomplished? 15, maybe 20,000 tops and a lot of them either deserting or about to every day. Six years for this?

In six years we ought to have been able to recruit, equip and train an army of 100,000 from Quaker colonies alone! But the Afghan people aren't pacifists, they're steeped in martial history although it's generally been on a tribal level but still. So what gives? Damn little, and that's the problem.

The answer lies in Canada's mission to Kandahar but you can find the same message in the Dutch, the German and the French contingents also. We're over there on peacekeeping mode.

In warfighting mode, the relative positions of civilian and military leaders shift somewhat. The civilian leadership remains in overall command and tells the military what it wants. The military then tells the civilian leadership what it needs to do the job. The civilian leadership then comes up with what the military needs or at least it does its best to fit the bill. Then the military goes out and achieves what it's been told to accomplish or dies trying.

The military measures its needs according to the job it's been given. If it has to fight an army of 20,000, it needs enough force to do that job. If it has to fight an army of 100,000, it needs considerably more. What the military needs is defined by the challenge. If the government wants to run convoys it needs to churn out corvettes and frigates. If it wants to fight an air war it needs bombers and fighters.

We're at war in Afghanistan but we're not acting like it. At the risk of droning on about this again, when we picked up the Kandahar mission, General Rick Hillier prescribed a force of about 2,500 soldiers for the job. That would give him 1,500 inside the wire to do all the support jobs necessary to let him maintain a combat force of 1,000 soldiers outside the wire. Why only 1,000? Well, at the outset, Hillier told the fawning flock of reporters that we were only facing a "few dozen ...scumbags." Even though Kandahar at 52,000 sq. kms. is a good amount of territory, 1,000 soldiers ought to have been enough to handle a few dozen bad guys.

But that few dozen quickly turned into a few hundred and now into the thousands with several thousand more waiting their turn just across the line in Pakistan and what are we deploying to meet that threat? Why a force of 2,500; 1,500 inside the wire and 1,000 troops outside, just like we had at the outset.

We were supposed to have the bad guys handily outnumbered but we don't anymore. Their numbers have grown, by an order of magnitude, while ours remain static or, perhaps, stagnant. We remain, even at this late date, with a force measured to conventional warfighting, not counterinsurgency.

Guerrilla war isn't fought with tanks and artillery and air strikes. Heavy firepower ought to play a relatively minor role. Counterinsurgency is a war of soldiers, lots of soldiers. It requires the government side to occupy ground, denying that territory and the civilians and villages within it to the enemy. You keep them out by being there yourself.

The Romans mastered counterinsurgency warfare and just about every power since then has had a go at it. Vietnam, Algeria, Cuba, Afghanistan are all examples where the guerrillas won. There are others. Let's see - where did they lose? I'll have to get back to you on that. Sure there was Malaya but there the Brits weren't dealing with a nationalist force but an insurgency spawned by an ethnic minority (Chinese) that the Malays wouldn't support.

Notice I said "nationalist"? That's because guerrilla movements are nationalist. They come from within and seek to implant their vision on their country. It's their country. It's where they and their families and their tribes live. They don't want to destroy the country, they want to reshape it. That's why their war is a political war. Only by achieving their political goals - foremost among them the collapse of popular support for the central government - do they win.

You don't get very far trying to force a guerrilla opponent to fight a military war. By the simple fact that they don't have tanks or artillery or helicopter gunships or mobility or high tech communications, there's no way they can win a military war. But they don't have to win a military war, they don't have to fight a military war. Our senior officers just make themselves look idiotic when they mock the Taliban for not coming out to "fight like men." That's the mentality of leadership that's committed to fighting the wrong war, the military war.

The low manpower/high firepower military war plays into the hands of the insurgents. We've become addicted to massively superior firepower as a "force multiplier" a way to avoid having to actually multiply the force itself. It's just super, as long as you can get your enemy to mass into a convenient formation in a suitable battlefield. That's military war. Those same, massive firepower weapons lose political wars. Because you rely on weaponry you don't have soldiers on the ground in the villages to keep the insurgents out. Then, when the guerrillas provoke you into firing on them, your powerful weaponry almost inevitably wipes out civilians in the mix.

Now, you may kill ten guerrillas and only two civilians but in the village down the road the locals are going to get told you killed twelve civilians and they're going to believe it. There, you just took another loss in the political war. They're going to believe it because they know these insurgents freely come into their villages also and that means they could be the next in line for your "death from above." They lay the blame for the dead civilians at your feet because they know that when their turn comes it'll be a Western bomb that kills their family. And all that heavy firepower they associate with that guy Karzai in Kabul. Eventually they may see the guerrillas as their only hope of getting to live in peace again.

So, what's the answer? Surely it must begin in taking the decision to either leave or wage a counterinsurgency war. We either fight the insurgents in their political war or we leave. How do we fight a counterinsurgency war? You do what it takes and that means your political leaders decide to provide their military leaders with what they need for this type of warfare - massive numbers of soldiers.

Those leaders, Harper included, need to take a couple of hours to read America's new Counterinsurgency Field Manual, FM 3-24. If you want to read it and know more about the problem than your own prime minister and his defence minister and, perhaps, even our top general, follow this link:

The lead author of fm3-24 was America's guerrilla warfare wunderkind, David Petraeus. It came about because the American military realized after 9/11 that it knew almost nothing about counterinsurgency warfare. They also realized there was a treasure trove of invaluable information at their fingertips from all those guerrilla wars over the last two millenia and they began by absorbing and digesting that wisdom.

So, what's the miracle truism of fm3-24? Rule Numero Uno is that counterinsurgency warfare is the most labour-intensive warfare we can undertake. You need people on the ground occupying territory. You need them living in and securing the villages and the fields and the installations. You need them scouring the territory ambushing and hunting down the insurgents. You need scads of soldiers so that you maintain the initiative, not the guerrillas. You win by keeping them on the defensive, unable to access their essential civilian support system. If you don't, you lose. Which leads to Rule Numeros Dos - Go Big or Go Home.

Harper, loudmouthed braggart that he is, proclaims the government is going to do "what's right" in Afghanistan, not what it learns from polls. Fair enough. Want to know "what's right?" Go to fm 3-24 and other recent strategic studies. What's right is a combat force that falls between one rifle for every twenty five to fifty civilians in the territory to be protected. What's right means a force of 15-25,000 soldiers in Kandahar, combat soldiers. That's "what's right", and that's what Harper has absolutely no intention of doing.

What's right is not leaving our understrength force over there to run through territory it doesn't control, trolling for IEDs. What's right is having the courage, the decency to honour the sacrifice of these soldiers by admitting we're not going to bear the burden of fielding the force they need to win. What's right is to muster up the integrity to admit it's time to leave.