Monday, March 31, 2008

Sadr - 1, Maliki - 0

Muqtada al Sadr got a step closer to taking power in Iraq this past week.

Nouri al-Maliki gambled everything, including his own reputation, in personally leading the Iraq army's assault to clear Basra, promising a "decisive and final battle," only to see his numerical and firepower superiority go up in smoke as Iraqi soldiers were repeatedly mauled and ground down by Sadr's irregulars, the Mahdi Army.

The balance of power has shifted. A number of factors have come into play. One is that Sadr's forces have shown they can and will resist the government forces, even in the face of American air support. The Mahdi Army has shown that Sadr cannot be eliminated militarily. Baghdad is going to have to accommodate him. The fighting showed that the success of the "surge" was more Sadr's doing than that of Bush or Petraeus. Maliki, already seen as politically weak, has now shown himself as militarily weak also.

This wasn't just between rival Shia factions. The Sunni were watching closely, so were the Kurds. Now they've seen just what they can expect to be up against if they get into a shooting match with Baghdad and, if anything, they're bound to be (to use Bush's favourite word) "emboldened." Maliki may have just scuppered any hopes Maliki and Bush had of meaningful compromises to forge a united Iraq.

So Maliki lost this opening game but there are several more to be played. Iraq has provincial elections coming up in October and then there's the World Series in Washington in November. Every group in Iraq must be planning how they'll be spending the long, hot summer that's just around the corner.

Sadr acted brilliantly in calling off his militias when he did. They had already achieved their political objectives and engaging in a war of attritition at this point could have left the Mahdi Army too weak to exploit whatever opportunities may come along over the next six months.

What must be running through Maliki's mind? Possibly visions of the end.

Just When You'd Lost All Faith In The RCMP

Along comes the news - surprise, surprise - that utterly disgraced RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardeli intervened to slap Ralph Goodale's name right on a pivotal press release that may well have handed Stevie Harper a ticket to 24 Sussex Drive.

Now according to RCMP Complaints Commissioner/smokescreen Paul Kennedy, there was no evidence that Zaccardelli's intervention was politically motivated. Mr. Kennedy, of course, is the man least able to find evidence of anything untoward in any complaint against the RCMP.

I have found that Commissioner Zaccardelli made the final decision to issue the letter and news release, and he likely also provided the impetus and direction for the production of those documents. There is no evidence that Commissioner Zaccardelli relied on any improper considerations in coming to his decisions."

No evidence at all, none whatsoever. I mean, just because Zaccardelli plastered Goodale's name on the press release and then released it, by fax, not to the press but first to an opposition MP, that's not evidence of anything improper, is it?

Of course the most telling point of the Kennedy absolution is found in this line from the Globe & Mail:

"Mr. Kennedy said that Mr. Zaccardelli and several senior members of the RCMP policy centre, which was responsible for the conduct and communication of the income-trust investigation, refused to provide him with any information about the disclosure."

Oh, now I get it. There's no evidence of any wrongdoing because all those who would have any knowledge of it refused to talk to the guy who then blithely exonerated them.

After standing on his head to the delight of bystanders, Kennedy went on to do the splits, adding that the RCMP has no policy on notifying complainants when an investigation is initiated into a complaint. “Clearly if you have no policy you can't break policy,” he said.

There you go, classic Kennedy. What a waste of skin.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

2008 Election GORED!

Al Gore may be the most influential politico not to be running in the 2008 US presidential election.

Gore plans to hold the candidates' feet to the fire over global warming. On this evening's 60 Minutes, Gore unveiled a $300-million initiative to force climate change to the top of the candidates' debates.

"The first television advertisements, which are to begin airing on broadcast networks as well as cable starting on Wednesday, will pair up the most unlikely partners in the movement to address global warming.

A clip aired on CBS showed the Reverend Al Sharpton sharing a sofa with the conservative preacher Pat Robertson. The two men acknowledge they agree on almost nothing - barring the need to deal with global warming.

Other spots will feature the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, alongside New Gingrich, the conservative Republican who once held the same post.

The support from such conservative figures as Gingrich and Robertson marks a victory for Gore in his efforts to make global warming a cause for all Americans: evangelical Christians and fiscal conservatives as well as those on the left."

It's a smart move at just the right time. Neither Clinton nor Obama can afford not to heed the campaign. It could easily resolve the contest against either of them should they choose to ignore it. However embracing the message will mean presenting some clear and specific policies against which John McCain will be measured.

If, as I suspect, Iraq is in for a dangerous and violent summer, the "surge factor" that McCain has been relying on may present him with a big liability. He too cannot afford to shun a bi-partisan environmental campaign of the sort crafted by Gore.

The Sparks Are Yet To Fly in Harare

Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, claims a landslide victory over Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF in yesterday's general election.

'We've won this election,' said Tendai Biti, the MDC's secretary-general. 'The results coming in show that in our traditional strongholds we are massacring them. In Mugabe's traditional strongholds they are doing very badly. There is no way Mugabe can claim victory unless it is through fraud. He has lost this election.'

Is this the beginning of the end to Zimbabwe's nightmare, the end of Mugabe's 28-year reign? Don't count on it. The official results haven't yet been announced and it's hard to imagine Mugabe wouldn't rig an unfavourable outcome to claim victory. That's especially true given that Zimbabwe's army and police leaders have announced they won't tolerate an MDC win.

Mugabe, corrupt and incompetent as any leader can be, has been clever enough to ensure the leadership of his country's military and security services are utterly beholden to him. Who needs to worry about the people so long as you have the absolute loyalty of all the guns?

Iraq's Viet Cong

Nouri al-Maliki may just have transformed a troublesome militia into Iraq's own Viet Cong. It's the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al Sadr, an outfit that's making effective use of the most potent guerrilla tactics to grind down the numerically and technologically dominant Iraq Army.

Whereas the Viet Cong used the jungles, waterways, backroads and even networks of tunnels to wage their war against the South Vietnamese and American forces, the Mahdi Army operates in its own jungle, the congested slums of Iraq's key cities and their intricate mazes of alleys where tanks can't reach and fighting is one-on-one.

James Glanz wrote a brilliant article in yesterday's New York Times in which he explains why this latest war, pitting Shiite against Shiite, is different and may just be the undoing of the Maliki government. This isn't about resisting the occupiers. It's about dethroning the Baghdad government and, in this fight, time is not on Maliki's side.

Glanz writes that this battle, this war, bears an eerie resemblance to a recurring dream he developed in his four years covering Iraq:

"Here is what happens in the dream: Because I know a little Arabic, I somehow find myself a translator for the invaders, even as some of my Chicago buddies are in the alleys plotting against my employers. And each night when I walk home along my beloved Dearborn Street under the rusty elevated tracks and past the White Hen grocery store, I wonder what the guys poring over maps in their armored vehicles plan to accomplish against a few million South Siders fighting in their own alleys. That’s usually when I wake up.

That dream, a nightmare, really, flashed through my mind as I stood at the end of a filthy, pothole-riddled alley talking with a small-time deputy commander in the Mahdi Army,
the militia that is the armed wing of Mr. Sadr’s political movement. Standing there with his arms folded over his potbelly as his fighters scurried about behind him, the man who called himself Riadh, 34 years old, was effectively deputy commander of an alley.

We can’t face the armored tanks of the Americans face to face, because all we have is light guns,” he said. “So we just wait for a chance to attack something.”

Alleys: they are dangerous only when used by those who grew up in them. That is the basic reason Mr. Sadr and his fighters simply will not go away in this war.

What makes the case so difficult is that it is not just a question of a battle with American troops, here from half a world away carrying out operations that Mr. Sadr and his fighters consider an abhorrent occupation. Some 3,500 troops in the Basra fight are Iraqis from outside the province, and witnesses say it is clear that few if any of the Iraqi security forces in the assault know the neighborhoods the way the Mahdi Army does. Its fighters literally pop in and out of alleys, battling a federal force of nearly 30,000 to what is, so far, a stalemate.

No one has ever accused Mr. Sadr of being brilliant, charismatic, or even above average in the intellectual realm. But he has one thing few of those leaders have: he never left, even in the worst years of Saddam Hussein. And that does not just give him credibility on the streets. In a country where sheer social, religious, political, historical, geographic and psychological complexities are what seem to defeat all easy solutions, Mr. Sadr is one of the few who have been here continuously, absorbing the shifting lessons of the place. He has done his homework, he has put in his time.

As I sit here writing this piece, listening to the intermittent whooshes and booms of rockets and mortars fired into the Green Zone, almost certainly by Mr. Sadr’s fighters, I can no more predict where the conflict is headed than I can say what will be in my dreams tonight during the few hours of sleep that this war and my editors allow me. But when it comes to Mr. Sadr’s loyalists in the alleys of Basra and Baghdad, one thing is irrefutable.

In those alleys, waking up will not end the dream."

Glanz has filed a piece in today's NYT, in which he reports that the Mahdi Army has consolidated control of at least half and, by some accounts, possibly much more of Basra, taking over police stations and establishing roadblocks.

Maliki's weakening has been dramatic. From beginning with a "surrender or die" edict, he switched to a 72-hour amnesty for surrender and then extending that by a further week and offering to pay rewards for those who turn in their guns. That doesn't sound like a guy who figures he's winning this battle. It sounds like someone who is very worried about his own ability to survive the conflict.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cause for Concern? Has McCain Lost It?

Okay, so Hillary just makes it up as she goes along. Not so for John McCain. That's why his stumble when he linked the fundamentalist Sunni, al-Qaeda in Iraq with the fundamentalist Shia government of Iran seemed so perplexing.

So just what happened? It sounds as though the Republican presidential candidate can't tell a Sunni from Shiite and yet I find that hard to believe. McCain is probably neck and neck with Murtha for the Politician Most Invested in Iraq prize.

What really got me thinking was when I heard an American journalist ponder whether McCain had simply had a "senior moment." Life takes us all and it's a bitch. That said if Iraq is John McCain's Viagra, let's make damned sure he still has all his marbles. No "senior moments" for the Commander in Chief of the Free World, rien?

Outsourcing Your Very Life

What's this woman doing? Whatever it is, she's doing it in a really nasty, ill-lit and unhygenic looking spot.

You can thank the New York Times for that photo. It shows a Chinese woman processing pig intestines, the mucus membranes from which are used to make the blood thinner Heparin. Hmmm, is squalor what you think of when pharmaceuticals come to mind?

"After many near misses and warning signs, the heparin scare has eliminated any doubt that, here and abroad, regulatory agencies overseeing the safety of medicine are overwhelmed in a global economy where supply chains are long and opaque, and often involve many manufacturers.

“In the 1990s governments were all about trying to maximize the volume of international trade,” said Moisés Naím, editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine and author of “Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy.” “I’m all for that, but I believe this decade is going to be about maximizing the quality of that trade, not quantity.”

Mr. Naím said the heparin scare is already having a “huge” impact, fueling worldwide anxiety over imported medicine and a growing demand for consumer protection.

The way heparin is made and distributed illustrates the challenges. The drug’s raw material comes from mucous membranes in the intestines of slaughtered pigs. Those membranes are mixed together and cooked, a process that in China often takes place in unregulated family workshops.
It is then transported to middlemen, called consolidators, who direct the product to plants in China that manufacture heparin’s active ingredient for shipment to either another trader or the finished dose manufacturer. In the United States, the tainted ingredients ended up at Baxter International, which later had to recall the blood thinner.

Since the outbreak in the United States, Japan and several countries in Europe have recalled certain heparin products made with Chinese ingredients. In some instances, European traders buy and sell the heparin to companies in other countries, extending the supply chain even more.

Anti-counterfeiting experts say that the longer the chain, the greater the opportunity for counterfeiters to adulterate the product. In fact, F.D.A. investigators have yet to figure out where in the multistage manufacturing process the chemical that mimics heparin was added."

First it was lethal pet food, then toxic toothpaste, lead painted toys, now it's blood thinners. C'mon people, something has to give. We either deal with this properly - now - or, I swear, we will lose control of this problem.

HILLARY WASN'T LYING! The Real Sniper Incident Revealed!

What makes this clip so good is there stands Hillary amidst an adoring crowd and she's beaming at them and lying right to their faces. The only thing she didn't say was, "I did not have sexual relations with that sniper." It makes you wonder, is this the vaunted "experience" advantage Hillary claims entitles her to the Democratic nomination?

By the way, when that hotline phone rings at 3 a.m., I hope the person who picks it up isn't under any delusions about being under sniper fire.

Siegelman Out on Bond

Former Alabama governor Don Siegelman has been released from prison where he was serving time for supposed bribery. A Federal Appeals Court ordered his release saying there were legitimate questions about the case.

The Siegelman case has become widely celebrated as an example of Republican abuse of justice in Alabama. When 60 Minutes recently aired an expose on Siegelman, the network's affiliate in northern Alabama went off the air, claiming it had experienced a technical failure with the network.

Karl Rove has been linked to the effort to railroad Siegelman.

The Face of The World Environment

Rainforest Clearing - Brazil

Kite Flying in Beijing

Coal Fueled Generator in Yorkshire

River Pollution in China

Drought in Australia

These pictures, reprinted from The Guardian, tell just part of the story of what's happening to our world. Floods, droughts, crop failures, desertification, resource depletion, freshwater exhaustion, species extinction not to mention widescale pollution of the air, land and water.
Living in Canada we experience these global realities mainly through the occasional disturbing photograph. For most people in the world this is the reality of their own back yards, of their streets and cities and rivers.
Today's Globe & Mail has a moving story on the effects on the world's poor people of the doubling of grain prices over this past year. The "humanitarian" news services are running these stories every day, without exception. Around the world, more and more people can no longer afford the basic staples they see on their store shelves. That number is growing rapidly. Out of sight, out of mind? Maybe for now but not for long.
Desperate people are often angry people, especially if they can see the cause of their misery and suffering as someone else. Maybe they see you running around in your SUV as responsible for their children's hunger. A lot of these people do have some access to television even if they never could dream of having one themselves. At some point they're bound to catch a look at Western programming showing how we lead our lives, our seemingly inexhaustible abundance.
These folks already know that we rich Westerners are responsible for their climate change problems, the full effects of which they're experiencing already. Do you really think this isn't going to create a lot of hotheads seeking to avenge their people's suffering? If you don't believe that the Pentagon and the British Ministry of Defence who've studied this growing problem certainly do.
Forget Islamist terrorism, that's for kids.

McCain - Talkin' the Talk and then Walking Away

John McCain wants voters to believe he's a true champion of the environment. That's what he says. What he does - that's a different story.

When tough environmental initiatives come to a vote in the US Senate, you can count on John McCain to be - well, to be absent. From The Guardian:

"Twice in the last three months, the US Senate has come within one vote of overturning $1.7bn in tax benefits for oil companies and using the money to promote renewable energy. Both times, McCain has skipped the vote, effectively killing the proposal and alarming leading green groups.

"McCain also was a no-show during controversial votes on subsidising the conversion of oil to "clean" coal and relaxing rules for oil refineries.

"When the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) released its annual environmental rankings last month, McCain - whose campaign website declares him "a leader on the issue of global warming" - earned a zero for missing all of the group's votes on key green issues. He was one of nine Republicans scoring the lowest possible rating."

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups intend to publicize McCain's environmental voting record in the runup to the November elections. From his embrace of Christian fundamentalism to his call for even more deregulation of the financial sector to his insistence on keeping the Iraq War on the front burner, John McCain is showing the world that there's a lot more to him and a lot less to him than he'd like you to believe.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Carbon Taxes to Level Playing Field

It's an idea I've endorsed for some time - carbon tariffs on imports. Work out the carbon footprint associated with an import and then levy a tariff on it as the product arrives at our docks.

By fixing the tariff to the product, it becomes possible to circumvent the principal arguments that block progress on a meaningful and effective plan to combat global greenhouse gas emissions.

The more populous countries, China and India, have a sound argument that because their per capita emissions are just a fraction of a citizen of the West, they should get a pass until we lower our per capita emissions. This, of course, ignores the fact that they're largely poor, over populated, agrarian societies which gives them an enormous advantage on the per capita scale.

The smaller, Western countries also have a sound argument when they point to China having already emerged to become the top GHG emitter. Leaving aside issues of population, that's a powerful argument but it's no more powerful than the per capita argument so - stalemate.

Carbon tariffs levied on production cut through both arguments and break the deadlock. Those tariffs, however, must be applied to imports as well as domestic production. Then fair is fair.

CIBC World Markets has released a report endorsing carbon tariffs and noting they could even restore North America's manufacturing sector. From the Toronto Star:

"It becomes absurdly quixotic to ban coal plants in North America while at the same time China's got 570 coal plants slated to go into production between now and 2012, 30 plants between now and the Olympics," CIBC economist Jeff Rubin said.
"We're moving in opposite directions."

With some advanced countries enacting carbon taxes, carbon trading systems and other measures to lower emissions, CIBC believes the growing pollution from developing countries will provoke penalties against their exports.

That would benefit the environment, and will also bring certain jobs back to North America, since carbon emission taxes and high oil prices would offset the benefit of cheap labour, Rubin says.

"Chinese goods will have to pay for the carbon that they emitted and they'll pay for that when they enter our market place by paying that tariff," Rubin said in an interview.

"Once we impose the tariff on Chinese goods, some of those industries will be coming home, because . . . energy and carbon efficiency is going to matter more than labour costs."

We still have an edge on clean technology and we do the country no good service by failing to use that edge to our own betterment. We need to see carbon taxes not as something that will endanger our economy but something that can stimulate and restore our economy.

It's The End of the World As We Know It

Unless you're over 70, you probably don't remember a time when the United States of America wasn't global top dog. The transition, well underway by the late 30's, was really cemented by WWII. When that one was over no one was in the slightest doubt of who was ruling the roost.

It's been a terrific run. The 50's, 60's and 70's were the grandest time to be an American, heralding real social, political and economic advances. Whatever was new today would be the basis for something newer next year. No one could even foresee that ending. But ending it is.

George w. Bush has caused enormous damage to his country. With the help of a Saudi guy, he's dragged the US to the far right and perched it precariously very near the end of the limb.

Six months ago there was very optimistic talk about how the next president would put America back on an even keel and, eventually, undo the damage left in the wake of a departing Bush. There was still time to set things right. It wouldn't be easy and it wouldn't be quick but there was still at least some time. Lately, however, it seems that hopeful optimism may have been misplaced.

Take Bush's tax cuts for the rich. When they were introduced, even John McCain opposed them. That was then. Now McCain favours making them permanent and even Clinton and Obama are talking about which cuts should be kept and new ones to be added.

Now the line is that these ruinous tax cuts are necessary to see America through its current fiscal crisis. Say what? Even the Washington Post which seems to oppose the tax cuts then goes on to make a bizarre claim:

"The direction of the tax debate is frustrating deficit hawks in Washington, who worry that none of the candidates is charting a course toward a balanced budget. Meanwhile, Bush and other politicians are telling voters alarmed by a sagging economy that keeping the cuts past their 2010 expiration date can help revive the nation's fortunes, a claim many economists say is nonsense."

Okay, the tax cuts are bad. But then the paper goes on to describe how wonderful the Bush cuts have been:

"The tax cuts, the signal economic achievement of the Bush administration, are among the three biggest federal tax reductions since the end of World War II, comparable in size to the Reagan tax cut of 1981 and the Kennedy tax cut passed in 1964, according to the nonprofit Tax Foundation. By the time the Bush cuts are scheduled to expire, it's projected that they will have saved taxpayers $1.6 trillion."

They will have "saved" taxpayers money? Only if you ignore the fact that these cuts have been funded by enormous government borrowing. America's taxpayers, particularly the working and middle classes, are going to have to repay that money, with interest, to foreign lenders - every last dime of it. And the longer this madness goes on, the more debt those taxpayers are going to carry, with interest, and the more they and their kids and grandkids are going to have to pay.

It's sad really. The American people seemingly can't be trusted to accept tough measures necessary to restore their country. If Chretien and Martin had shown as little faith in us they would never have embarked on the road to balanced budgets and debt reduction. Imagine the mess we would be in today.

I think one thing is obvious. If no presidential candidate runs seeking a mandate to reverse America's fiscal slide there'll be even less chance of reform coming through Congress. Debt is a disease that has spread through the United States at all levels and America will have enormous problems retaining its place on the global scene if it doesn't deal with this problem.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Oh Damn! Democracy's Back in Pakistan

When it comes to the Global War Without End on Terror, the less democracy we have to overcome the better.

Look what happens when those brown people get democracy? You get Hamas elected by the Palestinians. Hezbollah gets in to the Lebanese legislature. Now you've got moderates in power in Pakistan. What next?

You see the thing is, once they get elected, they get all uppity. They just don't do what they're told, they're hardly any use at all - or worse.

Take Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's former dictator. He swept the decks; threw uncooperative judges in jail, tossed the parliament - now there was a guy you could double-deal with. Sure he conned you a lot of the time but at least he said he'd do what he was told. And then, along comes democracy. Great.

Now Pakistan has fallen into the hands of a bunch of "free thinkers" who've announced they'll actually hold talks with the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership in their country. When Bush sent diplomats John Negroponte and Richard Boucher to meet coalition leader Nawaz Sharif, they got a chilly welcome and a scolding. From The Guardian:

"...senior coalition partner Nawaz Sharif gave the visiting Americans a public scolding for using Pakistan as a "killing field" and relying too much on Musharraf.

"...body language between Negroponte and Sharif during their meeting on Tuesday spoke volumes: the Pakistani greeted the American with a starched handshake, and sat at a distance .

In blunt remarks afterwards, Sharif said he told Negroponte that Pakistan was no longer a one-man show. "Since 9/11, all decisions were taken by one man," he said. "Now we have a sovereign parliament and everything will be debated in the parliament."

It was "unacceptable that while giving peace to the world we make our own country a killing field," Sharif said, echoing widespread public anger at US-funded military operations in the tribal belt.

"If America wants to see itself clean of terrorism, we also want our villages and towns not to be bombed," he said."

Well, there goes the neighbourhood and it's all the fault of that damned democracy again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More Thoughts on Clean Coal

Clean Coal theory is dangerous. As global warming skeptics constantly point out, there's always some uncertainty about theories.

Why is Clean Coal just a theory? Because no one has yet shown that the amount of CO2 that needs to be captured to establish a viable, clean coal-fired electricity system can be safely and permanently sequestered. It requires a lot of emptiness - underground reservoirs where the carbon can be stored under very high pressure. The reservoirs need to be in reasonable proximity to the capture source. The further you need to pump the stuff the greater the expense and the risk of something going wrong.

Here's a little something they don't want to tell you: there's not remotely enough reservoir space to pull this off. That's why it's all gimmickry, a diversion. So if, in theory, you had an infinite amount of reservoir space and if, in theory, enough of that reservoir space was suitable to safely store high pressure CO2 and if, in theory, enough of that suitable reservoir space was sufficiently close to make sequestration economically viable, then you've got, in theory, an answer.

So, the first question for Mr. Harpo - how much viable storage capacity exists? Second question - how much CO2 can be safely and permanently sequestered in the existing storage? Third question - how much of Canada's electricity requirements can ever be realized through clean coal technology?

It sounds great, in theory, but sometimes you have to ask the practical questions.

Is Harper On To Something or Just On Something?

Stephen Harper has unveiled the cornerstone of the Tories' environmental programme - a "clean coal" power plant in development in Saskatchewan.

The idea behind clean coal is to capture the CO2 emissions and sequester the carbon somewhere that it can't escape into the atmosphere. That goal presents a host of technological challenges, all of which have to be met if it is to be worth the expense and effort.

The way the Saskatchewan project is being hyped you would think that Canada scored some enormous breakthrough, something the rest of the world has been able to only dream of. Now you wouldn't know it to listen to Harpo but the Saskatchewan project. to which he's now conveniently lashed himself, was announced in 2002 and it was in 2002 that Saskatchewan announced its plans for a demonstration clean coal electricity plant in 2007.

Carbon capture technology has come a long way since 2002 but the problem then, as now, remains in sequestration. Capturing the CO2 is only good if you can find a way to store it - safely and permanently.

The popular concept of sequestration is to pump the gas under high pressure into existing oil wells where it will actually help in the extraction of remaining oil reserves. It sounds good, in theory, but there can be problems. For starters, the gas sits there waiting to escape. It just sits there, at high pressure, waiting and waiting and waiting for something, such as a fissure to develop. If one of these reservoirs is breached you don't want to be living anywhere near it, at least if you want to go on living.

What's troubling is that the most technologically challenging part - sequestration - is the part that's almost never mentioned. Instead our attention is diverted to the shiny bits - carbon capture.

But, for Harpo, it's all sleight of hand. It's a promise he won't be around to keep anyway and it's something he can use to conceal his deliberate failure to take any meaningful action to curb GHG emissions.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Another Trace of D.B. Cooper?

It's been almost 20-years since a young boy found $5,800 of D.B. Cooper's stash of twenty dollar bills decomposing along the banks of the Columbia River. The bills were determined to be part of the $200,000 Northwest Orient Airlines gave Cooper after he hijacked their plane on a hop from Portland, Oregon to Seattle in November, 1971. Cooper also demanded, and got, four parachutes after threatening to blow up the plane.

Somewhere over the Pacific Northwest, Cooper put on one of the parachutes, took the money and walked off the plane's rear ramp into a raging storm. It's been widely believed that Cooper didn't survive the jump. Now it seems he might just have made it after all.

The FBI is now conducting forensic tests on a parachute discovered by some kids two weeks ago in a field 100-miles south of Seattle. The chute had been buried in the dirt. The FBI has confirmed that the field was on the flightpath taken when Cooper jumped.

Hurricane Hillary - the Democrats' Own Katrina

The best thing that John McCain has going for him is Hillary Clinton. So long as she's in the race for the Democratic Party's nomination his popularity soars. By the time November has come and gone the toughest opponent McCain may have faced in his march to the White House could be Mike Huckabee.

David Brooks, writing in the International Herald Tribune, says Hillary simply can't help herself - or the Democrats.

"The door is closing. Night is coming. The end, however, is not near.

Last week, an important Clinton adviser told Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen (also of Politico) that Clinton had no more than a 10 percent chance of getting the nomination. Now, she's probably down to a 5 percent chance.

Five percent.

Let's take a look at what she's going to put her party through for the sake of that 5 percent chance: The Democratic Party is probably going to have to endure another three months of daily sniping.

For three more months (maybe more!) the campaign will proceed along in its Verdun-like pattern. There will be a steady rifle fire of character assassination from the underlings, interrupted by the occasional firestorm of artillery when the contest touches upon race, gender or patriotism. The policy debates between the two have been long exhausted, so the only way to get the public really engaged is by poking some raw national wound.

For the sake of that 5 percent, this will be the sourest spring.

About a fifth of Clinton and Obama supporters now say they wouldn't vote for the other candidate in the general election. Meanwhile, on the other side, voters get an unobstructed view of the Republican nominee. John McCain's approval ratings have soared 11 points. He is now viewed positively by 67 percent of Americans. A month ago, McCain was losing to Obama among independents by double digits in a general election matchup. Now McCain has a lead among this group.

For three more months, Clinton is likely to hurt Obama even more against McCain, without hurting him against herself. And all this is happening so she can preserve that 5 percent chance.

When you step back and think about it, she is amazing. She possesses the audacity of hopelessness.

Why does she go on like this?

Does Clinton privately believe that Obama is so incompetent that only she can deliver the policies they both support?

Is she simply selfish, and willing to put her party through agony for the sake of her slender chance?

The better answer is that Clinton's long rear-guard action is the logical extension of her relentlessly political life.

For nearly 20 years, she has been encased in the apparatus of political celebrity. Look at her schedule as first lady and ever since. Think of the thousands of staged events, the tens of thousands of times she has pretended to be delighted to see someone she doesn't know, the hundreds of thousands of times she has recited empty clichés and exhortatory banalities, the millions of photos she has posed for in which she is supposed to appear empathetic or tough, the billions of politically opportune half-truths that have bounced around her head.

No wonder the Clinton campaign feels impersonal. It's like a machine for the production of politics. It plows ahead from event to event following its own iron logic."

Maybe He Should Give Bush a Medal

According to Dick Cheney, the greatest burden of the Iraq War isn't being carried by those soldiers now enduring their fourth combat tours in that hellhole. It isn't by those who find themselves trapped beyond their enlistments thanks to the military's "stop loss" policy. No, the real burden is being carried by President Bush.

"The president carries the biggest burden, obviously," Cheney said. "He's the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans, but we are fortunate to have a group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm's way for the rest of us."

There are no words to describe how vile this creature is. Dick Cheney knows a lot about fighting. He fought to bag five draft deferments during the Vietnam War to keep his ass safely at home while others went off to do his share of the fighting. This man is the poster boy of Chickenhawks. It's no wonder he has no idea, none, of the burden his country's trapped soldiers are truly bearing.

Hillary Under Fire

Hillary Clinton isn't having a good time of it lately. After running a pretty effective smear job on her rival, Barack Obama, to the enternal gratitude of Republican John McCain, Hillary has been pulled back into the realm of reality, her own reality, and she's not liking it.

To use the phrase of the judge at the McCartney divorce hearing about Heather Mills, Hillary has "over-egged the pudding." That's a polite way of saying she's been a bit carried away with her many claims to fame.

To hear her tell it, she was instrumental in helping her husband, the Big Dog, cope with the many crises he faced during his terms as president. Why she must've been right there by his side, guiding his hand. Except she wasn't. It turns out that some 11,000 pages of her record - pried loose by a Republican Freedom of Information proceeding - shows a considerably different picture to that painted by Hillary. Often she was on holiday at critical moments or having a tea social somewhere else.

Now Hillary is up against the "Phantom Sniper." This little, self-serving figment of Hillary's imagination came up in relation to her 1996 visit to Bosnia. Just last week Hillary told everyone how she had to brave sniper fire when she arrived at Tuzla airport:

"I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base," she said in a speech last Monday.

Brave stuff indeed, presidential even - except it didn't happen. She just made it up. Also along on that junket was the comedian Sinbad who said the greatest crisis they faced was figuring out where to eat.

Caught with her drawers down and unable to claim the dog ate her homework, Hillary did the only thing she could do, she says she "misspoke":

"I say a lot of things — millions of words a day — so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement."

Yes, Mrs. Clinton, you do say a lot of things - a lot about your Democratic rival, Mr. Obama, and a lot about yourself. Maybe if you focused on saying less - maybe by just sticking to things that are true - you would do yourself a lot of good.

A weekend poll found that 60% of American voters said that McCain and Obama were believable. 57% said that Clinton was not believable. This is a candidate with a serious credibility problem and it's all of her own making.

Monday, March 24, 2008

What Did My Father Fight For?

How dare you? That seems to be a popular line among blogging tories. How dare you?

They question a prominent Liberal's assertion that our fathers fought for certain values in WWII which he claimed included cracking down on white supremacists in Calgary.

These same tories then go on to clothe their own dads in values they espouse. Sort of like getting out the Barbies and playing dress up. My dad was in the army (perhaps the motor pool or quartermasters corps but hey) and so he therefore validated my point of view on this issue or the other and he certainly didn't fight for anything you support.

What a preposterous load of hooey. Read Barry Broadfoot's book, "The War Years," (1974) Doubleday Canada, an anthology of vignettes from Canadians who lived and fought in WWII. It's from original source works like this that you'll discover just what was in your dad's or granddad's mind when he turned up at the recruiting centre to sign on.

Notable by their absence are things like King and Country or stopping global tyranny. Many signed up out of the enthusiasm of the moment, looking to grab a bit of the glory before it was all over. FTA, sometimes taken to mean F*** The Army, also can refer to Fun, Travel, Adventure - lures that have gotten young men to take the hook since long before Caesar. One fellow told Broadfoot that he signed on for the boots. He was barefoot at the time and nothing looked so appealing as a pair of quality army boots. Some signed on for genuinely trivial reasons, others to escape something unpleasant at home. Some needed a job or regular meals or wanted to learn to fly or just thought it'd be great fun.

The point is that each serviceman showed up for his own reasons based on his own beliefs and perceptions, views that generally were proven naive and sometimes completely false.

The curious thing is that, the more intimately a soldier was involved in actual combat, the less likely that person was to find meaning in the reality of war. Why we insist on finding that for them now is beyond me.

Was the Manley Report a Sham?

The key recommendation of the Manley panel report on Afghanistan finally makes sense.

The notion of drawing a line in the sand over a demand that NATO provide an extra 1,000 soldiers to support Canadian forces in Kandahar always seemed curious. Why 1,000? It seemed like a political number to come up with in a report that was supposed to be an assessment of the mission, not the politics behind the mission. Why not something meaningful, say 5,000 or more?

Well, if Denis Coderre is right, one thousand was an entirely political number and the Manley Report was all about the politics behind the mission and nothing more. In effect, Manley played a willing shill for Stephen Harper.

The Liberal defence critic says the extra 1,000 troops was already arranged before the Manley report was revealed. From the Globe & Mail:

"What I have learned is that, even before the Manley report, there was already a deal that Americans, if they don't have anybody [to assist the Canadians], will step up to the plate and provide that 1,000 soldiers," said Mr. Coderre.

Steven Staples, president of the Rideau Institute, a policy organization that has been critical of Afghan mission, holds similar views.

"The additional troops will have more political than military significance. With the 1,000 troops, French President Sarkozy scores points with U.S. President Bush, President Bush claims victory at NATO next month, and [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper can keep Canada in the war for another three years," Mr. Staples said in an e-mail yesterday.

"What is most concerning is that Canada, surrounded by 1,000 additional U.S. troops, will become increasingly implicated with U.S. forces and their aggressive war-fighting approach to the conflict."

In this context the Manley report finally makes sense. John Manley's job was to be Stephen Harper's water boy - and he delivered.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Surge Politics

There's something for everybody when it comes to "surge politics."

George w. Bush has been playing surge politics as the only means he has to salvage something of his presidential legacy. John McCain is relying on surge politics as just about the only means for a Republican to retain the White House in November.

The Demutantes have been on the wrong end of surge politics. Overall it doesn't help them when voters believe Bush's 11th hour brainwave is somehow working. Then again, a lowering of violence does bolster the argument that America can declare "mission accomplished" and leave.

Surge politics, however, is also played by the Iraqis insurgents and by the terrorists who've insinuated themselves into that country since 2003. With US voters beginning to make up their minds about who they'll support in November and the US media losing all interest in the place, it behooves the bad guys to get their faces front and center again. They need to be on American voters' minds if they're to have any prospect of influencing the November ballot.

My guess is that the key players in Iraq are ready to play Mesopotamia - the Home Game. In other words, they would like the US forces out so they can have at each other without meddling foreigners. If the surge can be made to appear a failure it's more likely the American people will elect an anti-war president. If the surge is seen as a success, however, John McCain will reap a lot of votes.

I had thought there would be an outbreak of major violence this summer - beginning in May or June. However the recent wave of bombings suggests this may be beginning already. Suddenly more American troops are getting ambushed and killed, Iraqi civilians are again falling to sectarian violence in big numbers.

The New York Times reports that a barrage of 20-mortar rounds was fired into the Green Zone bunker district today while, across the country, 58-Iraqis were killed. According to the paper, witnesses claimed the mortar attack came from a Shiite neighbourhood. More ominously, they said the attack was launched by a group of militia men belonging to the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al Sadr.

If al Sadr's forces are initiating fresh attacks it could spell the end of the militia's ceasefire which largely gave the surge the illusion of success. It could just be the next example of surge politics, Iraqi-style.
The NYT is reporting that four American GIs were killed in Baghdad by a roadside bomb, bringing the total US combat death toll over the 4,000 mark.
If, as it appears, this is the beginning of a second insurgency - an end to the ceasefire of the past months - then - sorry, I don't know what to even guess. There are so many forces in play including Bush's last months in office, McCain's election prospects, the Dems (for whom Hillary is probably more lethal than al Sadr), the Shiite establishment and its militias, the Kurds and Turkey and the Iraqi Sunnis with their pan-Arabic backers. Oh, and I left out the Wahabist terrorism movement.
It's far too early to tell whether this is just a huge blip or the overture to some group's political agenda. There'll probably be morgues stuffed with cadavers before the subplots are revealed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Damn Them All

This is about the most fitting tribute to the malevolence and carnage of Bush/Cheney and their minions. It's a couple of years old but it's perfect for the fifth anniversary of the war on Iraq.

Just Dickin' Around

Rick Mercer on Harper/Cadman

Here it is, Kids. This one is definitely worth the price of admission.

America's Racist Media Laid Bare

They spent the better part of a century and a half warning us that "the South will rise again" and the decent world didn't listen. Yet since the days of Lyndon Johnston the South has indeed arisen and a lot of the ugliness it once championed has been resurrected.

Under George w. Bush, in particular, racism and bigotry have crept back. Even America's media, wittingly or otherwise, are getting into the act. Look at the way they're focusing on Barack Obama and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Then look at the way they're abjectly ignoring those other preachers - the white boys - and their political allies.

This article is from Alternet. It's long but it deserves to be read:

Rudy Giuliani's priest has been accused in grand jury proceedings of molesting several children and covering up the molestation of others. Giuliani would not disavow him on the campaign trail and still works with him.

Mitt Romney was part of a church that did not view black Americans as equals and actively discriminated against them. He stayed with that church all the way into his early thirties, until they were finally forced to change their policies to come into compliance with civil rights legislation. Romney never disavowed his church back then or now. He said he was proud of the faith of his fathers.

Jerry Falwell said America had 9/11 coming because we tolerated gays, feminists and liberals. It was our fault. Our chickens had come home to roost, if you will. John McCain proudly received his support and even spoke at his university's commencement.

Reverend John Hagee has called the Catholic Church the "Great Whore." He has said that the Anti-Christ will rise out of the European Union (of course the Anti-Christ will also be Jewish). He has said all Muslims are trained to kill and will be part of the devil's army when Armageddon comes (which he hopes is soon). John McCain continues to say he is proud of Reverend Hagee's endorsement.

Reverend Rod Parsley believes America was founded to destroy Islam. Since this is such an outlandish claim, I have to add for the record, that he is not kidding. Reverend Parsley says Islam is an "anti-Christ religion" brought down from a "demon spirit." Of course, we are in a war against all Muslims, including presumably Muslim-Americans. Buts since Parsley believes this is a Christian nation and that it should be run as a theocracy, he is not very concerned what Muslim-Americans think.

John McCain says Reverend Rod Parsley is his "spiritual guide."

What separates all of these outrageous preachers from Barack Obama's? You guessed it. They're white and Reverend Jeremiah Wright is not. If it's not racism that's causing the disparity in media treatment of these preachers, then what is it?

I'm willing to listen to other possible explanations. And I am inclined to believe that the people these preachers go after are more important than the race of the preacher. It's one thing to go after gays, liberals and Muslims - that seems to be perfectly acceptable in America - it's another to accuse white folks of not living up to their ideals.

I think there is another factor at play as well. The media is deathly afraid of calling out preachers of any stripe for insane propaganda from the pulpits for fear that they will be labeled as anti-Christian. But criticism of Rev. Wright falls into their comfort zone. It's easy to blame him for being anti-American because he criticizes American foreign and domestic policy.

If Rev. Wright had preached about discriminating against gay Americans or Muslims, there probably would not have been any outcry at all. That falls into the category of "respect their hateful opinions because they cloak themselves in the church."

But one thing is indisputable - the enormous disparity in how the media has covered these white preachers as opposed to Rev. Wright. Have you ever even heard of Rod Parsley? As you can see from what I listed above, all of these white preachers have said and done the most outlandish and offensive things you can imagine - and hardly a peep.

If the disparity in coverage isn't racist, then what is it?"

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hillary Likes Unions - Now That She Needs Their Support

But she wasn't interested in union rights when she sat on the board of directors of WalMart, no not one bit.

In six years on the board, Clinton sat mute as the mega-retailer carried on a relentless war against labour unions trying to get a foot in the door.

ABC News got its hands on tapes of WalMart board meetings and, nope, nothing from Hillary there. Then there's the tape of her appearance before a shareholders' meeting where she said, "I'm always proud of Wal-Mart and what we do and the way we do it better than anybody else."

Clinton now says she no longer shares WalMart's values and believes unions have been essential to America's success. Yeah, right.

Meanwhile, Florida's Democratic organization has ruled out another primary to allocate the state's delegates. Apparently they could fine neither the money nor the consensus of both candidates.

Newsweek reports that the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal has diminished Bill Clinton's political capital, leaving people asking, "Can the Big Dog stay on the porch for eight years?"

Obama is conquering YouTube with his 30-minute "A More Perfect Union" speech. In took but 19-hours for it to receive 1,000,000 hits, obliterating the popularity of Clinton's 3 AM ad and McCain's top ad of Bill Clinton endorsing his political skills.

McKay on Afghanistan - a "Tremendous Success"

According to DefenceMin Peter MacKay, Canada's mission to Afghanistan is a "tremendous success." This from a guy who, nearly seven years after this dog and pony show began, still has to fly in secretly and keep his presence quiet until he's stepping on the aircraft to get the hell out.

MacKay, spinning so furiously that his head nearly exploded, said, ""the insurgency remains a real challenge, but you have to look at it in relative terms. You have to do a retrospective occasionally, look at where we were five short years ago, two years ago."

Okay, Pete, you want to take us back in time, say "five short years ago," to yesteryear before the Karzai government was totally corrupted and compromised, before the Taliban were resurgent and Afghanistan raced to set endless consecutive records for opium production. Yeah Pete, let's kick back with a cold one and do that retrospective stroll down memory lane - or maybe not.

Five short years ago. That'd be the time that America bugged out to go play in the sandbox of Iraq, right Pete? Five years ago today. Great timing pal. Idiot. Psst - Pete, the day you can visit Afghanistan without having to sneak in, sneak around and sneak out you can parrot "tremendous success" but, until then, try to come up with something that doesn't sound completely insane.

Eyeing Each Other Over Open Sights

The great military rivalry of the 21st century is bound to be between China and the United States.
Gwynne Dyer, in his latest book, contends that a key reason for America's invasion of Iraq was to achieve military control over the Persian Gulf to thwart China's influence in the Middle East and be in a position to cripple its access to the region's oil should that be necessary.

The Chinese government today announced an increase of 18% in the nation's defence budget this year. The Pentagon figures China's disclosed budget is but half to perhaps just one third of its actual spending which would still leave China spending well less than a third of the US defence budget. That said, the Chinese appear to be getting more bank for their buck out of their defence appropriations, spending that Chinese analyst Chen Zhou explained and defended in an interview in today's Der Spiegel:

Chen: If we grow economically, we must also strengthen our military. We must protect our sovereignty, our unity and the country's security. Historically our military consisted primarily of land-based forces that were meant to protect our homeland. Since 1980, we have also been arming ourselves for other local conflicts and wars. Please do not forget the activities of the separatists in Taiwan ...

SPIEGEL: ... who you have threatened with military force, should Taiwan declare its independence.

Chen: We will defend our sovereignty with all means. If, in fact, we are forced to stop a secession attempt with military means, our navy and air force are not yet effective enough. In that sort of a conflict, we must be superior in the water and in the air, at least locally.

SPIEGEL: Does this mean that you plan to measure up militarily to Taiwan's most important ally, the United States?

Chen: It is not necessary for China to challenge America's position of supremacy. Our concern is to prevent an intervention by the Americans during a crisis in the Taiwan Strait. Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, and no one else, should resolve the Taiwan issue. Whether this is done peacefully or militarily is purely a matter for the Chinese.

SPIEGEL: How does Beijing intend to prevent the Americans from intervening?

Chen: Both sides hope to preserve peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. China wants to develop economically. We don't want a war, not even a crisis. But to ensure that this is the case, we must be militarily prepared.

SPIEGEL: In other words, Beijing stresses deterrence?

Chen: Exactly. Deterrence is one of our strategies. Our goal is to preserve peace and stability on the Taiwan Strait. In the past, we did not pay sufficient attention to studies about deterrence. Now we are very interested in the effects of deterrence. We must be able to prevent, resolve and control crises. Crisis management is our top priority. We can resolve a crisis if we are in a position to deter.

SPIEGEL: You have demonstrated that you are able to give the Americans a shock. For example, one of your submarines surfaced directly next to the aircraft carrier "Kitty Hawk" without having been previously detected.

Chen: That was a coincidence. Our navy is still very small compared with the US Navy. Our range of operation has just reached the so-called first island chains, that is, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines.

SPIEGEL: Do you plan to venture farther afield in the future?

Chen: Traditionally China has seen itself as a land power. In our recent history, foreign powers were able to invade us because we had no navy. Now we want to defend ourselves at sea. To more effectively protect our national interests, we will develop our capability to operate on the high seas. Our navy will travel farther afield. But our goal is always defense. We are not an offensive power.

The US/China/Soviet/Indian arms race continues apace. It seems as though we're about to enter a brand new Cold War.

Afghanistan - Awash in Opium And Democracy

Thanks to their brilliantly thought-out constitution, Afghanis are scheduled to go to the polls 11-times over the next 17 years. They'll be voting to elect presidents and parliamentarians and provincial and district counsellors.

Karzai's job comes up for a vote next May and most of his parliamentarians face elections the following year. For a country wracked by insurgency, this is a real security nightmare.

But, according to The Economist, Karzai remains the favourite to win the presidential runoff.

"Mr Karzai has not said he will run, though most people expect him to (not least, the Western governments which back him). His popular support, however, is lukewarm at best. His government has been tarnished by charges of incompetence and corruption, while his international backers have struggled to fulfil promises to rebuild the country. Large parts of the south, Mr Karzai's heartland, have descended into insurgent-inspired chaos. The president has become increasingly critical of the West, and particularly of Britain, the Afghans' historic foe.

"But, as in 2004, Westerners think Mr Karzai will prove the worst Afghan leader except for all the others. He is from the dominant Durrani federation of the majority Pushtun tribe. He participated in the jihad against the Soviet occupiers but does not have blood on his hands from the civil war that followed. He did not leave his homeland for sanctuary abroad. (Those who did are called dogwashers: the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, said they washed the dogs of rich Americans.)

"No other prominent politician has that mix. Afghanistan may have capable technocrats on call, such as Ehsanullah Bayat, a telecoms mogul, Amin Arsala, a former vice-president, and even, improbably, America's (Afghan-born) ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad. But they lived abroad. It also has former mujahideen commanders such as Burhanuddin Rabbani and Younis Qanooni, both Tajik leaders, and Gul Agha Sherzai, the energetic major of Jalalabad, whom Mr Karzai dubs the bulldozer. But they are tarnished by warlordism. An excess of would-be leaders, in short. And an excess of ways to vote for them."

Bush - Iraq War an Undeniable Success

What else was he going to say? The truth? C'mon we're talking George Walker Bush here, the hellspawn of George Herbert Walker Bush and his darling Babs.

It's the glorious fifth anniversary of the George Bush Memorial Clusterf__k more commonly known to academics as the Iraq war. Five years, doesn't time just fly?

So they popped George in some clean undies, a shirt and tie and stood him up before a crowd at the Pentagon to crow "Mission Accomplished All Over Again." From McClatchey Newspapers:

President Bush on Wednesday declared that "the successes we are seeing in Iraq are undeniable" [provided you're well and truly in denial] as he gave a rousing defense of the war on its fifth anniversary before a receptive but not overwhelmingly enthusiastic Pentagon audience.

As the war entered its sixth year, Bush refused to concede any setbacks in the conflict, where nearly 4,000 Americans have been killed and the country has been plunged into sectarian violence. About 158,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq.

Bush said, "my administration understood that America could not retreat in the face of terror. And we knew that if we did not act, the violence that had been consuming Iraq would worsen and spread and could eventually reach genocidal levels."

The 2007 American troop buildup "opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror," the president maintained.

He then looked ahead, saying that the goal is to "consolidate the gains we have made and seal the extremists' defeat."

Oh yeah, speaking about undeniable success. Yesterday marked the opening of reconciliation talks in Baghdad. I guess there were a lot of empty chairs. The Americans showed, so did Maliki's representatives. Sadly missing, however, were the Baathists, the Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgency. They chose to give it a pass.

Oh yeah, the other good news. The War Without End on Terror has been going so gosh-darn well that the top White House counterterrorism post was left to sit empty for the past 15-months! I guess George must have picked up on that when one of his aides glanced through the latest Newsweek. That got George going and, today, he announced the appointment of Ken Wainstein to be his new White House-based homeland security adviser.

McCartney One, Mills No Score

Every now and then a matrimonial case comes along that's worth a giggle, like the guy who bails out on his missus when he discovers he's holding on to a winning lottery ticket. It's good for the soul to see these people get their comeuppance.

And then there's the former Mrs. Paul McCartney, Heather Mills. A brief disclosure - I haven't cared much for Sir Paul since the Beatles broke up but I have a lot of sympathy for him at the moment. For some reason he managed to wed the Shrew from Hell. I'm sure that today he figures the 24-million pounds it cost him to rid himself of Ms. Mills was worth every hapenny.

Mills may have walked away with a tidy fortune, the equivalent of 17-thousand pounds for each day of their marriage, but she wound up leaving any discernable shred of dignity remaining to her on the courthouse floor.

Oh, how the judge, Mr. Justice Bennet, laid into Ms. Mills. He had a lot of trouble with a lot of her claims - well all of them to be accurate. For example, she said she had millions of pounds in savings when she met McCartney yet there was no evidence of any of it in her tax records. She said she gave 80 to 90% of her earnings during coverture to charities but, again, not the slightest sign of that in her tax records - or anywhere else apparently. The judge found that her "tax records disclose no charitable giving at all."

"Having watched and listened to her give evidence, having studied the documents, and having given in her favour every allowance for the enormous strain she must have been under (and in conducting her own case), I am driven to the conclusion that much of her evidence, both written and oral, was not just inconsistent and inaccurate but also less than candid. Overall she was a less than impressive witness.

"If the wife feels aggrieved about what I propose, she only has herself to blame. If, as she has done, a litigant flagrantly over-eggs the pudding and thus deprives the court of any sensible assistance, then he or she is likely to find that the court takes a robust view and drastically prunes the proposed budget.

"She is entitled to feel that she has been ridiculed, even vilified. To some extent she is her own worst enemy. She has an explosive and volatile character. She cannot have done herself any good in the eyes of potential purchasers of her services as a TV presenter, public speaker and a model, by her outbursts in her TV interviews in October and November 2007. Nevertheless, the fact is that at present she is at a disadvantage. The wife would say she is at a severe disadvantage. I think she overplays her hand."

"In my judgement the picture painted by the husband of the wife's part in his emotional and professional life is much closer to reality than the wife's account. The wife, as the husband said, enjoys being the centre of attention. Her presence on his tours came about because she loved the husband, enjoyed being there and because she thoroughly enjoyed the media and public attention. I am prepared to accept that her presence was emotionally supportive to him but to suggest that in some way she was his 'business partner' is, I am sorry to have to say, make-belief.

"I have to say that the wife's evidence that in some way she was the husband's 'psychologist', even allowing for hyperbole, is typical of her make-belief."

I do pity Mills but I have no sympathy for the situation she's placed herself in - because she did this to herself, all by herself. She tried to use McCartney's reputation to manipulate him and to his credit he stood his ground as she repeatedly and unrelentingly defamed him.

Worst Woman In The World - Heather Mills.

If You Can't Beat'em, Bleed'em Dry

Napoleon's soldiers marched on their bellies. George Bush's soldiers march on America's frayed financial future.

America's trained chimp, George w. Bush, assured his people that he didn't need 300,000 soldiers to conquer Iraq and fired his top military man, General Shinseki. He assured his people the whole thing would cost $50-billion, $60-billion tops and fired his first economic advisor, Lawrence B. Lindsey who had the audacity to claim the war would cost $100-billion to $200-billion annually.

Then there was Cheney who promised that American troops would be greeted as liberators and Rumsfeld who said the whole thing would take six weeks, six months at the outside.

America has the mightiest military machine on the planet, perfect at rolling up a battered and disabled Iraqi army in 2003, and utterly useless at controlling the country ever since. There is simply nothing quite so pathetic looking as a main battle tank without another tank to shoot.

The conquest of Iraq was supposed to be an object lesson to little, unfriendly nations around the world of what happens when America plays hardball. They watched and learned but the lesson played out wasn't the one America wanted to send.

Mainstreet America may believe that the "surge" is working and it is until you factor in the dormant Shiite militias and Sunni resistance. They've taken a break from slaughtering each other and passing American troops but they're still there and they're still ready to go and there's no reason to think they won't be heard from again - soon.
The success of the surge has been measured in body counts, a bit of foolishness that America hasn't been able to shake since Viet Nam. If you want to measure the surge you need to look at other signs - the lack of electricity, water, sanitation, even gasoline; the lack of meaningful political progress; the corruption of the Iraqi government and the infiltration of its security services. If you leave the body counts out of it, this surge has accomplished precisely nothing.

Another object lesson from the Iraq war is how astonishingly ineffecient and profligate America is at this sort of thing. It's now spending roughly $12-billion each month on direct operational costs alone for its war. That's money it doesn't have. That's money it has to borrow - on foreign markets, money that will be bequeathed in the form of interest-bearing debt to America's youth and their children.

What happens if Asia and Europe decide they're not interested in funding America's wars any longer? Better yet, what happens if they decide they will keep lending money but they want the IOUs in Euros, not American greenbacks?

When you fight an unwinnable, war without end, entirely on borrowed money that you squander like a manic-depressive on crack, you're playing a mug's game. It's something only a trained chimp would consider worthwhile. Happy legacy, President Numbnuts.

Cheney to the American People - "Go F__k Yourselves"

He was born a Dick, he's been a dick his whole life and a dick he remains. On the 5th anniversary of the Great American Fiasco, aka the Iraq War, Dick Cheney sat down for an interview and made clear just what he thinks of his "fellow Americans." From the New York Times:

Martha Raddatz, chief White House correspondent for ABC News, sat down with Mr. Cheney in Amman, Jordan, one of several stops on a Middle East tour that includes Iraq, Israel, the West Bank, Oman, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

After Ms. Raddatz asked about the economy — which he said was in “a rough patch,” not a recession — the subject turned to the deep unpopularity of the Iraq war. Here’s a transcript of the exchange, released by the network:

Raddatz: Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.

Cheney: So?

Raddatz: So? You don’t care what the American people think?

Cheney: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls. There has, in fact, been fundamental change and transformation and improvement for the better. That’s a huge accomplishment.

You know, he might be right. Under Saddam, after all, the Iraqi people had to endure functioning hospitals and electricity and they didn't even have any sewage flowing down the streets in front of their homes. There has been fundamental change.

Monday, March 17, 2008

So You've Defunded Your Government, Now What?

BushCheneyRove set out to defund the government of the United States. It was their policy coming into power in 2000. Like the conquest of Iraq, it had nothing to do with 9/11.

The idea behind defunding government was to dismantle the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal," to put America back on an every man for himself basis. Privatize everything, especially Social Security, and by every means keep health care out of the public sector.

Defunding government was a complicated business. One aspect was tax reform to free those who didn't actually work for a living - coupon clippers - from the burden of taxation, shifting their fair share to wage earners. The next step was to direct big tax cuts for the wealthiest income earners, again shifting the burden of those cuts to those "left behind", the working and middle classes.

The War on Terror offered enormous possibilities. For the first time, America privatized warmaking itself with billions of dollars shuffled off to Halliburton and Kellog Brown & Root, among others lining up in Baghdad for corporate welfare on the grandest scale.

Defunding government also entails debt and deficits. Run huge deficits funded by foreign borrowings and so burden the government with debt that it has no choice but to scrap any vestiges of New Deal thinking.

But now there's an even better way to submerge America's taxpaying classes - the subprime mortgage fiasco. It's America's new economy, a legacy of the Reagan years. Grow a bubble, create notional wealth, strip wealth, collapse bubble and clean up the mess with government bailouts.

Now America is in the midst of yet another collapse. The fiscal banditos have made their fortunes and split, leaving the aftermath to society. As ever it's the government that has to step in to protect the economy from total collapse and, as ever, that means pledging the good credit of the taxpaying classes against the chicanery of the non-taxpaying elite. You see, the US government doesn't have the hundreds of billions of dollars, trillions perhaps, this will ultimately cost. It's defunded. That money has to be borrowed and that crushing debt can only serve to suffocate any remaining, reasonable expectations the taxpaying classes may have of their government.

By the way, this is another page that Harper has torn out of the Republican playbook. It's just his cup of tea.

In Defence of Privacy, Our Fundamental Right

I believe in rights. I believe there isn't a single right we have today that hasn't been bought and paid for - in blood - often several times over. I believe there isn't a right that can't and won't be taken from us unless we defend it. But in order to defend rights, they have to be understood and valued.

One right that's rapidly being lost is our right to privacy. Our privacy is being invaded, even trampled upon at every turn. Use your credit card and you're yielding a bit of your privacy. Use the phone, same thing. Hell the grocery store now records your favourite brand of frozen pizza and your preference in feminine hygiene products. Now in British Columbia, the government has our health records processed in the United States which means, thanks to the Patriot Act, our assurance of health care privacy is shattered.

Britain, home of Magna Carta itself, has become astonishingly indifferent to the right of privacy. Britain has become a surveillance society with its precious architecture defaced by batteries of CCT security cameras. In some communities the police operate aerial reconnaissance drones over their own streets. These are things designed to aid the war against al-Qaeda, not to surveil ordinary Britons.

There was a story over the weekend about a proposed new British transit identity card. Leaving aside the right of privacy, it's pretty cool technology. It functions as a cash card and a security/surveillance device. Want to hop a train, get on a bus or ride the Tube? Swipe your card or else submit to inconvenient human scrutiny. I mean, after all, if you're not using your card you must be up to something, eh?

In no time they've got a detailed history of Charlie Banks of 54 Melbourne Grove, SE 22. They know where he goes, when and for how long - every day, every month, every year of his life. Computers can immediately spot something out of the ordinary and, very quickly, "out of the ordinary" becomes something suspicious, something to be watched. You call extra surveillance upon yourself by choosing to try something new and, Heaven help you if that something new just happens to be in or near a place that's already being watched.

"If you have nothing to hide, there's no reason to worry." That's the vile excuse they always use when stripping away another layer of your privacy. That's right, only wrongdoers need to be worried, right? Wrong, dead wrong. It's a set up whereby defending your fundamental right to privacy becomes analogous with trying to hide something in your dirty, devious and undoubtedly criminal or subversive life.

Surely the onus ought to be on those seeking to narrow your rights, not on those defending their rights. You want to take away my rights then first show that it's truly necessary. Show the purpose is valid. Show there are no other ways to achieve the same purpose, not just no other ways that are as inexpensive. Show just how much intrusion is actually required and for just how long. No blank cheques. No indefinite powers. The focus has to be on restoring that right as fully and quickly as possible. Figure out who will watch the watchers, who will represent the public interest in monitoring their intrusion of the public's rights and give those watchers genuine powers to intervene when they detect abuse.

Sadly, this isn't what happens. After all, it's so much easier to cast suspicion on objectors when the rest of the public is complacent and all too willing to be herded into the surveillance corral.

If you've ever served your country or had a family member who went off to war and maybe didn't come back, these are rights you have fought for, rights that must belong to your entire society. If you don't defend them you cheapen that service, that sacrifice. Freedom, after all, is more than just hoisting another pint in The Legion.
I forgot to explain why I consider privacy our "fundamental right." That's because the strength of our right of privacy impinges on so many of our other essential rights including free speech, association, assembly, equality; thought, conscience and religion; arrest and detention and due process. Undermining privacy can also powerfully undermine those other rights.
Another concern that arises out of the erosion of our privacy rights is the almost Newtonian rise in secrecy that results from it. It's an action/reaction process. As our privacy is stripped from us, government secrecy inevitably increases. We don't know who is watching us, when we're being watched and what is being recorded and catalogued much less how it will be used on or against us or others, often without our awareness even of that. It sets up government against the individual in an adversarial relationship.
It's vastly more troubling when it's done at the same time we are "dumbing down" society, weakening us against the shelling out of our rights. That's what I meant by my reference to the masses being complacently herded into the surveillance corral.