Friday, May 30, 2008

Hard Landing for Clean Coal

They're latter day Alchemists, the scientists of the Dark Ages who promised to turn base lead into gold. Today they've returned to tantalize us with dreams of "clean coal," an abundant, non-polluting and virtually limitless supply of cheap energy that lies, not in the Middle East, but right here under our own feet.

Like all dubious schemes, the clean coal idea is delightfully simple. Burn dirty coal to produce electricity but, instead of releasing all that toxic greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, you "sequester" it. In other words, you capture the CO2 before it leaves the smokestack, compress it until it liquifies, and then pump all that nasty stuff into subterranean chambers where it can be stored, out of sight/out of mind, forever. Or so the story goes.

The Devil, of course, is in the details.

The first detail is where do you store this stuff? The next is what happens if, Heaven forbid, the stuff leaks back out to the surface? Then there's the detail about making this technology work and at an affordable price. Don't forget to work out who'll be on the hook when we have those unfortunate accidents, other than nearby surface dwellers who'll be dead.

You see, to make this work, you have to find a way to secure CO2 at a high-enough pressure that it's compressed enough to liquify it. High pressure, like high water, is always looking for a way out. Stick a pin in a balloon and you'll get the idea. In terms of subterranean caverns, a seismic event substitutes nicely for the pin.

Now my own Vancouver Island has coal resources. Yet this big tectonic plate subduction zone I call home isn't an ideal candidate. When the "Big One" hits (and we keep getting reminded that could be any day) it's been predicted by some that the entire island could be shifted eastward up to 15 feet.

But surely there are better places, aren't there? There must be places that are absolutely seismically stable, eh? Hmmm, maybe not. The reality is that you don't need a scale 9 or an 8 or even a 7-Richter event to pop one of these underground, high-pressure balloons. But earthquakes are only part of the equation. You see, ground moves even without earthquakes. There's a whole bunch of things going on under your feet every day. There are gases and liquids down there. There's heat down there, a lot of it. You've got things like underground rivers upon which our groundwater resources rely.

So, carbon sequestration brings an inevitable risk of failures and leaks, so what? Well that all depends on a number of factors such as the size of the gas escape, whether it's detected quickly, how many people are in proximity to the leak and, of course, whether you're one of them. The stuff is colourless and odourless so... well, just sayin'.

Harper latched on to a long underway carbon capture experimental plant in Saskatchewan, slapped his picture on it and presented it to the gullible national press corps as "his" sequestration initiative. Yippee, we're saved! Stevie came through after all! A few problems. It's an experimental operation, an experiment. It's but one plant, just one. It assumes that the storage part (the hard part) is viable. It ignores the reality that, even if all the problems are solved and we do manage to find a means of truly secure sequestration, transforming our coal plants into clean coal plants will take decades to accomplish - time we haven't got - and a lot more money than we imagine.

But what about the United States? Surely if there's one country that ought to be pursuing clean coal technology it's America, right? Of course it is. American wealth is bleeding out to buy foreign oil to feed its fossil fuel dependency. The US sits on enormous coal reserves. Switching from Islamic oil to domestic coal energy is so obvious, it's a no brainer. Everyone's on side - Bush, McCain, Obama, Congress, even Oprah (although it's rumoured that tool, Dr. Phil is, predictably, waffling).

However, according to the New York Times, America's clean coal initiative is faltering:

"...the nation’s effort to develop the technique is lagging badly.

In January, the government canceled its support for what was supposed to be a showcase project, a plant at a carefully chosen site in Illinois where there was coal, access to the power grid, and soil underfoot that backers said could hold the carbon dioxide for eons.

Coal is abundant and cheap, assuring that it will continue to be used. But the failure to start building, testing, tweaking and perfecting carbon capture and storage means that developing the technology may come too late to make coal compatible with limiting global warming.

“It’s a total mess,” said Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

Plans to combat global warming generally assume that continued use of coal for power plants is unavoidable for at least several decades. Therefore, starting as early as 2020, forecasters assume that carbon dioxide emitted by new power plants will have to be captured and stored underground, to cut down on the amount of global-warming gases in the atmosphere.
Yet, simple as the idea may sound, considerable research is still needed to be certain the technique would be safe, effective and affordable.

Scientists need to figure out which kinds of rock and soil formations are best at holding carbon dioxide. They need to be sure the gas will not bubble back to the surface. They need to find optimal designs for new power plants so as to cut costs. And some complex legal questions need to be resolved, such as who would be liable if such a project polluted the groundwater or caused other damage far from the power plant."

It's becoming obvious that the miracles of carbon capture and carbon sequestration are an awfully long way off. This ought to be the technological challenge for America for the 21st century, something on the scale of the Manhattan Project.

It's much too important and far too early to write this off. Perhaps a genuine president willing to invest funding equal to a small hunk of America's warfighting budget could make this a reality. There are so many unknowns, neglected opportunities. However what is apparent is that we can't rely on carbon capture technologies as a solution to our GHG problems. We can't bank on it at all because the clock is running and it may just be too little, too late.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gomery Slaps Harper on Mulroney

There was a time when retired judge John Gomery was Stephen Harper's darling. That was when the sponsorship scandal was underway and Gomery was handing Harper a ticket to 24 Sussex Drive.

Now it's Harper who's in Gomery's crosshairs, this time over the enquiry into Mulroney's shady dealings with KarlHeinz Schreiber.

Gomery's comments to Canadian Press suggest he sees what's coming as a set up:

"The man who headed the inquiry into the Liberal sponsorship scandal is questioning how serious Prime Minister Stephen Harper is about an inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair.

"It's clear this is not a high priority for him, because he's not treating it as a high priority," retired judge John Gomery told The Canadian Press in an interview Wednesday.

"Once you've said you're going to do something, usually you're expected to do it within a reasonable period. And the period is getting beyond reasonable."

But the prime minister has delayed action, first while the Commons ethics committee conducted hearings, and then while a special adviser, University of Waterloo president David Johnston, compiled two preliminary reports on the affair.

Johnston recommended a relatively narrow probe into lobbying activities that Mulroney undertook for Schreiber after leaving office in 1993. That would exclude the so-called Airbus affair that centred on Air Canada's purchase of European-built jetliners while Mulroney was still in power.

Gomery called it "unprecedented" for Harper to ask an outside party to decide on the scope of the proposed inquiry.

The prospect of a narrow probe may be making it difficult for the government to find a judge willing to take the job, Gomery speculated.

Any commissioner "is going to be criticized from Day 1 if he follows that (mandate) and restricts the evidence to certain periods of time, certain facts. If he goes a little bit more broadly, he may be challenged in court for exceeding his mandate."

It was a different story, said Gomery, when former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin gave him a broad mandate to delve into the sponsorship affair that erupted under predecessor Jean Chretien.

"Generally speaking, I was able to go where I thought I should go to get the answers that I needed to get. I don't think that's the case for the (Mulroney-Schreiber) inquiry, if it's ever conducted."

What, a set up? By our Furious Leader, Little Stevie Harpo? To let Mulroney off the hook and spare his government embarrassment? Ya think?

Sucks To Be a Have Not!

Forget the rich, the poor just keep getting poorer. Now the world's poorest people are facing another kick in their collective ass - a major drop in their already meagre living standards caused by the ongoing collapse of ecosystems and biodiversity. From BBC News:

Damage to forests, rivers, marine life and other aspects of nature could halve living standards for the world's poor, a major report has concluded.

Current rates of natural decline might reduce global GDP by about 7% by 2050.
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) review is modelled on the Stern Review of climate change.

"You come up with answers like 6% or 8% of global GDP when you think about the benefits of intact ecosystems, for example in controlling water, controlling floods and droughts, the flow of nutrients from forest to field," said the project's leader Pavan Sukhdev.

"But then you realise that the major beneficiaries [of nature] are the billion and a half of the world's poor; these natural systems account for as much as 40%-50% of what we define as the 'GDP of the poor'," he told BBC News.

The TEEB review was set up by the German government and the European Commission during the German G8 presidency.

The two institutions selected Mr Sukhdev, a managing director in the global markets division at Deutsche Bank, to lead it.

The trends are understood well enough - a 50% shrinkage of wetlands over the past 100 years, a rate of species loss between 100 and 1,000 times the rate that would occur without 6.5 billion humans on the planet, a sharp decline in ocean fish stocks and one third of coral reefs damaged.

However, putting a monetary value on them is probably much more difficult, the team acknowledges, than putting a cost on climate change.

The report highlights some of the planet's ecologically damaged zones such as Haiti, where heavy deforestation - largely caused by the poor as they cut wood to sell for cash - means soil is washed away and the ground much less productive.

An early draft of the TEEB review, seen by BBC News, concluded: "Lessons from the last 100 years demonstrate that mankind has usually acted too little and too late in the face of similar threats - asbestos, CFCs, acid rain, declining fisheries, BSE and - most recently - climate change".

Long Live the King, King Harper?

Like his American Idol, George w. Bush, our own Furious Leader, Stephen Harper is dead keen on usurping the power of the legislature in order to concentrate it in his own hands. He and his faceless, unelected minions in the PMO are the Ringmasters of Harper's parliamentary circus.

From the Toronto Star:

"When Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in Parliament and introduced a bombshell motion to formally recognize the Québécois as a nation within Canada, he surprised not just the country but his own cabinet minister ostensibly in charge of the file.
Michael Chong, intergovernmental affairs minister at the time, says Harper never consulted him about the bold move – made in November 2006 – even though he was responsible for Ottawa's relations with the provinces.

A few days later, Chong resigned his post, saying he disagreed with the intent of the motion.
Academic and author Donald Savoie cites that incident as one example of the growing concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office – at the expense of MPs, bureaucrats, cabinet ministers and ultimately the public.

He argues that Canada has evolved into a court-style government, where the prime minister sits as "king" and has a "court" of select senior ministers, mandarins and lobbyists that rule the nation. Savoie says Parliament has been reduced to a bit player and cabinet ministers are now mere pawns."

Obviously imperial rule appeals to a leader who values secrecy above anything else and considers that notions of accountability stop well short of his elevated throne. This guy has no respect for our people, our Parliament or our democracy.
Update: h/t Ken Chapman for drawing attention to Lawrence Martin's piece on the "Sun King" in today's Globe & Mail.
"Not a team man. Not a big advocate of democratic decision-making. The flaws of Stephen Harper are spelled out in Preston Manning's book, "Think Big."
In the Reform movement of the late 1980s and '90s, Mr. Harper wanted to do everything himself, Mr. Manning said. "He had serious reservations about Reform's and my belief in the value of grassroots consultation and participation in key decisions and my conviction that the adjective to distinguish our particular brand of conservatism should be 'democratic.' " Not only did Mr. Harper take a dim view of democratic tendencies, Mr. Manning recalled, but if he didn't get his own way, he would get up and leave."
That pretty much sums up Harper today, more warlord than prime minister, a creepy sort of guy to be hanging around in our prime minister's office, too obsessed with plotting to have much time left over for serving the country.

Bolton Dodges Arrest for War Crimes

Okay, it was mainly high drama, but it took security guards yesterday to keep British environmental writer George Monbiot from placing neo-con John Bolton under arrest for war crimes.

From The Guardian:

"Bolton had defended the US's right to launch pre-emptive nuclear attacks and to promote regime change or, if necessary, a military attack on Iran to prevent it acquiring nuclear weapons. As a lawyer, he said, he was not prepared to offer a view either on rendition or torture of suspects, because he had not studied the issues - a claim that provoked dismay.

Afterwards, Monbiot, a contributor to the Guardian, said: "I'm disappointed I couldn't reach him, but I made what I believe to be the first attempt ever to arrest one of the perpetrators of the Iraq war, and I would like to see that followed up."

The Trial of George W(anker) Bush

I'm looking forward to getting my hands on former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's tell-all book.

It's not that there's much in it that we didn't already know. It's that a former insider is essentially standing witness against his former boss, a man who may be a mass murderer on a grand scale.

What interests me is McClellan's admissions of what fueled Bush's decision to invade Iraq - his vanity. The former aide says that Bush's overarching objectives were to be a wartime president and win a second term in office. Taken in this context, George Bush is a war criminal and a mass murderer. It was all about this frat boy rising out of his career of serial failures to stand tall as the victorious Commander in Chief of the United States of America. That thousands of his own people would have to die and hundreds of thousands of innocents abroad would lose their lives was of no moment to Barbara Bush's wretched hellspawn.

To get his way, Bush turned on the American people and attacked them with a lethal brew of deception and fearmongering. Fully aided and abetted by a collaborative, right-wing media, Bush convinced his people that Saddam was a genuine threat to the world and, above all, to the United States and each and every one of them. Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, even nukes, and was buying the raw materials for his arsenal (remember the "yellowcake"?) even while he was denying it. Worst of all, he was in cahoots with al-Qaeda and could even deliver chemical, biological and nuclear weapons into their hands for use against the U.S.

George w. Bush soaked the American people in the blood of innocents. He sullied and besmirched the honour and integrity of the volunteers who signed on to serve their country in its armed forces. He cajoled and intimidated and bribed other nations to serve as his collaborators, his enablers.

What does a man such as George Bush and what do his principal minions deserve for this treachery? They deserve to become an example to those who might be tempted to do this all over again some day. They deserve to be arrested and brought to the prisoners' dock in shackles to stand trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and mass murder. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, Perle, Rice, Gonzales and yes, even Powell, should answer for all the killings and the torture and their abuses. Then they should be put in cages in their very own Spandau somewhere and held, incommunicado, for the rest of their lives.

For these people are villains of the very worst kind, those who kill for glory. Tyrants.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

One More Roll of the Dice - Iran

Asia Times Online reports that Bush will launch a bombing campaign against Iran before the end of August.

"Two key US senators briefed on the attack planned to go public with their opposition to the move, according to the source, but their projected New York Times op-ed piece has yet to appear.

The source, a retired US career diplomat and former assistant secretary of state still active in the foreign affairs community, speaking anonymously, said last week that the US plans an air strike against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The air strike would target the headquarters of the IRGC's elite Quds force. With an estimated strength of up to 90,000 fighters, the Quds' stated mission is to spread Iran's revolution of 1979 throughout the region. "

Asia Times has identified the senators who've threatened to go public as Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana.

The idea of American air strikes on Iran gives everyone cause for concern. Air raids are unlikely to have much effect and could even backfire. Many experts believe bombing could cause the Iraqi people, including dissenters, to rally behind Tehran's hard-liners. It's also widely thought that an American attack on yet another Muslim country, the third, could strengthen the hand of Islamist radicals throughout the Muslim world. Then there's the issue of the West's dependence on Persian Gulf oil routes. Iran is well stocked with modern, anti-ship missiles which could easily shut down Persian Gulf tanker routes. With the American and world economies already reeling from the subprime mortgage meltdown, a closure of the Persian Gulf oil routes could have a massive effect on world markets and global oil prices.

Day by day the prospect of military confrontation grows stronger. ABC News reports that Pakistan may now be aiding Iran by agreeing to hand over members of the tribal militant group Jundullah who Iran claims are working as spies for the CIA.

Jundullah, a Baloch insurgent movement, is known to have been carrying out attacks on Iranian army facilities and officers. According to ABC, US intelligence officers frequently meet with and advise Jundullah leaders. It also claims that the United States is using Iranian exiles to funnel money to Jundullah without requiring White House acknowledgement and Congressional oversight.

"Pakistani government sources say the secret campaign against Iran by Jundullah was on the agenda when Vice President Dick Cheney met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in February.

Some former CIA officers say the arrangement is reminiscent of how the U.S. government used proxy armies, funded by other countries including Saudi Arabia, to destabilize the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s."

Climate Change - There's No Going Back

Here's some tough news for global warming deniers - the climate we once knew is gone and it's not coming back, at least not for many centuries to come.

The US government's own Climate Change Science Program has issued its report on what lies in store for agriculture, water resources and biodiversity over the next five decades and it's clear that big changes are in store.
The rise in concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from human activities is influencing climate patterns and vegetation across the United States and will significantly disrupt water supplies, agriculture, forestry and ecosystems for decades, a new U.S. government report says. From the International Herald Tribune:

"The changes are unfolding in ways that are likely to produce an uneven national map of harms and benefits, according to the report, released Tuesday and posted online at
According to the report, Western states will face substantial challenges because of growing demand for water and big projected drops in supplies.

From 2040 to 2060, anticipated water flows from rainfall in much of the U.S. West are likely to approach a 20 percent decrease from the average from 1901 to 1970, and are likely to be much lower in places like the fast-growing Southwest. In contrast, runoff in much of the Midwest and East is expected to increase that much or more.

Farmers, foresters and ranchers nationwide will face a complicated blend of changes, driven not only by shifting weather patterns but also by the spread of non-native plant and insect pests."
From the CCSP summary:

Grain and oilseed crops will mature more rapidly, but increasing temperatures will increase the risk of crop failures, particularly if precipitation decreases or becomes more variable.

Higher temperatures will negatively affect livestock. Warmer winters will reduce mortality but this will be more than offset by greater mortality in hotter summers. Hotter temperatures will also result in reduced productivity of livestock and dairy animals.

Forests in the interior West, the Southwest, and Alaska are already being affected by climate change with increases in the size and frequency of forest fires, insect outbreaks and tree mortality. These changes are expected to continue.
Much of the United States has experienced higher precipitation and streamflow, with decreased drought severity and duration, over the 20th century. The West and Southwest, however, are notable exceptions, and increased drought conditions have occurred in these regions.

Weeds grow more rapidly under elevated atmospheric CO2. Under projections reported in the assessment, weeds migrate northward and are less sensitive to herbicide applications.
There is a trend toward reduced mountain snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt runoff in the Western United States.

Horticultural crops (such as tomato, onion, and fruit) are more sensitive to climate change than grains and oilseed crops.

Young forests on fertile soils will achieve higher productivity from elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Nitrogen deposition and warmer temperatures will increase productivity in other types of forests where water is available.

Invasion by exotic grass species into arid lands will result from climate change, causing an increased fire frequency. Rivers and riparian systems in arid lands will be negatively impacted.
A continuation of the trend toward increased water use efficiency could help mitigate the impacts of climate change on water resources.

The growing season has increased by 10 to 14 days over the last 19 years across the temperate latitudes. Species' distributions have also shifted.

The rapid rates of warming in the Arctic observed in recent decades, and projected for at least the next century, are dramatically reducing the snow and ice covers that provide denning and foraging habitat for polar bears."

These are changes that will occur regardless of any measures that may be taken in the near future to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The forecasts are based on what exists today. Can the forecasts be worsened by failure to dramatically cut GHG emissions? Absolutely. The future could be much, much worse unless we somehow find the social and political will to make the drastic changes necessary to break our carbon addiction.

What does the future hold? I just don't see the big emitters of the world reaching any meaningful consensus in time to avoid the problems that are looming. We're struggling just to reach agreement on greenhouse gases alone and haven't even begun to come to grips with the other environmental, resource and population challenges that, taken collectively, could pose as great a threat to mankind as global warming itself.

One thing is clear. In terms of climate change, there's no going back. In addition to wrestling with GHG emissions we also need to be taking action, now, on remediation and adaptation. Of course that too is hampered by the heel-draggers fighting the rearguard action on emissions controls. The last thing they want is an informed, public discussion of just what does lie in store for our countries in the next half century.

Five Weeks?

It's one thing for Max Bernier to have left classified, highly sensitive documents on his girlfriend's coffee table. It's another matter entirely for her to have them for five whole weeks.

Five weeks?

Bernier and Harper need to answer for that. Why weren't the documents recovered the minute Bernier realized he'd left them behind? Did he just forget he'd left them at Couillard's apartment? Was this an isolated incident or the sort of thing Maxie is prone to when he's on the hunt? Has somebody done an inventory of the former minister's documents to veryify that there's nothing else laying about where it's not supposed to be? Is Harper properly managing his cabinet? Are other Con ministers just as negligent as Bernier?

Let's face it, Harper's cabinet isn't exactly the faculty from the Rocket Academy but something more akin to the supporting cast from a Charlie Chaplin movie. Bernier wasn't just the minister of tractor parts, he was foreign affairs minister and yet he operated like a rank amateur.

It's time that Parliament got to the bottom of this. Somebody has to and it's plain that Harper won't do it.

Ferraro - She's Back (barf)

And so the narrative begins that Hillary was laid low by misogeny, pure sexism. The nomination campaign plainly wasn't fair because it was tainted by sexism from, you know, "those people." It wasn't Hillary's astonishingly inept campaign, it wasn't all the young people who turned out for Obama and, Lord knows, it wasn't Hillary's overflowing bucket of gaffes, sleaze and character flaws.

And if you have any doubt that Hillie wuz robbed, you can take the word of nutjob Hillaryite Geraldine Ferraro, who showed up on (naturally) Fox News to reveal how Hillary was pilloried by the black press:

Ferraro plainly singled out the New York Times' Bob Herbert as a prime example of those evil black journalists plotting to undermine Hillary. That'd be the Bob Herbert who wrote this in his column, "If there was ever a story that deserved more coverage by the news media, it's the dark persistence of misogyny in America."

I have had my fill of these clowns who ignore everything Clinton did to earn her failure and instead blame it on sexism. Okay, Obama did make one reference to Annie Oakley, so what? If that's what all the bitching's about, then it's utterly pathetic. What about Hillary saying "I think he's a Christian" or bleating about representing all the "hard working, white" Americans?

Bush Mouthpiece Finally Comes Clean

Former White House spokesman Scott McClellan has decided to try selling something different - the truth.

In his newly released memoir, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," McClellan writes that the Iraq war was sold to the American people with a sophisticated "political propaganda campaign" led by President Bush and aimed at "manipulating sources of public opinion" and "downplaying the major reason for going to war."

From the Washington Post:

"...He describes Bush as demonstrating a "lack of inquisitiveness," says the White House operated in "permanent campaign" mode, and admits to having been deceived by some in the president's inner circle about the leak of a CIA operative's name.

The book, coming from a man who was a tight-lipped defender of administration aides and policy, is certain to give fuel to critics of the administration, and McClellan has harsh words for many of his past colleagues. He accuses former White House adviser Karl Rove
of misleading him about his role in the CIA case. He describes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as being deft at deflecting blame, and he calls Vice President Cheney "the magic man" who steered policy behind the scenes while leaving no fingerprints.

McClellan stops short of saying that Bush purposely lied about his reasons for invading Iraq, writing that he and his subordinates were not "employing out-and-out deception" to make their case for war in 2002.

But in a chapter titled "Selling the War," he alleges that the administration repeatedly shaded the truth and that Bush "managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option."

McClellan describes Bush as able to convince himself of his own spin and relates a phone call he overheard Bush having during the 2000 campaign, in which he said he could not remember whether he had used cocaine. "I remember thinking to myself, 'How can that be?' " he writes.

The former aide describes Bush as a willing participant in treating his presidency as a permanent political campaign, run in large part by his top political adviser, Rove.

"The president had promised himself that he would accomplish what his father had failed to do by winning a second term in office," he writes. "And that meant operating continually in campaign mode: never explaining, never apologizing, never retreating. Unfortunately, that strategy also had less justifiable repercussions: never reflecting, never reconsidering, never compromising. Especially not where Iraq was concerned."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

BC Supreme Court to Harper - Back Off!

"I cannot agree with the Canada's submission that an addict must feed his addiction in an unsafe environment when a safe environment that may lead to rehabilitation is the alternative."

With that finding, BC Supreme Court judge Ian Pitfield ruled it would be unconsitutional for the Harper cryptos to shut down Vancouver's safe injection site.

"Society cannot condone addiction, but in the face of its presence it cannot fail to manage it, hopefully with ultimate success reflected in the cure of the addicted individual and abstinence," says the ruling.
It says that certain sections of the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are inconsistent with section 7 of the Charter and are of no force and effect.

Pitfield's ruling says denial of access to the site "amounts to a condemnation of the consumption that led to addiction in the first place, while ignoring the resulting illness.

"While there is nothing to be said in favour of the injection of controlled substances that leads to addiction, there is much to be said against denying addicts health care services that will ameliorate the effects of their condition,'' he wrote.

Federal health minister Tony Clement, shown above, was unavailable for comment or at least that's what it sounded like he was trying to say.

Pushing the Fear Agenda

Thanks to Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria for shining a spotlight on a Simon Fraser University report that reveals how "terrorism" statistics have been gamed for nothing other than to make us all afraid - very afraid.

"The U.S. government agency charged with tracking terrorist attacks, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), reported a 41 percent increase from 2005 to 2006 and then equally high levels in 2007. Another major, government-funded database of terrorism, the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terror (MIPT), says that the annual toll of fatalities from terrorism grew 450 percent (!) between 1998 and 2006. A third report, the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), also government-funded, recorded a 75 percent jump in 2004, the most recent year available for the data it uses.

The Simon Fraser study points out that all three of these data sets have a common problem. They count civilian casualties from the war in Iraq as deaths caused by terrorism. This makes no sense. Iraq is a war zone, and as in other war zones around the world, many of those killed are civilians. Study director Prof. Andrew Mack notes, "Over the past 30 years, civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Bosnia, Guatemala, and elsewhere have, like Iraq, been notorious for the number of civilians killed. But although the slaughter in these cases was intentional, politically motivated, and perpetrated by non-state groups-and thus constituted terrorism as conceived by MIPT, NCTC, and START-it was almost never described as such."

Including Iraq massively skews the analysis. In the NCTC and MIPT data, Iraq accounts for 80 percent of all deaths counted. But if you set aside the war there, terrorism has in fact gone way down over the past five years. In both the START and MIPT data, non-Iraq deaths from terrorism have declined by more than 40 percent since 2001. (The NCTC says the number has stayed roughly the same, but that too is because of a peculiar method of counting.) In the only other independent analysis of terrorism data, the U.S.-based IntelCenter published a study in mid-2007 that examined "significant" attacks launched by Al Qaeda over the past 10 years. It came to the conclusion that the number of Islam-ist attacks had declined 65 percent from a high point in 2004, and fatalities from such attacks had declined by 90 percent.

The Simon Fraser study notes that the decline in terrorism appears to be caused by many factors, among them successful counterterrorism operations in dozens of countries and infighting among terror groups. But the most significant, in the study's view, is the "extraordinary drop in support for Islamist terror organizations in the Muslim world over the past five years." These are largely self-inflicted wounds. The more people are exposed to the jihadists' tactics and world view, the less they support them.

The University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management (I wish academic centers would come up with shorter names!) has released another revealing study, documenting a 54 percent decline in the number of organizations using violence across the Middle East and North Africa between 1985 and 2004. The real rise, it points out, is in the number of groups employing nonviolent means of protest, which increased threefold during the same period.

Why have you not heard about studies like this or the one from Simon Fraser, which was done by highly regarded scholars, released at the United Nations and widely discussed in many countries around the world-from Canada to Australia? Because it does not fit into the narrative of fear that we have all accepted far too easily."

There you have it. The far-right Bush/Cheney/McCain/Harper gang keep telling us that we're in a fight for the very survival of our civilization because they don't dare acknowledge that Islamist jihadism is collapsing under its own weight. They can't, make that won't, tell us the truth because it undermines what Zakaria properly calls their "narrative of fear."

Pot Luck

Some unwitting air traveller in Japan just scored a bag of pot.

It happened at Tokyo's Narita airport. A Japanese customs officer chose a suitcase at random and placed a bag containing 142 grams of cannabis inside. It wasn't an attempt to plant dope on a traveller but an exercise to test the airport's sniffer dogs' ability to detect the contraband. Big problem #1 - the dogs couldn't find it. Big problem #2 - the officer who planted the pot couldn't remember which bag he'd put it in.

The officer has apologized. The pot remains - wherever, dude!

Natural Disasters - the Tip of the Iceberg

Thinking of natural disasters triggers some graphic images. Earthquakes in China, cyclones in Burma, tsuanmis in Indonesia - the stuff we see all too regularly on TV. The numbers sometimes seem staggering - 40,000 here, 150,000 over there, another 80,000 somewhere else.

At times it seems like a demented "flavour of the month" club. Whatever gets on the late news wins. That's the disaster that will trigger our consciences and then our politicians' response. Suddenly aircraft will be lined up to fly relief workers and supplies wherever - why wherever we happen to be looking at the moment. But what about all those places we don't see, the people and places that don't win the contest for network coverage?

A study just released by the Brookings Institute reveals that, when it comes to global natural disasters, we only see the tip of the iceberg:

"...every year for the past twenty years, more than 200 million people have been affected by natural disasters, most of which never make it to the nightly news in America. Yet the effects of even localized disasters are felt by affected families for years – long after the TV cameras have moved on to the next disaster.

...groups which were already vulnerable before the disaster tend to suffer disproportionately from the devastation. For example, globally, for every one adult male who drowns in a flood, there are 3-4 women who die. Most obviously, this is because in many countries girls are less likely to learn how to swim or climb trees than boys. Vulnerable groups also experience discrimination in the provision of assistance. In many camps where persons displaced by natural disasters live, food is -- at least initially -- more likely to go to healthy and strong men than to children or the disabled. And in New Orleans, it was the elderly, the immigrants and African-American communities who disproportionately suffered the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

Chances of surviving a natural disaster are much higher in developed countries than in developing ones. For example, in 1988, an earthquake registering 6.9 on the Richter scale hit Armenia, killing some 55,000 people and leaving 500,000 homeless. Less than a year later, in an even stronger earthquake, 7.1 on the Richter scale, hit San Francisco, California, killing 62 and leaving 12,000 homeless.

Climate change affects natural disasters, both sudden-onset environmental events and long-term phenomena such as sea level rises. In fact, the severity and frequency of disasters, particularly what are called hydrometerological disasters (cyclones, hurricanes, flooding, mudslides, drought) are increasing. Natural disasters will be with us for a long time. While we cannot control where an earthquake will strike or a cyclone will turn, we can strengthen our collective ability to respond to these disasters and to mitigate their worst effects. And given the projections of the impact of climate change on natural disasters, we have no time to waste."

Read the full report here:
On the subject of natural disasters, aftershocks that hit China today are reported to have caused the collapse of a staggering 420,000 homes. No estimate yet on the number rendered homeless.

The Revenge of Couillard - Bye, Bye Max!

Mad Max Bernier has finally wound up in the ditch. Turns out that his jilted girlfriend, Julie Couillard, did him in after all, not so much because of her tenuous former links with biker gangs but because Maxime left classified documents at her place. From the Toronto Star:

"...Bernier's departure came just a few hours before Couillard was about to go on air at the French-language television station TVA to say that her former lover was careless with classified documents."

What does this tell us about Bernier? Nothing we didn't already know. He was (and presumably remains) a dolt, utterly unsuited to the lofty job of foreign affairs minister that Harper bestowed on him. The guy was a walking disaster from Ottawa to Kandahar.

What does this tell us about Harper? Plenty, although not much that we didn't already know. Our Furious Leader isn't very good when events force him off his script. It's no wonder he's such a "talking points" control freak. He should have dumped Bernier a long time ago when his blatant incompetence became public during his visit to Kandahar. That, however, would have meant conceding awfully poor judgment in the first place and you don't readily get that sort of admission from Harpo.

Curious isn't it that it wasn't Maxie's string of blunders that forced Harpo's hand but the threat of a scorned woman's revenge. Well, Stevie's going to have to suck on this one for quite a while.

Here's another thing that Mad Max illustrates about Hapless Harper - his caucus is razor thin on talent and, even then, he chooses really poorly. Look at the cast of flops and duds - Rona Ambrose, Gordy O'Connor, Johnny Baird, Tony Clements, Vic Toews and, of course, Maxime Bernier. If they're his first picks, imagine Harper's "B" team.

All things considered, it's not such a bad thing that Harpo has run flat out of ideas. If he had'em, who would he appoint to implement them?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Comrade Harper Doesn't Want to Run the Government, He Wants to Own It!

Docile, complacent, timid. Those words pretty much describe the Canadian media and how they've let down the people of this country as Comrade Stephen has forcefully insinuated himself between the Canadian government and the Canadian people.

You no longer have access to your government. You have access to Comrade Stephen and his minions, the political commissars of the PMO, the Prime Minister's Office. Our Furious Leader and his faceless cadre will decide what you need to know about the federal government's workings and that'll be exactly what they want you to know and nothing more. Does that sound a little bit Stalinist to you? Well, yeah, it is. Does it seem undemocratic, un-Canadian even? It is and it's a stain that taints everyone who supports the Harper government.

The Toronto Star is publishing a series this week called "Secret Capital":

"In the 6th-floor office of a nondescript building sit the gatekeepers, the bureaucrats who decide what Canadians learn about the workings of their government.

Questions on the hot issues of the day all get funnelled through this office, the "communications and consultations" unit of the Privy Council Office, housed in the Blackburn building that fronts the Sparks St. pedestrian mall.

Throughout the government, it's known simply as "downtown," the place where decisions are made on who speaks on issues and what they say. In the Conservative government's clampdown on communications, this is Ground Zero.

Public appearances by cabinet ministers – whether it's a speech or an interview – are carefully staged, starting with a "message event proposal" vetted by the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic wing of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

And in a marked change from previous governments, now even basic demands for information from reporters, once easily fielded by department spokespersons, are sent to this office for review – and often heavy editing – before they are okayed for public release, government insiders say.

David Taras, a professor in the department of communications and culture at the University of Calgary said, 'You can control events for so long, you can only manipulate for so long and ultimately I think this has harmed the Harper government to the extent that Harper's image has become `Mr. Partisan, Mr. Mean, Mr. Control Freak,'

"It's just got to a point where control is the image of what his government is. That's damaging. ... You wonder what they're running from and what they're afraid of," he said.

The clampdown could get worse. Auditor-General Sheila Fraser recently revealed that the government is proposing a new policy that would require all communications "products" to be vetted by the Privy Council Office.

One government official said the new rules would formally enshrine in policy the unwritten rule that now exists.

"The screws are being tightened bit by bit. It's gotten very extreme in the last six months. Just more and more delays, more and more control over things, less and less things getting approved," the official said."

It's time those who support Harper's assault on Canadian democracy face up to their choice - defend Canada and our democracy or empower Harper.

The Parallel Universes of George and Hillary

As I've watched Hillary Clinton's ill-fought campaign, particularly over the past six months, I've been struck at how she seems to have learned and adopted so many of the political tactics of the outgoing hooligan, George w. Bush. The Guardian's Gary Younge lays it out beautifully:

"As the primary season draws to a close it has become increasingly apparent that Hillary Clinton has run her campaign with the same contempt for intelligence, decency and democracy that Bush has run the country. Like the Bush administration, her campaign has been sustained by cynicism, divisiveness and fear-mongering, leaving a toxic and rancorous rift in its wake. Like the White House, her aim has been to win at all costs. And like the White House, it has produced the same result. Failure.

It is a continuum not of policies - on that front she is closer to Barack Obama than either of them would concede - but a mindset that has served America ill these past seven years. Creating a bespoke reality out of whole cloth and then hoping people will not just buy it, but wear it.

In a last, desperate bid to resuscitate her campaign, Clinton will put her case for the ratification of the results of the Michigan and Florida primaries to the Democratic National Committee rules and bylaws committee later this week.

Both states held their primaries in January, in defiance of Democratic party rules. The party warned them beforehand that their delegates would be disqualified if they went ahead, and asked the candidates not to campaign there. The candidates obliged. The states went ahead anyway. Clinton won both. Her senior adviser, Harold Ickes, was on the committee that voted not to recognise them. Obama's name was not even on the ballot in Michigan.

Back in October last year Clinton said uncomplainingly of Michigan: "It's clear, this election they're having is not going to count for anything."

But then she won both. Now everything is different. Speaking before a crowd of senior citizens in Boca Raton, Florida, last week she went into metaphorical hyperbole, comparing the battle to seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan to the suffragettes, the civil rights movement and Zimbabwe - where more than 40 people have been killed in election-related violence. "We're seeing that right now in Zimbabwe," she explained to a crowd of senior citizens. "Tragically, an election was held, the president lost, they refused to abide by the will of the people. So we can never take for granted our precious right to vote."

Clinton insists she is winning the popular vote. She's right. But only if you tally votes with the same degree of selectivity as Robert Mugabe. For her claim to make sense, you would have to count the discounted Florida and Michigan primaries and discount the legitimate caucuses in Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington state, three of which Obama won. These four states do not reveal popular vote totals. It's like saying if you include your goals that were ruled offside and don't recognise your opponents' headers (it is football after all) then you really won the game.

The reason Clinton has had to resort to this sophistry reveals another trait she shares with Bush - hubris. She believed she would have the nomination sewn up by Super Tuesday. She woke up on the following Wednesday out of money, ideas and volunteers. It was a month and nine contests before she won again. By then the momentum was Obama's and, though he has stumbled, he has been running with it since. By most reckonings he leads by about 190 delegates and 400,000 votes. Even if Michigan and Florida were counted, she would still trail in delegates.

And, like Bush, she has appealed to the basest instincts of the electorate to dig herself out of a hole. First came fear. "It's 3am in the morning and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the telephone [in the White House]," went her ad.

Then there is racism. The most recent example of which was her claiming that Obama's "support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again", as evidence of her own viability. Later she would concede that equating "white" and "hard- working" was a "dumb comment".

On Friday she was lambasted for intimating that she was staying in the race because, like Bobby Kennedy, Obama may yet be assassinated. It was clumsy. But a reasonable reading of the context shows she neither said nor meant anything of the kind. Her problem is that by now the general impression is that there is almost nothing she wouldn't do or say. It would indeed take something that dramatic and tragic for her to win.

Like the Bush administration, the issue is no longer whether she leaves the stage with her reputation irreparably tarnished, but what state she leaves it in and how many people she is prepared to take with her."

Carbon Trading a Scam? Who Could've Known?

Big polluters in the West have really taken to carbon offset programmes. It's nothing more than paying some government or corporation in the Third World to implement some form of GHG reduction programme to "offset" the excessive emissions of its Western patron. It's what George Monbiot has described as moving food around on a plate.

What's wrong with carbon trading? Nothing, in theory. In practise, however, there's plenty wrong with it

A key problem is that it relies on the industrial polluter to fund a project that will actually result in a reduction of GHG emissions and that wasn't already in the works anyway. It's sort of like letting the banditos guard the stagecoach. From The Guardian:

"Leading academics and watchdog groups allege that the UN's main offset fund is being routinely abused by chemical, wind, gas and hydro companies who are claiming emission reduction credits for projects that should not qualify. The result is that no genuine pollution cuts are being made, undermining assurances by the UK government and others that carbon markets are dramatically reducing greenhouse gases, the researchers say.

The criticism centres on the UN's clean development mechanism (CDM), an international system established by the Kyoto process that allows rich countries to meet emissions targets by funding clean energy projects in developing nations.

A working paper from two senior Stanford University academics examined more than 3,000 projects applying for or already granted up to $10bn of credits from the UN's CDM funds over the next four years, and concluded that the majority should not be considered for assistance. "They would be built anyway," says David Victor, law professor at the Californian university. "It looks like between one and two thirds of all the total CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts."

Governments consider that CDM is vital to reducing global emissions under the terms of the Kyoto treaty. To earn credits under the mechanism, emission reductions must be in addition to those that would have taken place without the project. But critics argue this "additionality" is impossible to prove and open to abuse. The Stanford paper, by Victor and his colleague Michael Wara, found that nearly every new hydro, wind and natural gas-fired plant expected to be built in China in the next four years is applying for CDM credits, even though it is Chinese policy to encourage these industries."

It may just be that there are not nearly enough legitimate CDM projects to meet the demands of Western emitters but, if that's the case, there's nothing to be gained from letting them manipulate the process. The UN needs to reform the process, perhaps by eliminating the brokers and taking in-house the job of identifying qualifying CDM investments.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Paying for Iraq in Canada

Every time you go to the gas pump you're paying for George Bush's misadventures in Iraq and you're paying a lot.

The Independent on Sunday reports that the Great Bush Blunder has trebled the world price of oil:

"The oil economist Dr Mamdouh Salameh, who advises both the World Bank and the UN Industrial Development Organisation (Unido), told The Independent on Sunday that the price of oil would now be no more than $40 a barrel, less than a third of the record $135 a barrel reached last week, if it had not been for the Iraq war.

He spoke after oil prices set a new record on 13 consecutive days over the past two weeks. They have now multiplied sixfold since 2002, compared with the fourfold increase of the 1973 and 1974 "oil shock" that ended the world's long postwar boom.

Goldman Sachs predicted last week that the price could rise to an unprecedented $200 a barrel over the next year, and the world is coming to terms with the idea that the age of cheap oil has ended, with far-reaching repercussions on their activities."

Dr Salameh told the all-party parliamentary group on peak oil last month that Iraq had offered the United States a deal, three years before the war, that would have opened up 10 new giant oil fields on "generous" terms in return for the lifting of sanctions. 'This would certainly have prevented the steep rise of the oil price," he said. "But the US had a different idea. It planned to occupy Iraq and annex its oil.'"

So the next time you fill'er up, remember to thank George Bush and his pals for that extra twenty or thirty bucks you're leaving at the cash register. It's no wonder Harper wanted Canada to fight in Iraq.

Two-Wheeled Whining

Riding a bicycle to work is great for the environment but it's also dangerous. Truth be told, a fair number of cyclists ride as though they're in a fencing match with their four-wheeled rivals. They dart and dodge and weave in and out, sometimes going for the narrowest of paths to avoid being blocked or slowed down by motor vehicles.

A lot of cyclists, especially bike couriers, are their own worst enemies, alienating and sometimes infuriating drivers and pedestrians alike. I saw more than one bicycle courier down when I practised in Vancouver and there was always very little sympathy to be seen in the pedestrians who passed by.

A recent fatality has the Toronto Cyclists Union demanding blood. On Thursday a cyclist was killed after running into an open car door (presumably a parked car) and falling into the road where he was run over by a van. Police are deciding whether to charge the driver of the parked car with failing to take "due precautions." I don't think there's a chance in hell of a conviction.

Here's the problem. Absent a marked, bicycle lane, a cyclist weaving his way through the curb/parking lane is essentially "lane splitting." The lane is already occupied - by the parked vehicle he strikes. The vehicle doesn't strike the cyclist, it's parked. The moving vehicle is the bicycle. Yes, sure, the car driver opened the door but the vehicle itself was stationary and the cyclist either wasn't paying attention and didn't see it in time or was going too fast to be able to stop in time.

A bicycle on a public road is just another vehicle. The rider is obliged to honour traffic lights, for example. Bicyclists have been charged and convicted for speeding. So, what gives them the right to indulge in lane splitting so they can illegally pass (on the curb side) slower motor vehicles? Nothing exempts them from the duty to take "due precautions" either.

I've been riding motorcycles for over 40-years and, from that perspective, the way bicyclists maneuver through city traffic seems nothing short of suicidal. I ride one of those really big, adventure touring bikes - a big, bright yellow machine with a big, not always bright me atop it. This isn't a flimsy bicycle with a rider hunched over the handlebars. Even then I always have to maintain "conspicuity" which means positioning my motorcycle in the way required by the road and traffic conditions to make me as visible as possible to every other vehicle on the road, in front of me, beside me and behind me. If I'm going to survive I have to ride as though I was invisible to every other user of the road. The driver who's going to kill you is the driver who doesn't see you. Simple as that.

From the newspaper account it sounds as though the cyclist was 1) lane splitting, 2) passing in the curb lane, and 3) riding too fast for the conditions around him. I might be wrong about those facts but it sure sounds to me as though the cyclist was the author of his own misfortune.

In our overcrowded cities there are no miracle answers to the car versus cyclist problem save, perhaps, establishing a few bicycle lanes on secondary streets with strict laws forcing cyclists to use them. I know cyclists aren't going to like this but those who insist on riding in congested, downtown traffic areas ought to have to go through some sort of training/licensing programme. Knowing how to ride a bicycle isn't the same as knowing how to ride one safely. A cyclist who doesn't know how to ride safely or won't ride safely has no business mixing it up with pedestrians and vehicular traffic.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Wisdom of the Ages

One of the greatest inventions of the Roman empire was concrete. When the empire collapsed the knowledge of concrete was lost for nearly two thousand years. Today our societies couldn't function without it.

But what of the engineering behind Stonehenge or the great pyramids? Is that too just a matter of lost knowledge? Watch this guy, Wally, show how he can single-handedly build his own Stonehenge.

Harper's Malignant Narcissism

One of the best Canadian e-zines is Metaball.

In the March, 2008 edition, Metaball editor RK Finch presents a brilliant psychological dissection of Stephen Harper entitled "The Singular Face of Megalomania." This is a "must read" for those of us who can't quite put our finger on what truly lurks inside our Furious Leader:

Friday, May 23, 2008

Getting Off on the Right Foot

Hard to believe but it's happened again! Another severed right foot in a running shoe found washed up on the shore of an island in southern coastal BC. Four detached feet - right feet, clad in running shoes, washed up on local islands, and not a clue where they're from. Police disclosed that the first two recovered were size 12. Details haven't been released on the last pair.

RCMP attempted to interrogate the feet but found they weren't responsive even when repeatedly tasered.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I've Seen This Movie Before

Responding to a critique by Castor Rouge of my critique of Stephane Dion this morning, I had a flashback to 1974. I was one of many menial scribes conscripted to cover the federal election campaign that year.

It was the challenger, Tory Robert Stanfield, versus Pierre Trudeau with David Lewis batting for the NDP.

Canada was in a mess with runaway inflation. Bob Stanfield campaigned on a promise/threat of wage and price controls to stabilize the economy. Make no mistake, Stanfield was promoting a very unpopular idea. He scared the living hell out of a lot of people, particularly organized labour.

Pierre Trudeau pounced. He got up on stage and lambasted Stanfield, warning voters that, if the Tories formed the next government, they would wake up one day and "Zap, you're frozen!" It was a shrewd bit of politicking and it worked. It stampeded the labour vote out of the NDP corral and into the Liberal camp. Trudeau won, Stanfield lost. David Lewis even lost his own seat.

Just a few months later, newly re-elected prime minister Pierre Trudeau introduced - why wage and price controls of course.

Bob Stanfield was a wonderful guy, honest and direct. However he looked like an undertaker and utterly lacked charisma. He went into that election advocating an unpopular policy, unpopular but necessary, that his rival was able to use to beat him senseless.

I think Stephane Dion is something of a latter-day Stanfield. He has no discernible charisma and he wants to champion an unpopular policy, one that can easily be used by his opponents to scare voters.

Like Pissing Into the Wind

One in ten. It doesn't make much difference what you're trying to achieve, if you're scoring 10% it almost always means you have a problem.

The carbon tax has a problem.

It's not so much a problem with the merits of the idea itself or the political hurdles it poses. Its main problem is the guy who says he'll stake all to make it happen - Stephane Dion.

The latest Toronto Star/Angus Reid poll shows that Dion isn't the guy to sell a carbon tax to the Canadian public.

"Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion's approval rating has sunk to its lowest level yet, with nine of 10 Canadians saying they disapprove or are not sure of his performance as the head of the party, according to the latest Toronto Star/Angus Reid opinion poll.

Not since former Liberal leader John Turner bottomed out with a 14 per cent approval rating shortly after losing the 1988 election have things been so bad for the head of Canada's most successful political party. Just 10 per cent of those surveyed stand behind Dion's leadership, the poll shows, compared to 32 per cent for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

What's worse is that the number of people who said they were unsure about Dion's performance has dropped from 46 per cent at the end of last summer to 30 per cent this month, meaning that Canadians are making up their minds about a leader who has had difficulties rallying his party behind him as well as communicating his party's positions to potential voters.

"What's really disheartening is it's almost as if everyone's made up their minds already," said the polling firm's Mario Canseco. "Those who actually have something to say about Dion are saying negative things."

The online poll of 1,004 Canadians is considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20."

I know this news is going to upset loyal Dion supporters and there are plenty of you among Liberal bloggers. You support Dion, you stand by him faithfully and that's all very nice. What you aren't going to do is get him elected.

The Liberal Party brand is propping up Dion, not the other way around. Canadians' dislike and distrust of Stephen Harper is propping up Dion.

The election may be won or lost on Dion's leadership. Yet he's intent on transforming it into a referendum on carbon taxes. With this pleasant, well-intentioned, intelligent but hapless character at the wheel, Dion may be dooming initiatives such as carbon taxes in a vain attempt to save his own political neck.

We'll have another leader of the party but a loss on a de facto carbon tax referendum may just set back that initiative for years to come, if not permanently. Once the Canadian voters believe they have spoken, it's going to be enormously difficult for another leader to get them to change their minds.

Dion's legacy may be that of a failed leader who gambled on really bad odds and wound up dragging down the environmental initiative with him.

The carbon tax initiative is too important to be put to a referendum by a leader who can't even sell himself.

The good news. Canadians are still waiting for the LPC to come up with a leader they can support. The party can retake the government - only not until it does some essential housekeeping.
Until then it's just pissing into the wind.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Westminster Tinkers with Nature

Genetics and reproductive technology are front and centre in the British Parliament this week.

One bill will provide for the creation of "savior siblings." It's the creation of in vitro children intended to supply tissue for a sick older child. So, for example, little Jimmy could be manufactured to furnish a bone marrow transplant for big brother Johnny. It's unclear what fate would await Jimmy should Johnny require a new heart or a fresh pair of lungs.

The other big deal is the creation of "cybrids." These are blended human/animal embryos that will be permitted for research purposes only, at least for now. From the New York Times:

"The idea is to take an animal egg — say a cow egg — and remove its nucleus. This would remove most of the cow’s DNA from the egg. Human DNA would then be introduced, and the embryo would be allowed to begin to grow. (The introduction of human DNA would normally be done by putting an entire small cell, such as a skin cell, into the animal’s egg. On being zapped with electricity, the two cells readily fuse, and the nucleus of the skin cell then becomes the nucleus of the egg.) The new nucleus thus contains only human DNA. The technical term for this procedure is interspecies somatic cell nuclear transfer, or interspecies cloning.
If the embryo were allowed to keep growing, and was then implanted into a woman, it would — presumably, and assuming nothing went wrong — grow into a baby. However, the aim is not to produce humans this way; under the new law, embryos will have to be destroyed at 14 days (the time that the embryo begins to differentiate into cells of different types). Rather, the aim is to collect stem cells from the embryos for use in medical research."

Is this just a simple genetic experiment or the camel's nose slipping under the tent? Right now, no one can say for sure.

The Boy Who Cried "No Wolf!"

Words kill.

That's why we can be held accountable for our words when they do just that. Canadian law students are taught the case of the guy who yelled "fire" in a crowded movie theatre sending the audience stampeding for the exits where a number were crushed to death. Now the prankster hadn't killed anyone himself, at least not directly, but he was convicted of their deaths.

The idea behind this is that we're all deemed responsible for the likely consequences of our acts. You can't say the guy in the movie theatre intended to kill those people. But here's the question - did he know or ought he to have known that he would trigger a stampede that could lead to the deaths or injuries of the other moviegoers? Were those deaths foreseeable if he'd bothered to think it through?

You see, as a general rule, we're all deemed in the eyes of the law to intend the logical consequences of our acts. If it's not logical or if it's not foreseeable you're not held accountable. If you're insane or an automaton, you have a defence. If it's an outright fluke that you couldn't have foreseen, you have a defence. However, if you have a functioning mind and cause plainly foreseeable harm, Bingo!

Which brings me to someone who I'll assume, for the purposes of this discussion, has a functioning mind and isn't insane, the National Post's Lorne Gunter. This character is but one of several "journalists" at the paper who never pass up an opportunity to claim that the global warming theory is a scam. That's plainly the policy of the newspaper itself. Indeed the Spot's web page still links to no fewer than 40 denialist rants it published going back a year ago. One sided, never ending. Gotta be a reason for that, don't you think?

It's pretty obvious that there are a great many politicians, including our Furious Leader, who don't like having to act on global warming. Oh they'll call it the greatest threat to the nation, tuck it away and then go off in search of ways to defund the government - monkey business as usual. The only thing that will make these types do anything responsible is when public opinion leaves them no choice. And shaping that public opinion is the specialty of folks like the Grunter.

The National Spot and it's clutch of pompous, ill-informed asses, is fighting a rearguard action. Eventually public opinion will reach a critical mass and no politician will survive who defies it. But, in the meantime, there are powerful groups who see a lot of money to be had in postponing that day for as long as possible. There's a direct, financial value in every disbeliever these guys can create. That's why the old RJ Reynolds "science" crowd has moved out of tobacco denialism and into global warming denialism. All you have to do is follow those who are following the money.

The best science available warns us that the longer we wait to deal with this, the worse it will be for us in the long run. Both remediation and adaptation become significantly more difficult, more harsh, and less effective the longer we put this off. And, of course, there are those - the poorest and most vulnerable in far-off lands - for whom these options will be foreclosed outright. Their option is but to die.

As a former reporter I don't like the idea of journalists being censored or censured for what they write but I'm becoming less convinced of absolute freedom of the press. It seems to me that press freedom, like all freedoms, has to come with some responsibilities. These people are influential. They are opinion makers. We need them to represent every view and yet there must be some line in the sand. A journalist can't walk into a theatre and yell "fire" and then claim press freedom as his defence.

Of course Gunter and those of his ilk will never be on the hook for their perfidy. Who will ever be able to calibrate the amount of damage they will have caused when, at last, even they can no longer get away with this nonsense? Who will ever be able to attach names of the dead to a particular article that he wrote? Better yet, by the time the hens do come home to roost, this clown will be long gone and a generation that's never heard of him will be living with the consequences he and his have bequeathed to them.

Words kill. Maybe not here, maybe not today, but there and there and over there and very soon.

For more on Lorne Gunter, Terry Corcoran and the rest of the National Post's clown car journalists, do a search on

Burying the Traces of Don Rumsfeld

He was a Neo-Con man's man, Bush's first defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Like all the other Neo-Cons who were infiltrated into the Bush administration by Dick Cheney, Rummie wasted no time in implementing plans to revolutionize the way America killed people in other countries.

Rumsfeld's vision caught the imagination of some leading lights. England's pre-eminant military historian, Sandhurst lecturer and newspaper columnist, John Keegan, practically swooned over Rumsfeld in a piece of grotesque flattery he wrote for Vanity Fair. Later, as the war in Afghanistan blurred into Iraq, Keegan boldly assured readers of the Telegraph that all was well, America would prevail - quickly and handily.

It was the US Army in particular that Rumsfeld set out to transform from a lumbering, conventional warfighting machine into more of a light brigade, special operations force capable of deploying rapidly and conducting hit and run warfare, often covertly. It was a bold and radical move entirely in keeping with the Neo-Cons who are now seen as a gang of failed revolutionaries, their grand experiment in tatters.

I thought I detected a glint of Rumsfeld's Brave New World army in a story (May 15) that recently emerged from Afghanistan about a US special forces and intelligence operatives conducting covert raids on Afghan villages resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians. It sounded eerily like the targeted assassination operation the Americans ran in Vietnam known as the Phoenix Program. Now, less than a week after that report came out, the Pentagon is moving to shut down the special forces' authority to carry out secret counterterrorism missions on its own around the world. From the Washington Post:

"The decision culminates four years of misgivings within the military that the command, with its expertise in commando missions and unconventional war, would use its broader mandate too aggressively, by carrying out operations that had not been reviewed or approved by the regional commanders.

Roger D. Carstens, a 20-year veteran of Special Operations missions who is now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington policy institute, said the Special Operations Command finally “came to the conclusion that its role is not to be that of a global Lone Ranger who shows up at the last second to dispatch the bad guys.”

“That just can’t be done,” Mr. Carstens said, “or rather it should not be done.”

The change is the latest rejection of initiatives that Mr. Rumsfeld set forth during almost six years as defense secretary, before stepping down in 2006. His successor, Robert M. Gates, has increased the size of the ground forces, a move Mr. Rumsfeld resisted; signed off on a plan to keep more troops in Europe than Mr. Rumsfeld had envisioned; and called for future budgets to focus on the weapons needed to fight insurgents and terrorists today, rather than on investments in next-generation technology advocated by Mr. Rumsfeld."

Mr. Rumsfeld outlined his views in 2004 by advocating what was known as a new Unified Command Plan, one that would have shifted the center of gravity within the military. It declared that the Special Operations Command “leads, plans, synchronizes, and as directed, executes global operations against terrorist networks.” He stressed that his reorganization was intended to permit the command to send out its own small teams to capture or kill terrorists."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

McSame Part Deux

Here is a sampling of the clips now being released that ought to be enough to bury John McSame for all time.

McCain Flips All Over Himself

Forget Obama's supposed vulnerability. McCain does himself in - over and over again.

Ted Kennedy's Seizure

Ted Kennedy had a seizure over the weekend. The New York Times has just posted a story that Kennedy has now been diagnosed as having a brain tumour.

Tortured to Death in Abu Ghraib

America doesn't torture. Of course it doesn't. But, when it does, it goes to crazy lengths to conceal it.

If you've got a strong stomach, I urge you to check out Errol Morris' piece, "The Most Curious Thing," published in today's New York Times:

Running on Empty

Even the most powerful political leader on earth can't get very far without a tankful of political capital. That tank inevitably begins to run low during the final months of a lame duck president's term. In the case of George w. Bush, it's not low, it's empty.

Shrub's Middle East farewell tour proves the point. He got up and delivered inflammatory speeches that failed to spark any reaction save for apathy. He went begging for more oil and got snubbed and shown the door.

George's failure, from day one, has been his inability to understand the essential need to understand. This is a guy who's boasted that he follows his "gut instinct" on major issues.

Gut instinct isn't necessarily bad when it's preceded by an accurate understanding and thoughtful deliberation. It works as the best alternative when you've done your homework and still haven't come up with one clear solution. It's not, however, a substitute for understanding or deliberation. Without the groundwork, gut instinct is no more than a wild-ass guess (WAG) and often something worse, a silly, wild-ass guess (SWAG).

Invading Iraq with 160,000 troops was a WAG. Deciding to occupy the country without tripling the number of boots on the ground was a SWAG. No understanding, no deliberation.

It didn't take long for important people around the world to figure out how Bush worked which is a key reason why everything he's touched - be it America's economy, its environment, Iraq, New Orleans, its influence abroad, even its military adventures - has wound up on the heap in the biffy.

Bush went to the Middle East and claimed that he can solve the Israeli/Palestinian dilemma before he leaves office in January. With what, another SWAG? This guy is either trying to scam everyone or else he's just plain delusional.

Remember when Bush confided to certain world leaders, including Canada's own Paul Martin, that he was guided by God, in effect God's instrument in the White House? That meant his decisions were divinely inspired, making him, in effect, a demi-god. And, as we all know, demi-gods don't have to understand, don't have to contemplate. All they need do is go with their divine, gut instinct.

It's a sort of hucksterism rarely seen since the days of the old medicine shows but it's one that no one's buying any longer. Bush is empty, done, finished. No one believes him any more, no one seems to feel the need to humour him either.

In critical moments past, sitting presidents have sometimes called in their predecessors for advice. Think any future president will be running up long-distance phone bills to the trained chimp in Crawford?

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Suzuki Factor

David Suzuki's endorsement of Stephane Dion's carbon tax initiative is a mixed blessing.

Suzuki's outspokeness has made him a bit of a lightning rod for criticism that he's an extremist, a granola munching tree-hugger.

I think Suzuki sees the global warming issue as a politico-scientific challenge. Both sides have to work together like a team of horses or nobody gets anywhere - ever.

If Dion truly has the fortitude to stand behind the carbon tax policy and if David Suzuki genuinely believes there is no other way, the two must work together and very publicly.

For his part, Dion has to show a degree of genuine leadership that's rarely seen in the timid. He must refine his initiative, stand behind it, explain it, defend it and then persuade Canadians that it's not just a nice idea but an imperative.

For his part, Suzuki must use his considerable professional influence to enlist a large body of the best scientific minds in our country to join him in supporting the carbon tax proposal. They need to lend their voices, their credentials to present a solid scientific consensus on the issue. They need to assist Mr. Dion by doing everything in their power to explain the merits of carbon taxation to a sceptical and sometimes ill-informed public.

I think the concept is workable. A lot of the already stated fears are misplaced. For example, there's no reason that home heating fuel cannot be exempted from these taxes. I believe there are similar workarounds for other problems.

That's not to say that carbon taxes won't be felt. Of course they will as they must if they're to work. That's the whole point. The idea is to get people to change their energy consumption habits. If you must commute an hour each way to work, you might want to help us all out by ditching that SUV. Maybe you'll suddenly see the merits of car pooling or mass transit. Maybe jobs will have to relocate closer to the available workforce as has happened elsewhere, relieving already chronic congestion in our metropolitan cores.

Here's another thought. We don't consume energy equitably so why should those who consume substantially more not expect to contribute more in tax? If you want to live in a 4,000 sq. ft. house in exburbia because that's where you can afford that elevated lifestyle, don't complain that it's expensive to clog up the highways commuting downtown to work. That's your choice, live with it. If you want to spend your weekends racing about the lake in your ski boat rather than kayaking, that's your choice, live with it. If the taxes are unacceptable, change your lifestyle. Just don't bitch to me about how you choose to live your life.