Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's Wrong With the US Supreme Court - Start With Scalia

The highest court in any democratic state ought to be the preserve of the best legal minds in the country. It is the court of last resort. It is the court that has to weigh constitutional questions and define statutory enactments.

American presidents, it seems, have been pretty lax in their duty to select proper material for the nation's Supreme Court and Antonin Scalia is one clear example.

Scalia is the guy who goes duck hunting with Dick Cheney while a case against Halliburton is before him.

Now he's shown the depth of his juridical prowess by his asinine arguments that Guantanimo detainees should be denied the right to prove their innocence in federal courts. In the case of Boumediene v. Bush, Scalia wrote, "At least 30 of those prisoners hitherto released from Guantanamo have returned to the battlefield."

Now just where did Mr. Justice Scalia get that pearl of factual wisdom? The Seton Hall Law Center for Policy and Research answers that:

"The statistic was endorsed by a Senate Minority Report issued June 26, 2007, which cites a media outlet, CNN. CNN, in turn, named the DoD [Department of Defense] as its source. The '30' number, however, was corrected in a DoD press release issued in July 2007, and a DoD document submitted to the House Foreign Relations Committee on May 20, 2008, abandons the claim entirely."

So, if it comes straight from the mouth of Wolf Blitzer, Scalia is able to take judicial notice of it, to treat it as fact upon which to base a judgment? This guy is a never ending disgrace to his bench and yet he just keeps going on like that battery bunny. If he had a shred of integrity he'd resign because he's repeatedly shown himself unfit to serve.

Nature Finally Intervened to Relieve Sam Golubchuk

Sam Golubchuk won't have to wait until the end of September to hear his family argue that he ought to remain on life support no matter how long it took him to rot into oblivion. Nature finally overwhelmed the best of medical science and kicked Sam off life support.

Golubchuk's family who, unlike Sam, weren't rotting alive felt that Sam's parting should be in God's hands. The part they left out (and isn't there always one?) is that the only thing keeping their father out of God's hands these past many months was an array of machines and products pumped into the old guy that allowed his heart to keep beating after the rest of him had gone wherever one goes at the end.

The Golubchuk case strained medical and legal ethics. A number of physicians at Winnipeg's Grace Hospital resigned rather than keep putting the old man through procedures they deemed futile and grotesque. And the Manitoba courts, instead of expediting the hearing of the family's demands to keep Sam going no matter what, simply moved the trial date from December to late September. I think a courageous judge would have given them two weeks to get their witnesses together and argue their case. There's no way of knowing for sure but I suspect the Winnipeg judges just decided to kick the can, with Sam inside, right down the road, hoping it would be over before the trial date ever rolled around.

Okay Lardo, It's a Command Performance Now

Our Furious Leader, little Stevie Harper, may have to think twice about spurning Stephane Dion's challenge for an "adult debate" on the Liberal Green Shift proposal.

A Toronto Star/Angus Reid poll found 70% of respondents absolutely keen on the debate idea.

The Big Greasy Splotch is going to have to tread carefully through this one. If he doesn't debate, he won't look good to most Canadians. If he does debate, he runs even greater risks. He might just give Dion the opportunity to show he's not a wimp. Worse yet, he might give Dion a forum to showcase the real merits and limited downside effects of the tax shift proposal.

Poor old Lardo. He's great at sniping from the weeds but now he's being called out - by the Canadian people.

The Bush Court Pays Off Big Time for Exxon

Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster in Aslaska's Prince William Sound. The tanker Valdez struck a rock, causing the worst oil spill in American history. The effects are still being felt.

In 1994 a jury awarded the state and affected parties a $5-billion judgment against Exxon. An Alaska appeals court then trimmed that - by half - down to $2.5-billion.

Today the Bush court voted 5-3 to transform Exxon's smackdown into a pat on the bottom, lowering the punitive damages award to $500-million. That's trimming 90% off the punitive damages the jury sought to impose. That works out to just under $50 per gallon of spilled oil in punitives.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Putting a Number on the Tar Sands

The US Conference of Mayors annual meeting came up with a great idea - tracking the "life cycle impact" of various fossil fuels. They also passed a resolution urging member municipalities to stop using unconventional fuels with lage carbon footprints. The resolution specifically referenced Canada's Tar Sands:

"The production of tarsands oil from Canada emits approximately three times the carbon dioxide pollution per barrel as does conventional oil production and significantly damages Canada's Boreal forest ecosystem - the world's largest carbon storehouse."

You see, once you factor in the carbon footprint of various fossil fuels - assign a number to them - it's an easy process to translate that into any of several forms of carbon tariffs.

Alberta's Tar Sands have always benefitted from the "out of sight/out of mind" syndrome. They're way up north where few Albertans live. People don't have to see them if they don't want to. That, I suspect, is a key reason why Big Oil and the Alberta government have been able to get away with the environmental destruction the Tar Sands necessitate. Whenever someone does complain they're rebuffed with the same old assurances about new technologies being just around the corner, an excuse that's then put back in the bottom drawer until the next time it's needed.

A carbon tariff by end user markets might give Big Oil and the Alberta government the big, swift kick in the ass they've needed to actually make those promised new technologies a reality. You simply make it more expensive for them not to clean themselves up. They say they can do it. It's time they did.

Kudos to the US Conference of Mayors. They just might have pointed to the right path to curbing tar sands pollution.

Travers Nails Harper the Bully

If you haven't already read it, take a couple of minutes to scan James Travers' insightful take on Stephen Harper in today's Toronto Star.

Canada Lags on Fighting Corruption

Transparency International reports that 18 of 34 OECD countries get failing grades on enforcement of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's 2007 Anti-Bribery Convention.

Countries cited for having "little or no enforcement" of the convention included Britain, Japan and Canada. From The Guardian:

The UK and Japan were two of three G7 countries "showing a lack of sufficient commitment". The third was Canada.

TI said Canada had an "inadequate definition of foreign bribery". It recommended "greater efforts within government agencies involved in foreign countries or with foreign trade initiatives to report up the line and ultimately to enforcement agencies about allegations of bribery".

The full list of countries showing little or no enforcement was: Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey and the United Kingdom."

Oh, To Live On Planet Bush

I hope the next time Americans elect a president they try to get one from planet Earth. Those that come from beyond, places like planet Bush, don't do too well down here. Maybe it's the whole gravity thing. They get weighted down and sluggish and their minds turn really dull. They can't seem to get a sentence out right. Maybe it's too much oxygen in the atmosphere that exaggerates their alternate reality from beyond.

Don't believe me? Here, take a look. Bush says, probably believes, he cares about the environment. But, in his alternate reality, that means blowing the tops off mountains in West Virginia, drilling wells and running pipelines through wilderness preserves, and doing everything he can to thwart action on slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

Bush says he wants to bring peace and democracy to the Middle East and I guess he must believe that. But he supports brutal tyrants in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia and practically has a fit when people democratically elect Hezbollah to seats in Lebanon's parliament or vote in Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

The man from planet Bush says he wants to build a strong, safe America and he might even believe that too. But he wages an insanely expensive war without end and does it on borrowed money, putting the fiscal equivalent of a burning tire around the necks of future generations and leaving the country to look forward to unnecessary decline. Better yet, he's transformed war itself into a big business with mercenary contractors already matching or exceeding troop levels in Iraq.

Now the government's own General Accounting Office shows that Bush's alternate reality has done it again, this time on his claims about progress in Iraq. From the New York Times:

Over all, the report says, the American plan for a stable Iraq lacks a strategic framework that meshes with the administration’s goals, is falling out of touch with the realities on the ground and contains serious flaws in its operational guidelines.

Newly declassified data in the report on countrywide attacks in May shows that increases in violence during March and April that were touched off by an Iraqi government assault on militias in Basra have given way to a calmer period. Numbers of daily attacks have been comparable to those earlier in the year, representing about a 70 percent decline since June 2007, the data shows.

While those figures confirm the assessments by American military commanders that many of the security improvements that first became apparent last fall are still holding, a number of the figures that have been used to show broader progress in Iraq are either misleading or simply incorrect, the report says.

Administration figures, according to the report, broadly overstate gains in some categories, including the readiness of the Iraqi Army, electricity production and how much money Iraq is spending on its reconstruction.

And the security gains themselves rest in large part not on broad-scale advances in political and social reconciliation and a functioning Iraqi government, but on a few specific advances that remain fragile, the report says. The relatively calm period rests mostly on the American troop increase, a shaky cease-fire declared by militias loyal to the Shiite cleric Moktada al Sadr,
and an American-led program to pay former insurgents to help keep the peace, the report says."
So the guy isn't well-grounded, so what? His time on planet Earth is coming to an end and just months from now he'll take wing and head back to planet Bush. Maybe next time Americans will do better.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Put Big Oil on Trial?

One of the world's top climate scientists, American James Hansen, thinks Big Oil executives ought to be put on trial for crimes against humanity for deliberately and maliciously waging a campaign to spread doubt about the reality of global warming.

For some time I've thought exactly the same thing. Let me explain. Every law student learns of the case where a guy yelled "fire" in a movie theatre. The crowd panicked, there was a rush for the door, people got trampled and some died. Now the jerk hadn't trampled any of the victims, he had no direct part in their deaths. Yet he was tried for and convicted of their killings as surely as if he'd used a gun to shoot them in their seats. Why? Because the law presumes us to intend the logical consequences of our acts. You yourself don't necessarily have to foresee the tragic result as long as it would be foreseeable to the average person. The defendant knew or ought to have known that yelling "fire" would trigger panic that could lead to a lethal stampede. Guilty as charged.

Now let's say I'm the head of Exxon. I'm no dummy, I know the reality of global warming and the suffering and death it's bound to cause. I'm no dummy but I'm willing to bet that plenty of others are and that they can be easily duped. What I have to do is pay some jerks - why not use the same gang RJ Reynolds used to sow doubts about the link between cigarettes and lung cancer? - to do the same thing to the obvious link between fossil fuels and global warming. Why not just get them to deny global warming is even real? That way I can forestall, possibly for years, meaningful action that might hurt my company. That way my company stands to rake in maximum profits until the public finally catch on and demand government intervention.

If the logical consequence of sowing doubt about global warming is to worsen the problem and that can't help but cause additional suffering and death, am I not responsible for the results caused by my actions? Of course, my victims aren't a theatre full of moviegoers but all of humanity and just about every other lifeform on this planet. Therefore, can I really argue that I haven't committed a crime against humanity?

And what of Big Oil's paid collaborators, the pseudo-scientists who earn big bucks by spinning nonsense to the public? They should have been taken off the streets after running the Big Tobacco scam but we left them at large to come back and beset our societies all over again.

Hansen, who will testify before Congress today, spoke with The Guardian:

"When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organisations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that's a crime."

He is also considering personally targeting members of Congress who have a poor track record on climate change in the coming November elections. He will campaign to have several of them unseated. Hansen's speech to Congress on June 23 1988 is seen as a seminal moment in bringing the threat of global warming to the public's attention. At a time when most scientists were still hesitant to speak out, he said the evidence of the greenhouse gas effect was 99% certain, adding "it is time to stop waffling".

He will tell the House select committee on energy independence and global warming this afternoon that he is now 99% certain that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has already risen beyond the safe level.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Not Like He Didn't Have It Coming - George Carlin, 71

George is gone. If that sounds callous, I really don't believe he'd have the slightest problem with my tagline above. If there were a few things Carlin believed it was that your Karma would catch up with you eventually. He embraced the sinner except more to partake than forgive.

71? I guess it sounds early but maybe we should first ask Keith Richards.
There always was a dark spark inside that guy, try as he might disguise it in the "commerical era" of his career.

McCain - He's So All About War

John McCain knows the horrors of war but he still can't seem to kick the addiction

An "Adult Debate" on Climate Change?

Stephane Dion seems insistent on bringing Stephen Harper into the floodlights over climate change.

Dion has struck back, challenging our Furious Leader, Mr. "We're Screwed" Harper, to an adult debate on the Liberals' "Green Shift" plan to reduce carbon emissions.

"I call on the Prime Minister to debate with me any time on TV on this issue in a respectful, meaningful and adult way."

No word yet on whether the Great Greasy Spot will take Dion's challenge.

3 in 10 Americans Admit Racial Bias

And it's a safe bet most of them will be voting for John McCain in November.

The Washington Post and ABC News conducted a poll in which three in ten interviewed admitted to harbouring some racial bias. Not surprisingly, slightly more Afro-American respondents, 34%, admitted to holding some racial bias.

The good news for Obama, if it's credible, is that nine in ten white respondents said they would be comfortable with a black president. Half that number said they would be comfortable with someone coming into the Oval Office at age 72.

The overall responses make it obvious that Obama will have to overcome a significant racial bias if he's to win in November.

The Afghanistan War Spreads to Pakistan

Remember a recent clash at the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan in which the Pakistanis claimed American forces had attacked and killed a dozen of their soldiers and the United States insisted it had attacked Taliban insurgents?

Turns out they were both right.

A story in today's Guardian claims Pakistan's border troops have been massively infiltrated by Afghan Taliban insurgents:

"The Pakistani Frontier Corps has been heavily infiltrated and influenced by Taliban militants, sometimes joining in attacks on coalition forces, according to classified US 'after-action' reports compiled following clashes on the border.

According to those familiar with the material, regarded as deeply sensitive by the Pentagon in view of America's fragile relationship with Pakistan, there are 'box loads' of such reports at US bases along the length of the Pakistan-Afghan border. Details of the level of infiltration emerged yesterday on a day when five more US-led soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan. Four of the soldiers died in a bomb and gunfire attack outside the southern city of Kandahar.

Nato officials have reported a dramatic increase in cross-border incidents compared with the same period last year. The US documents describe the direct involvement of Frontier Corps troops in attacks on the Afghan National Army and coalition forces, and also detail attacks launched so close to Frontier Corps outposts that Pakistani co-operation with the Taliban is assumed.

'The reality,' said a source familiar with the situation on the ground, 'is that there are units so opposed to what the coalition is doing and so friendly to the other side that when the opportunity comes up they will fire on Afghan and coalition troops. And this is not random. It can be exceptionally well co-ordinated.'

Frontier Corps personnel have in the past been implicated in the past in murdering US and Afghan officers. In the most high-profile case, a Frontier Corps member 'assassinated' Major Larry J Bauguess during a border mediation meeting. In another incident, an Afghan officer was killed. Since then the problem appears to have worsened as the Taliban renew their insurgency on the Afghan side of the border.

The allegation that senior Pakistani officials continue to offer lukewarm assistance to the coalition while offering help to the Taliban is also reiterated in Descent into Chaos, a new book by the veteran Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid."

So, there it is. We now have Pakistani forces not only aiding the Taliban but joining them in firing on us. What are we to do? Help Musharraf stage a coup and restore martial law? Attack Pakistan?

We don't seem to have any good choices left. Don't count on NATO coming up with another two or three-hundred thousand combat troops. Don't count on the US so long as it's stuck in Iraq. We're spread so thin we can't even control our zones in Afghanistan. We hardly have the masses of troops it would take to extend our war into Pakistan. Perhaps the worst part is that we know it and so do they.

Stirring Up the Pot - Iraq's American Albatross

There are two things George Bush desperately wants to achieve before he's evicted from the White House and they're both huge concessions from Iraq. One is the national oil deal that lets the select Big Oil companies (Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP) "manage" Iraq's oil and the other is the Status of Forces Agreement whereby Iraq accepts a massive and permanent American military presence in the country.

The feckless Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki made some noise about the Status of Forces agreement, even suggesting that the Iraqi parliament might just prefer the Americans to leave by the end of the year, but that was a negotiating ploy at best designed to blunt the wrath of Iraqi nationalists before the country's national elections this fall.

Cutting these deals is somewhat bizarre. Arab leaders have learned never to conclude major agreements involving Washington in an outgoing president's final year in office. The lame duck has little to offer in the long-term. They understand that rude surprises can also follow an American election and change in presidents. Best to keep as many bargaining chips as possible for that first meeting with the new guy.

It's hard to see that these deals are truly in Iraq's or America's interests. Reverting Iraq's oil resources to the very type of colonial management overthrown by every Middle East state, including then Baathist Iraq, seems to play into the hands of Iraqi nationalists like Muqtada al Sadr. Allowing American forces to establish and operate out of 58-bases in Iraq with virtual impunity merely throws fuel on the fire.

Adding these stressors at a time when Iraq's central government is still fumbling the unity problem much less the equally problematical distribution of the nation's oil wealth seems ludicrous. Why would Maliki worsen his own vulnerability and hand over such powerful ammunition to his rival, al Sadr?

This whole business sounds eerily like the Anglo-Iraqi treaties of 1922 and 1930. Why two? Here's a hint. The Brits found big oil fields in Iraq in 1927.

The 1930 treaty enshrined British commercial and military rights in Iraq for which Iraq got - zip, nada, zilch. It gave the Brits almost unlimited military basing and unlimited mobility rights throughout Iraq and a colonial power over Iraqi oil.

Is any of this beginning to sound familiar? To protect their interests, the Brits ensured that the minority Sunnis would run the place, compliantly they hoped. That lasted until the Baathist nationalists took over the place after WWII.

Endless comparisons are being drawn between the British experience in the 20th century and America's Iraq predicament of the 21st. Reading too much into them can be misleading. Britain had a vast colonial empire stretching through Asia, the Middle East and Africa at that time. Today's Middle East has thrown off the shackles of colonialism but still harbours bitter memories of subjugation. Even the House of Saud is no longer dancing to Washington's tune.

In fact, America today may more closely resemble the Ottomans following WWI than the Brits prior to WWII. Like the Ottomans, American prestige, power and influence are in retreat as new players such as China emerge to stake out their own turf. America's military prowess was always more potent unused than when it took the field in Iraq and revealed its enormous limitations. America's ability to maintain a conflict such as Iraq entirely on borrowed money and without implementing a draft has been exposed as its ruin.

The next few months promise to be a fascinating time for Iraq and the United States alike. There's a chess game underway and, unfortunately, Washington still has Dick Cheney at its side of the board. At the end of the day, Cheney's hardball tactics may do neither country any good.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

British Columbia's Limitless Free (Almost) Energy

Coal, oil and gas - their days are numbered. They're non-renewable and, especially in the case of coal and oil, really dirty. One part of Canada, which conveniently just happens to be my part, is blessed with another source of limitless, clean and relatively cheap energy - geothermal. It's the upside of being part of the Pacific "Rim of Fire."
When gas prices were cheap (back when George w. Bush was first appointed monarch), government and industry dragged their heels on developing this resource. Times change and, if you've noticed, so do prices at the gas pump.
The map shows BC's geothermal resource belts and the red swathes are the prime territory for letting our own planet earth get us off the fossil fuel habit. Studies show that it's a win-win-win proposition.
The US Department of Energy reports that geothermal electricity comes in at under 4 cents per kWh compared to between 5-6 cents for wind and 7-8.5 cents for biomass energy. Recent technology advancements have dropped geothermal costs by close to 25% and a further 20% drop is forecast by 2020.
Unlike wind power, geothermal provides a constant supply of energy and the existing technology is said to achieve a 95-98% efficiency. It's not affected by weather or climate changes.
Geothermal power provides a significant environmental advantage over fossil fuel power sources in terms of air emissions because its production releases no nitrogen oxides (NOx) or sulfur dioxide (SO2), and much less CO2 than fossil-fuelled power. The reduction in nitrogen and sulfur emissions reduces acid rain, and the reduction in CO2 emissions reduces the contribution to global climate change.
A typical 100 MW plant will reduce CO2 emissions by 600,000 tonnes/yr, and NOx and SO2 emissions by 120,000 tonnes/yr compared to a natural gas plant of equal size. (Western GeoPower Corp, 2003). Emission reductions would obviously be far greater yet when compared to oil or coal-fueled plants.
And whereas oil and natural gas prices are expected to keep increasing, geothermal is expected to become less expensive.
Two demonstration projects are now underway to establish the commercial viability of large-scale geothermal production. At one drill site, they're encountering subsurface temperatures of 275 C.

Britain's Green Revolution

The Guardian has managed to get a copy of the British government's $250-billion renewable energy strategy. The goal is to produce 15% of the country's energy from renewables by 2020 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and reducing dependency on oil by 7%.

"The proposals include:

· New powers to force people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes when they renovate them;

· A 30-fold increase in offshore wind power generation;

· New loans, grants and incentives for businesses and households;

· An area the size of Essex to be planted with trees and other crops to produce biomass energy;

· Forcing people to replace inefficient appliances such as oil-fired boilers [furnaces].

Although the proposals are contained in a consultation document, the government has committed to hitting the 15% target and ministers accept most of the measures will have to be introduced to achieve it.

The government says the transformation of the country's energy policy will have "significant impacts on all our lives" but claims it will create big new markets and 160,000 jobs."'

Friday, June 20, 2008

Newsweek Poll - Obama Up by 15!

The latest Newsweek poll shows Barack Obama leading John McCain among registered American voters by a 51-36% margin. The poll shows a surge in Obama's popularity since the Democratic nomination bloodletting was brought to an end.

Worse news for Senor McSame - only 14% of Americans said they were satisfied with the direction the country has been following. Given that the atrophied Arizonan wants to pursue the current failure's insane Iraq policy and the same tax cuts for the rich, it would appear that Mr. McCain has already fallen well behind the American electorate.

Worse yet. 55% of voters polled now call themselves Democrats or supporters of the party compared with just 32% willing to identify themselves with the Republicans.

One Step Forward, Two Back - Marching Through Afghanistan

In this weekend's Sunday Times, Max Hastings reviews Ahmed Rashid's new book, Descent into Chaos: How the War Against Islamic Extremism Is Being Lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

I usually wouldn't be inclined to review a review of a book but this is Max Hastings writing about the writing of Ahmed Rashid so warrants an exception.

"Rashid is no foaming leftist, still less an enthusiast for Islamic militance. He merely tells a story from the viewpoint of a highly informed Pakistani who knows intimately almost all the leading players, including Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, many of the Afghan warlords, and, of course, key figures in his own country.

The severest criticism that can be made of his tale is that we know some of it already. A group of ignorant, immensely powerful and thus dangerous men in Washington, of whom Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, was probably the worst, sought to exploit America’s shock after 9/11 to pursue their own global agenda, on which taking out Saddam Hussein was tops.

Rashid inks in much detail about the post-conflict failure in Afghanistan after Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance in December 2001. Rumsfeld’s rejection of nation- building, matched by America’s willingness to deliver much of the country to warlords paid by the CIA, destroyed any chance of achieving post-Taliban stability, or making a Karzai national government work.

Americans on the ground ladled out cash to the wrong people, ignored mass killings of prisoners and presided over systemic and illegal brutality to captives. “Suspects” as old as 88 and as young as 13 were shipped to Guantanamo Bay. The neocons cared about only one objective, hitting Al-Qaeda, and were indifferent both to collateral damage and to the importance of salvaging the Afghan society that they had overrun.
Coupled to failure on the Afghan side of the border was Washington’s decision to give Musharraf carte blanche to rule Pakistan as he chose, in exchange for his declared support in the “war on terror”. The Americans were extraordinarily na├»ve, says Rashid, in failing to realise how far Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, continued to give active support to thousands of Taliban fighters escaping from Afghanistan. Washington even allowed Pakistani military aircraft to cross the border and evacuate ISI personnel, Arabs and key Taliban just before Kabul fell.

Pakistan’s intelligence service is still playing a deadly double game. It provides just enough assistance to its western counterparts, especially the British security authorities, to keep alive hopes of a working co-operation to crush Al-Qaeda. But the ISI stays deep in bed with the Taliban, and shelters all manner of dangerous people.

The difficulty in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as in Iraq, is how now to undo the consequences of years of policy blunders. Even generous cash aid, were it to be made available, is hard to use well when western Pakistan has succumbed to law-lessness, and anti-western sentiment is endemic. In Afghanistan, the drug industry is all- powerful and the Taliban widely resurgent.

A growing body of western critics such as Simon Jenkins argues that we must recognise failure in Afghanistan, and quit. It seems impossible to dispute their view that defeat is the most likely outcome. Yet, as Rashid so vividly shows, the consequences of abandoning the region to anarchy are so awful — above all, for its own peoples — that it seems to me we must keep trying. "

Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear our leader, the prime minister hisself, discuss these problems and come up with some answers, some leadership for Canada and for NATO? That's what leaders are supposed to do. Instead he won't even acknowledge these realities, glaring as they are. Nor will our top dogs at National Defence Headquarters who just keep grinding out horse crap about how we're winning in Afghanistan. Hucksters and fixers always play to their script.

So our game plan is to swat at flies (the Taliban) while we build an Afghan army or at least pretend to just that. It ignores the fundamental problem that an army without a viable government can't do much good except to seize power itself. Then again, that would probably be a rare sign of progress in Afghanistan.

Arms Race Update - Space in India's Crosshairs

The Chinese-Indian arms race is one of the least mentioned but most interesting now underway (yes there are a few others).

The world's two most populous states have been pursuing military co-operation even as they stoke the boilers of military rivalry. There's a great naval race underway with both countries eager to deploy true "blue water" naval muscle to secure their sea lane access to the Persian Gulf and the oil that serves as the lifeblood of their economic miracles. Washington is actively courting India to assist it in containing China.

It's Chinese advances in space, however, that now have India's military worried. China has already achieved manned space flight and has developed proven anti-satellite missiles. From The Times:

"General Deepak Kapoor, India’s Chief of Army Staff, has spoken publicly for the first time of his fears about China’s military space programme and the need for India to accelerate its own.

“The Chinese space programme is expanding at an exponentially rapid pace in both offensive and defensive content,” he told a conference attended by India’s military top brass this week. “The Indian Army’s agenda for exploitation of space will have to evolve dynamically. It should be our endeavour to optimise space applications for military purposes.”

Beijing’s space programme is already several years ahead of Delhi’s: China sent its first man into space in 2003, the third country to do so after the Soviet Union and the US. The Indian Space Research Organisation said last year that it aimed to send a manned mission to the Moon by 2020 — four years before China — but did not plan to send its first astronauts into orbit until 2014.

What really shocked India was China's shooting down of one of its own weather satellites in January last year — again placing it alongside Russia and the United States as the only countries capable of such a feat. By comparison, India does not yet have a single dedicated military satellite, relying instead on the dual-use telecommunications satellites for surveillance and reconnaissance.

One of the military’s priorities is to match the technology China used to shoot down its satellite with a ballistic missile about 860km (535 miles) above the Earth’s surface. Abdul Kalam, a former President of India and missile engineer, said in February that India already had the capability to “intercept and destroy any spatial object or debris in a radius of 200km”.

Population Control - Indian Style

Next Monday a report will be released in London that looks at trends in population, development and reproductive health in today's India.

The report, Disappearing Daughters, prepared by the NGO Actionaid and Canada's International Development Research Centre, outlines India's growing "sex selection" crisis. This arises out of the spreading practice of sex selection abortion used to ensure male children by aborting female fetuses. From Reuters Alternet:

"Findings from sites across five states in north and northwest India reveal that the sex ratio of girls to boys has not only worsened but is accelerating compared to the last national census in 2001.

Latest figures from one site in the Punjab, India’s richest state, show the number of girls has plummeted to just 300 compared to 1000 boys amongst higher cast families.

In a culture that predominantly views girls as an expense rather than an asset, women are put under intense pressure to produce sons.

The trend for smaller families is also deepening the aversion to daughters, with the use of ultrasound technology now being used to plan families. This is despite the existence of laws banning prenatal sex detection and sex selective abortion.

ActionAid has also found that girls are more likely to be born but less likely to survive in areas with more limited access to public health services and modern ultrasound technology. In rural Morena and Dhaulpur, deliberate neglect of girls, including allowing the umbilical cord to become infected, is used as a way to dispose of unwanted daughters. Such neglect ensures fewer surviving daughters, with the best chances of being born and surviving as a girl depending on the birth order in your family. "

Rescuing America - From the Pentagon

Writing in today's Asia Times Online, regular Grist contributor and PhD Jonathan Rynn explains how America's decline is being driven, in large part, by his nation's profligate defence spending.

"When New York City wanted to make the biggest purchase of subway cars in US history in the late 1990s, more than US$3 billion worth, the only companies that were able to bid on the contract were foreign. The same problem applies to high-speed rail today: only European or Japanese companies could build any of the proposed rail networks in the United States.

The US has also ceded the high ground to Europe and Japan in a broad range of other sustainable technologies. For instance, 11 companies produce 96% of medium to large wind turbines; only one, GE, is based in the United States, with a 16% share of the global market. The differences in market penetration come down to two factors: European and Japanese companies have become more competent producers for these markets, and their governments have helped them to develop both this competence and the markets themselves.

But Europe and Japan's dominance in renewable technologies is really based in a broader domain of competitive competence. They dominate the most fundamental sector of the economy, namely the production of machinery for manufacturing industries in general (often referred to as the mechanical engineering sector). The European Union produces almost twice as much industrial equipment overall as the United States, according to data compiled by the EU, Japan produces almost as much as the US, with about half the population. The split among the EU, US, and Japan, which together produce most of the world's machinery, is 52%, 27% and 21%, respectively.

The different niches of an economic ecosystem, such as the various machinery and equipment sectors, thrive as a self-reinforcing web of engineers, high-skill production workers, operational managers and factories. As of 2003, Europe's manufacturing sector made up 32% of its nonfinancial economy, while the manufacturing sector of the United States comprised only 13% of its nonfinancial sectors. The decline of American machinery and manufacturing sectors, in conjunction with the on-again/off-again nature of American renewable energy policy, explains why Europe and Japan are so far ahead of the United States in the transition to a more sustainable economy. And America's decline can be traced to one overriding factor: a military budget that comprises nearly half of the world's military spending. For decades, as the late Professor Seymour Melman showed in many books (such as After Capitalism) and in numerous articles, the Pentagon has been draining not just money but also the engineering, scientific and business talent that Europe and Japan have been using for civilian production. As Melman often pointed out, the US military budget is a capital fund, and American citizens can use that fund to help finance the construction of the trains, wind and solar power, and other green technologies that will help us to avoid economic and environmental collapse.

That economic collapse, if it comes, will be caused by two major factors: the end of the era of cheap oil, coal and natural gas; and the decline of the manufacturing and machinery base of the economy. Both problems can be addressed simultaneously, as Europe and Japan are showing, by moving the economy from one based on military and fossil fuel production to one based on electric transportation and the generation of renewable electricity."

Farewell Bangladesh

Stephane Dion's Tax Shift initiative is going to be pounced on by the far-right and the far-left as an unwarranted tax grab that'll harm the country. Right, sure. This stuff is perfect fodder for the denialists and those who'll harp on about how Canada can't make a difference globally anyway.

Maybe we ought to be looking at our greenhouse gas problem from the perspective of others who don't have the luxury of attributing blame among big emitters for their global warming plight. Finger pointing isn't of much interest to the people of Bangladesh. An article in today's Indepedent reveals the price already being exacted by our greenhouse gas emissions:

"Ten years ago, the village [of Munshigonj] began to die. First, many of the trees turned a strange brownish-yellow colour and rotted. Then the rice paddies stopped growing and festered in the water. Then the fish floated to the surface of the rivers, gasping. Then many of the animals began to die. Then many of the children began to die.

The waters flowing through Munshigonj – which had once been sweet and clear and teeming with life – had turned salty and dead.

Arita Rani, a 25-year-old, sat looking at the salt water, swaddled in a blue sari and her grief. "We couldn't drink the water from the river, because it was suddenly full of salt and made us sick," she said. "So I had to give my children water from this pond. I knew it was a bad idea. People wash in this pond. It's dirty. So we all got dysentery." She keeps staring at its surface. "I have had it for 10 years now. You feel weak all the time, and you have terrible stomach pains. You need to run to the toilet 10 times a day. My boy Shupria was seven and he had this for his whole life. He was so weak, and kept getting coughs and fevers. And then one morning..."

Her mother interrupted the trailing silence. "He died," she said. Now Arita's surviving three-year-old, Ashik, is sick, too. He is sprawled on his back on the floor. He keeps collapsing; his eyes are watery and distant. His distended stomach feels like a balloon pumped full of water. "Why did this happen?" Arita asked.

It is happening because of us. Every flight, every hamburger, every coal power plant, ends here, with this. Bangladesh is a flat, low-lying land made of silt, squeezed in between the melting mountains of the Himalayas and the rising seas of the Bay of Bengal. As the world warms, the sea is swelling – and wiping Bangladesh off the map.

Dr Atiq Rahman's office in downtown Dhaka is a nest of scientific reports and books that, at every question, he dives into to reel off figures. He is a tidy, grey-moustached man who speaks English very fast, as if he is running out of time.

He handed me shafts of scientific studies as he explained: "This is the ground zero of global warming." He listed the effects. The seas are rising, so land is being claimed from the outside. (The largest island in the country, Bhola, has lost half its land in the past decade.) The rivers are super-charged, becoming wider and wider, so land is being claimed from within. (Erosion is up by 40 per cent). Cyclones are becoming more intense and more violent (2007 was the worst year on record for intense hurricanes here). And salt water is rendering the land barren. (The rate of saline inundation has trebled in the past 20 years.) "There is no question," Dr Rahman said, "that this is being caused primarily by human action. This is way outside natural variation. If you really want people in the West to understand the effect they are having here, it's simple. From now on, we need to have a system where for every 10,000 tons of carbon you emit, you have to take a Bangladeshi family to live with you. It is your responsibility." In the past, he has called it "climatic genocide".

Severe Weather Forecast for North America. Really?

The US government's top climate scientists have just released the first comprehensive analysis of projected weather and climate change effects on North America. As expected, the US Climate Change Science Program is predicting an increase in the number, severity and duration of extreme weather events including heat waves, floods, droughts and hurricanes. Welcome to the new reality, the one we're seeing in mid-west floods, southern droughts and California wildfires.

From ENN:

"Among the major findings reported in this assessment are that droughts, heavy downpours, excessive heat, and intense hurricanes are likely to become more commonplace as humans continue to increase the atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

The report is based on scientific evidence that a warming world will be accompanied by changes in the intensity, duration, frequency, and geographic extent of weather and climate extremes.

Global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases, according to the report. Many types of extreme weather and climate event changes have been observed during this time period and continued changes are projected for this century. Specific future projections include:

Abnormally hot days and nights, along with heat waves, are very likely to become more common. Cold nights are very likely to become less common.

Sea ice extent is expected to continue to decrease and may even disappear in the Arctic Ocean in summer in coming decades.

Precipitation, on average, is likely to be less frequent but more intense.

Droughts are likely to become more frequent and severe in some regions.

Hurricanes will likely have increased precipitation and wind.

The strongest cold-season storms in the Atlantic and Pacific are likely to produce stronger winds and higher extreme wave heights.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources."

The complete text of the reports, including proposals for adaptation and remediation, can be found here:

If Dion needs ammunition to bolster his Tax Shift/climate change initiative, there's plenty of it in these reports.

Tax Shift - Can Dion Sell It?

Stephane Dion has belatedly unveiled more details of his Tax Shift platform upon which the Liberals will either stand or fall in the next election.

The idea, overall, seems pretty good but I'm going to wait to see what intelligent criticism it draws. If there are serious holes in the idea, problems that haven't been foreseen or taken into account, then it might be doomed from the outset.

Then there's the issue of salesmanship. The Harpies are going to go full-bore negative on this and, following the Bush/Cheney playbook, they'll resort to as much fear-mongering as they can persuade an indulgent media to tolerate. Pretty much everybody now realizes that the Cons are flush out of ideas but that's not a problem when a campaign is going to be fought over another party's Big Idea.

The trouble with Big Ideas is that they're usually pretty tough to sell. There's a mountain of truly good ideas that never got off the ground and we're scrapped. You have to be able to sell them to your market. Can Dion sell his Tax Shift?

Once again the Layton NDP will ride to Harper's side to oppose the Liberal/Green policy, in other words to keep Harper in power for years to come. Of course, being Dippers, once they manage that, they'll duck all responsibility for the aftermath of their duplicity and try to blame it on the Libs instead. Slimy, sure, but that's the nature of Jack Layton and those who follow him.

So, Stephane has unveiled his baby. Now the real work begins. This is his chance to show that he can lead the LPC and our country itself. The cost of failing on this could be bigger than we imagine.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

CANADA - please stand up for S. Golubchuck

What in God's name is wrong with Manitoba judges? Doctors are resigning rather than force treatment on an essentially-dead man knowing that would be nothing shy of grotesque torture.

This is being portrayed as a clash of medical ethics but it's much more than that, it's a collapse of the will of our legal system.

The Manitoba court ordered hospital physicians to keep 84-year old Samuel Golubchuck alive, regardless of the consequences, until the court can get off its fat, lazy ass and hear the question in late September? This poor man is already essentially dead and the Manitoba court wants to keep him on some respiratory and circulatory treadmill until "cottage time" has comfortably ended. And his very flesh is rotting away before our own eyes. Doesn't Sam deserve a lot better than this? What kind of people could, quite knowingly, subject another human being to this fate? I sure couldn't, could you?

If this court has a shred of integrity, it'd get off its sackcloth and silk backside and direct expedited argument, perhaps within a day. A court with even a modicum of courage would respect any ( and definitely your and mine) Canadian's life enough to expedite this. If the victim was us, would any of us not want just that degree of respect and consideration?

There's a powerful smell about this. Judges who aren't willing to put Golubchuk where he deserves to be - front and centre - but who will duck and weave and dodge, seemingly hoping that he'll be gone before they can possibly be forced to rule.

If the courts won't stand up for Golubchuk and his right to face inevitable death without outside contrivance tantamount to torture, then we're going to have to.

This just has to stop. People - we can't have this in Canada!

Arrest Bush, Arrest Them All

The United States Army general who investigated the Abu Ghraib torture scandal has accused the Bush regime of war crimes and challenged American prosecutors to act.

Retired Major General Antonio Taguba, who claims he was forced into early retirement for his outspoken findings, says Bush and his minions have disgraced the honour of the United States and its military:

"This report tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. This story is not only written in words: It is scrawled for the rest of these individuals' lives on their bodies and minds. Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors.

The profiles of these eleven former detainees, none of whom were ever charged with a crime or told why they were detained, are tragic and brutal rebuttals to those who claim that torture is ever justified. Through the experiences of these men in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, we can see the full scope of the damage this illegal and unsound policy has inflicted - both on America's institutions and our nation's founding values, which the military, intelligence services, and our justice system are duty-bound to defend.

In order for these individuals to suffer the wanton cruelty to which they were subjected, a government policy was promulgated to the field whereby the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice were disregarded. The UN Convention Against Torture was indiscriminately ignored. And the healing professions, including physicians and psychologists, became complicit in the willful infliction of harm against those the Hippocratic Oath demands they protect.

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

The former detainees in this report - each of whom is fighting a lonely and difficult battle to rebuild his life - require reparations for what they endured, comprehensive psycho-social and medical assistance, and even an official apology from our government.

But most of all, these men deserve justice as required under the tenets of international law and the United States Constitution.

And so do the American people."

Read the summary of the Taguba report here:

Look, people, here's another challenge. These draft-dodging despots, beginning with Cheney and working on down through the ranks of the neo-con vultures, are war criminals, plain and simple. Why, then, are we still treating them as legitimate members, nay leaders, of the community of nations of the free world? Bush/Cheney have caused the slaughter of far more people than Mugabe ever did, more than Ghadaffi, more than Arafat, more than al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, more than just about anyone save for Nixon, Stalin and Hitler.

These people, and the right-wingers in other nations who serve as their enablers, are vermin and if our world is to heal the wounds they've torn into us, the leadership must be denounced and condemned, charged and tried. The hundreds of thousands of dead and millions displaced deserve nothing less.

Before you dismiss this call as histrionic or hyperbole, at least read this:

Then, those of you interested in seeing the complete mosaic of how the American people and the rest of us were neo-conned into the War Without End on Terror, throw 75-bucks at PBS and get a copy of their 4.5-hour DVD "Bush's War." If you still have some hold on your senses and integrity, it'll make your blood boil.

Now It's Six Feet?

Another "foot in sneaker" find, this one in Campbell River on the east side of mid-Vancouver Island.

From the Globe & Mail:

"RCMP in Campbell River on Vancouver Island said a local woman strolling a beach found an Adidas sneaker this morning, containing what appears to be a man's foot.

It's certainly suspicious,” Sergeant Mike Tresoor said in an interview.

“A lady walking on the beach alerted us to this. … It appears to be human remains. We haven't absolutely confirmed it – it will be confirmed through a pathologist

Nothing particularly sinister about this one, though. Like the first four, it's a right foot, male, about size 10.

Minister of Family Values Attacks Louise Arbour

Harpo scumbag philanderer, the oh-so-self-righteous Vic Toews, has lambasted UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour, calling her "a disgrace."

The numbnutted bastard who recently fathered a bouncing out-of-wedlock bastard baby with a much younger woman to the chagrin of his faithful wife of 30-years ought to know what a disgrace really is as he's reminded of it so fulsomely every morning when he gazes into the mirror to trim his old man/new dad moustache.

It seems this pathetically unaccomplished jerk, who has single-handedly elevated hypocrisy to near religious dimensions, objects to Ms. Arbour's legitimate criticisms of Israel.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Truly Sinister Development

Another foot - the fifth in the span of a year - clad like all the others in a running shoe has washed up on the British Columbia shore.

This time, however, it's a left foot. All the others have been rights. The Latin word for left is, of course, "sinister." As though four right feet weren't sinister enough.

No word yet on whether the leftie is a match for any of the righties.

The police, as ever, have no idea what this is all about. I will resist the urge to pun this one silly. Weird, just plain weird.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sarah Chayes' Afghanistan

The magazine is called Espirit de Corps and the name leaves no doubt it's not some pinko rag. That's why I found EDC editor Scott Taylor's interview with Sarah Chayes, I knew it was worth heavily excerpting:

"She is probably the most knowledgeable westerner when it comes to the situation in southern Afghanistan, and as an American living alone in downtown Kandahar, she is undoubtedly one of the bravest women I have ever met.

What is truly significant is that Chayes has been able to continue her work despite the deterioration in the security situation. Although a committed pacifist, Chayes is no fool and she carries a Kalashnikov assault rifle for her own protection. Several of her staff have weapons permits as well.

Chayes’s input has become regarded as a vital source of intelligence for those stakeholders trying to get a full picture of the situation on the ground without many eyes and ears outside the wire. She supports a continued NATO presence in Kandahar but is highly critical of the political strategy and combat tactics of the coalition forces.

"I was very happy to see NATO come (to Kandahar) but disappointed that NATO hasn’t altered their policy of using corrupt Afghan officials," she said. "They have given a blank cheque to the local government authorities and you simply can’t do that. Fighting corruption is a daily process. You can’t just remove a few officials and consider the task complete."

According to Chayes, NATO’s killing of insurgents is negated by the unchecked corruption of the local government, which is causing an even greater number of volunteers to take up arms and join the resistance. She said the solution is for NATO to take firm control of the Afghan administration it is fighting to prop up.

"These corrupt Afghan officials will respond to foreign pressure because they know they are in power thanks to NATO," Chayes said. "If NATO wasn’t here, the Karzai regime wouldn’t last five days, or five minutes, because the people are so upset."

"If the Afghan government is a criminal enterprise and Canada’s stated mission is to support the government of Afghanistan, then what the hell are you achieving?" she said. "Is NATO here to make five people happy or to make the whole province happy?"

In addition to NATO cleaning house within the Afghan administration, thereby winning the hearts-and-minds campaign among the local population, Chayes believes even more foreign combat troops are required to stem the flow of insurgents from bases across the Pakistani border.

"Kandahar is the most important province in Afghanistan. Kandahar is where this campaign will be won or lost," she said. "It was a strategic error for the Americans to give up Regional Command South, but NATO must now fill the void. Kandahar is the marrow in Afghanistan’s bones."

Chayes is right. She understands what NATO needs to do in southern Afghanistan. She knows we need far more troops for the job than we have. She knows we need to topple the "criminal enterprise" that is the Karzai/warlord coalition. She knows we have to start helping the Afghan people not their oppressors just because they happen to be on "our side."

I'd also bet that Sarah Chayes knows all these things aren't going to happen. Our Furious Leader won't even breathe a word about these problems and the clown car of generals we rotate through there won't stand up for our troops and mention them either. We'll just keep on keeping on until we get so tired of it we give up and leave.

Driving on Zero

Today's Globe & Mail has an account of Honda's new, zero emissions car, the FXC Clarity.

The new Honda runs on hydrogen and electricity, in other words a fuel cell, and emits only water.

It's a start.

The great thing about the Clarity and other fuel cell vehicles is that the break the dependency on fossil fuels, but only on their end. They still depend on power generation to produce electricity or generate hydrogen and that is typically fossil fuel powered.

Now we know how to generate electricity, lots of it, without burning fossil fuels. We have hydro-electric, solar, wind, tidal and geo-thermal generation. There's also nuclear power as a stopgap. What we have to do is tap into these renewable sources of essentially free energy. Use that electricity to produce the fuel for our zero emission cars and get on with it.

With oil hovering at $140 a barrel, those nations which first implement successful renewable energy grids will be the winners in the coming decades.

New technologies are coming. One of them is the WES or Water Energy System now being tested by the Japanese developer, Genepax. Unlike the normal fuel cell vehicle, WES does its own hydrogen generation. You fill the tank from your garden hose and WES converts the water into fuel using an onboard membrane electrode assembly or MEA. Now, admittedly, the demonstration vehicle is a bit quirky but, who knows?

Harper & Hillier's Disgrace

The honour of Canada's military mission to Afghanistan has been sullied, perhaps irreparably.

The story in today's Toronto Star says it all. Canadian soldiers being ordered to look the other way and shut up about sexual assaults on civilians by their Afghan army comrades.

"Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan have been ordered by commanding officers "to ignore" incidents of sexual assault among the civilian population, says a military chaplain who counsels troops returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The chaplain, Jean Johns, says she recently counselled a Canadian soldier who said he witnessed a boy being raped by an Afghan soldier, then wrote a report on the allegation for her brigade chaplain.

In her March report, which she says should have been advanced "up the chain of command," Johns says the corporal told her that Canadian troops have been ordered by commanding officers "to ignore" incidents of sexual assault. Johns hasn't received a reply to the report.

While several Canadian Forces chaplains say other soldiers have made similar claims, Department of National Defence lawyers have argued Canada isn't obliged to investigate because none of the soldiers has made a formal complaint, says a senior Canadian officer familiar with the matter."

Great. We're over in Afghanistan training a corps of armed sodomite pedophiles. Best of all, we're making sure to keep a lid on it.
Fight with the Canadian Armed Forces! Indeed. Maybe we could start by shooting a few of the peds we're allied with. Maybe, as described in this 2002 account from the New York Times, we should just hand our Afghan army comrades over to the Taliban:
"Though the puritanical Taliban tried hard to erase pedophilia from male-dominated Pashtun culture, now that the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is gone, some people here are indulging in it once again.

''During the Taliban, being with a friend was difficult, but now it is easy again,'' said Ahmed Fareed, a 19-year-old man with a white shawl covering his face except for a dark shock of hair and piercing kohl-lined eyes. Mr. Fareed should know. A shopkeeper took him as a lover when he was just 12, he said.

An interest in relationships with young boys among warlords and their militia commanders played a part in the Taliban's rise in Afghanistan. In 1994, the Taliban, then a small army of idealistic students of the Koran, were called to rescue a boy over whom two commanders had fought. They freed the boy and the people responded with gratitude and support.

''At that time boys couldn't come to the market because the commanders would come and take away any that they liked,'' said Amin Ullah, a money changer, gesturing to his two teenage sons hunched over wads of afghani bank notes at Kandahar's currency bazaar. "

A Solid Case for Renewable Energy

$140 a barrel oil. Surely that's enough to get us off our duffs and get serious about renewable energy.

Brit prime minister Gord Brown calls today's oil prices "the most worrying situation in the world." A bit of hyperbole in that one, perhaps, but still...

Brown said there was a growing view that the price of oil was "increasingly dependent, not just on today's demands, but on what people perceive as demand outstripping supply next year and in the long term."

So, you see, it all comes down to perception. It's all about perception of what oil demand will be next year and there's not a lot we can do on the supply side of the equation. But - and here's the kicker - there are so many solutions open to us on the demand side. Everything from smaller, more fuel efficient cars; smaller and cheaper to heat housing; and, of course, renewable energy.

Of course, our Furious Leader might not see things that way. As a net producer of oil, admittedly dependent on ersatz oil production, the economic impacts are different for Canada than they are for major net importers such as that country just across the line. There's gold in them thar tar pits, plenty of it, and the best part is that most of it is just where he wants it - in Alberta.

Remember when Stephen Harper denounced the global warming issue as a "great socialist plot" to transfer wealth. Well his tar sands pet project increasingly sounds like a "great capitalist plot" to suck wealth out of the rest of Canada and transfer a bit to Alberta and the lion's share to the main beneficiaries, American oil companies developing Athabasca.

Isn't it time for a government that's not wed to the Tar Sands and Big Oil?

We've Got a Whole Lot of Killing To Do

General Rick Hillier's estimate of a "few dozen ...scumbags" worth of Taliban in Kandahar province was always pretty stupid but now seems positively delusional. What was this guy thinking or was he even thinking at all?

Thanks to last Friday's prison break in our very own Kandahar province, the Taliban came into a fresh force of 400-hardened fighters. Now I would've thought the insurgents would be pleased enough to spirit their comrades away for a bit of R&R in some distant, safe rear area. Apparently not.

Over the weekend DefMin Peter MacKay assured us it was all the Afghan's fault that the Taliban were able to mass for an attack to overwhelm the major prison in our area and then get away, unmolested, with their liberated comrades. Terrible stuff, bad Afghans. He also assured reporters that Canadian forces were deploying in defence of Kandahar city.

Trouble is, no one told the Taliban that they were supposed to go to Kandahar city to duke it out. Instead they seem to have taken over a series of villages in a district north of Kandahar. From The Guardian:

"Around 500 Taliban fighters have taken over villages in Arghandab district, just north of Kandahar, Mohammad Farooq, the top official in the district, was quoted as saying by Associated Press.

The forces would be hard to remove from the strategically important area, a local tribal leader told the agency.

"All of Arghandab is made of orchards. The militants can easily hide and easily fight," Haji Ikramullah Khan said. "During the Russian war, the Russians didn't even occupy Arghandab, because when they fought here they suffered big casualties."

This one has a bad smell to it. When these guys stand and fight against vastly superior, Western forces, there's usually a solid reason for it.

By the way, Pete, remind me again just how much progress we're making over there.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Climate Change Deal Staggers Along

It's a vexing problem that spells enormous trouble for mankind: everybody's right and, in being right, everybody's wrong.

When it comes to anthropogenic global warming, excuses trump ideas every time. The developing countries, notably the emerging economic powerhouses of India and China, point the finger at the developed (white) world where vast prosperity has been achieved by creating most of the problem that besets the planet right now. The industrialized nations, they claim, created the mess and therefore have a moral obligation to be the first to mend their ways. It's a good point and has fairness on its side.

The industrialized nations reply that the past is past and all nations have to cut emissions drastically because to cut the developing nations the slack they want will defeat any meaningful carbon reductions and, worse, will give them an enormous economic advantage (of the sort we enjoyed for centuries) and they're not even white!

So, how do we break this deadlock and get everyone to come up with a workable solution? We wait. Eventually, and we probably won't have to wait too long, conditions will get unpleasant enough all around that we'll set aside our childish arguments and accept the unavoidable. When it comes to that, the sooner the better. The longer we wait, the more losses we'll have to endure and the more costly will be remediation and adaptation. Delay is very much a losing proposition.

It's becoming clear that we're no longer near the action tipping point. Negotiations have been underway to reach a new climate deal by the end of 2009 and they're snagged on the standard disputes. From ENN:

"The road ahead of us is daunting," Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said of a U.N. timetable meant to end with a climate deal in Copenhagen in December 2009 to widen and toughen the existing Kyoto Protocol.

Still, he said there was progress in Bonn partly because nations had a better understanding of what should go into the hugely complex treaty meant to slow desertification, heatwaves, floods, rising seas and more powerful storms.

"It is crucial that the next stage of meetings produce concrete negotiating texts," he said. Bonn was the second session in a two-year push for a deal after starting in Bangkok in March. The next will be in Accra, Ghana, in August.

Others were more sceptical.

"It could well be said that we have been beating around the bush," said India's Chandrashekhar Dasgupta. He said there was a "deafening silence" from almost all rich nations on ways to make new cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions

These deadlocks remind me of tectonic plates, grinding against each other while pressure continually mounts. Sooner or later something has to give but, when it does, the effects are often devastating.

Time to Put Down the Mad Dog of Harare

It's a neat trick. Frustrate the legitimate democratic aspirations of your opposition, brutalize them and oppress your people - until they begin to think about things like regime change - and then arrest them for treason for thinking about regime change.

Robert Mugabe is the mad dog of Zimbabwe. Now he's served notice that his army will "go to war" if he loses the presidential run-off in two weeks. 'It shall never happen ... as long as I am alive and those who fought for the country are alive,' he said. 'We are prepared to fight for our country and to go to war for it.'

Now, the key words to Mugabe's rant are "as long as I am alive." From The Guardian:

"Sources across Zimbabwe have reported an increasing number of roadblocks manned by militias and war veterans, effectively cutting people off and creating a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

James McGee, US ambassador in Harare, said 30,000 potential MDC voters had fled their constituencies. Mugabe has already ordered charities to stop work, leaving millions struggling to find food in the collapsed economy.

A total of 67 people have been killed and tactics familiar from past state violence campaigns are returning - sticks rolled with barbed wire, whippings and arson. The internationally-touted 'third way' - a Government of National Unity - has been met with stiff opposition from the military, Zanu-PF and many in the opposition who want no truck with Mugabe. Andrea Sibanda, of Matabeleland Freedom Party said: 'Whoever is floating the idea of GNU with Mugabe and Zanu-PF must be coming from another planet. How does one unite with them when their hands are dripping with blood of their kith and kin?'"

Nope, sorry, but this brutal charade has gone on far too long already. Somebody has to turn Mugabe's generals against him to topple this monster or a force has to come from outside Zimbabwe's borders to bring down the entire brutal regime. If Mugabe won't step down while he's alive, well that's his choice, isn't it?

Karzai Wants to Widen War

Great, just great. Afghanistan's supposed president Hamid Karzai is now threatening to send Afghan troops across the border into Pakistan to hunt down Taliban insurgents. From the New York Times:

"Karzai said Afghanistan has the right to self defense, and because militants cross over from Pakistan ''to come and kill Afghan and kill coalition troops, it exactly gives us the right to do the same.''

Speaking at a Sunday news conference, Karzai warned Pakistan-based Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud that Afghan forces would target him on his home turf. Mehsud is suspected in last year's assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
''Baitullah Mehsud should know that we will go after him now and hit him in his house,'' Karzai said.

''And the other fellow, (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar of Pakistan should know the same,'' Karzai continued. ''This is a two-way road in this case, and Afghans are good at the two-way road journey. We will complete the journey and we will get them and we will defeat them. We will avenge all that they have done to Afghanistan for the past so many years.''

It's hard to say whether Karzai's threats were for domestic consumption or to appeal to American ears but, either way, it's nonsensical. His fledgling army isn't remotely big enough for its main task of defending Afghanistan territory and far less than half the size of the highly trained and well equipped forces that Pakistan has itself previously sent into the tribal lands in failed attempts to tame the militants.

This probably sounds sensible to someone not burdened with the history of the rivalry between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Durand line, Indian meddling, Pakistan's political turmoil and so many other complicating factors.

An Afghan force would quickly find itself swarmed not only by the militants but also by the tribesmen and, quite probably, by the Pakistani military. Unlike the Afghanis, the Pakistanis are already geared up to fight a major war - with India. They have huge numbers, first-rate training, and all the high-tech toys from assault helicopters to artillery to jet strike fighters. The new Pakistani government would be unable to resist popular pressure to repel Afgan invaders. Karzai's force would come out beaten and bloodied, if not destroyed outright.

My guess is that Karzai is desperate and sees his hopes of retaining the presidency in the upcoming elections fading fast. He also could use a distraction to divert the focus from the humiliating Taliban raid on his main prison in southern Afghanistan. But, if he does act irrationally, it could expand the war enormously, a prospect for which neither the Americans nor NATO is prepared.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Krazy Kandahar Kapers

When a Taliban force of 30-guys on motorbikes, supplemented by two suicide bombers and a suicide truck bomb, attack and overwhelm a prison, release 1,100 inmates and then withdraw unmolested leaving behind nine dead prison guards, it speaks volumes for how the Afghan war is going no matter how loudly NATO claims it doesn't.

That is a significant operation to organize. It takes a lot of people and a lot of support and virtually everything they do in the final days before the attack has to be done right under the nose of the government side (that's us). There's a lot of discipline involved, a lot of tactical decisions taken all under a tight blanket of secrecy.

Attacking a prison is one thing but getting away is quite another. That requires real sophistication and a well-trained force of attackers. It also required a convoy of minivans which, it seems, we didn't notice either.

The destruction of the main prison in southern Afghanistan sent NATO spin doctors into overdrive. Spokesman Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco did his best to downplay the whole thing. "OK, they got some more fighters, more shooters. These guys who escaped from the prison are not going to change the operational tempo and they do not provide the Taliban with operational initiative."

No doubt the 400 or so militants, including a number of key leaders, among the freed prisoners won't provide the Taliban with "operational initiative" but the General overlooks that the Taliban already had operational initiative, buckets of it, just in order to stage this raid. They hold the initiative when they can marshall their force at the doorstep of a major prison. They hold the initiative when they can assault and overwhelm a major prison without our intervention. They hold the initiative when they can roll away, unmolested, with their liberated comrades. Remember these are the little guys who fight with what are genuinely primitive weapons, 1950's vintage Soviet rifles and bazookas. They have no artillery, no tanks, no helicopter gunships, no jet strike fighters, no aerial surveillance. Despite all their limitations and shortcomings, the Taliban have shown again that they can freely operate right under NATO's nose and get away with it.

The Taliban are fighting a classic insurgency which is a political war. When the Pashtun villagers of southern Afghanistan see that the guerrillas can overwhelm the biggest prison in the area with impunity, it undermines their confidence in the Karzai government, the Afghan army and NATO and, right now, we've got a lot of egg on our faces.