Thursday, July 31, 2008

Half of Nothing Is Still Nothing

It seems someone is trying to con us every day. Watching television, reading a magazine or even answering the phone, we're barraged by people trying to con us with half truths, outright lies and hollow promises.

By now we ought to know better. We ought to know that the "free cruise" is just a scam, that no power exists to turn back the clock on 40-years of aging, and that the fine print is just a confession of deceit, and yet these people just don't quit. Why? Because they know we can be hustled, we can be conned. They know we're gullible or at least enough of us are to make the con worthwhile.

The last time Stephen Harper was honest about global warming and climate change he dismissed it as a "socialist plot." I'm not saying he was right, I'm saying that Harpo was telling us what he actually believed. An honest mistake.

Over the past couple of years, the True North's own Mustapha Mond has done an eardrum shattering, 180 on global warming. Now, he tells us, he "gets it." Now he proclaims it to be the greatest threat to mankind, a real emergency. Now he's really conning us.

The heel-dragging International Panel on Climate Change ("IPCC") has finally reached the point of declaring that human activity was "very likely" the main culprit behind global warming and that we're in for centuries of higher temperatures and rising sea levels, regardless of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, we're hooped.

A lot of people think the IPCC is radical but any fair examination of their reports over the past several years reveals the panel has consistently understated the time and severity dimensions of the threat. Time and again the latest research and observed changes have far outpaced the IPCC forecasts. That's because the denialists have a presence among the IPCC scientists and operate as something of a sea anchor on its "consensus" reports. In other words, you can take the IPCC scenarios as "best case" predictions that have repeatedly been shown to be unduly optimistic.

But we also must understand that the understated IPCC findings are routinely compounded by the under-committed political responses they evoke. Put another way, even if the IPCC's best case scenarios were accurate it wouldn't matter because our politicians are treating the problem more as a hoax than a threat. Of course they can't admit that so they openly proclaim the Great Danger and then give us nothing but vague promises they or some future government will actually do something about greenhouse gas emissions.

Enter the CCCC, Consummate Canadian Conservative Conman, Big Oil's own Stephen Harper. His response to the IPCC report acknowledges that climate change is an "enormous" problem but then adds that it's "fantasy" to think greenhouse-gas emissions can be cut overnight. Karl Rove could've written that line, maybe he did. Yes we acknowledge a base reality, then bury it under a totally irrelevant and erroneous presumption to create a diversion. "Climate change is an enormous problem" - the base reality. "It's fantasy to think greenhouse-gas emissions can be cut overnight" - the con, the irrelevant diversion.

Memo to Steve and anyone stupid enough to listen to this jackass: NO ONE THINKS GREENHOUSE-GAS EMISSIONS CAN BE CUT OVERNIGHT!

That's right, Steve. No one thinks greenhouse-gas emissions can be cut overnight. Even David Suzuki knows that and says that. But, then again, you know that full well, don't you Steve? You're just throwing up a Straw Man to distract the plebs and defuse their demands for action. You're messing with their minds, Steve, and Big Oil couldn't be happier or more grateful. Are you so stupid that you honestly believe anyone thinks that? You damn well know that no one thinks that but that doesn't mean a deliberate diversion won't let you slip away yet again.

Change the argument from "what are we going to do" to "can't be done overnight" and you've substituted an irrelevant question for a meaningful enquiry. Neat trick - very Rovian, very Republican, very Cheneyist (and of course very Stalinist at heart). You can leverage relatively significant proportions of public naivety, ignorance, and those simply wanting to hear what they want to hear, and thereby undercut the demand for action or accountability.

And this little intellectual rot isn't just confined to Harper, it's permeated throughout his cabinet. Look at this and you'll see what I mean:

Environment Canada came out with a climate change warning today and Harper's Health Minister Tony Clement was prompt to stomp on it, using the "bait and switch" approach of his boss.

The Health Canada report warned Canadians of the new risks they're already going to have to face and the need for immediate, drastic action on man-made global warming if we're not to be confronted with far worse, likely deadly problems. Health Canada, relying on the IPCC's latest, far understated findings, warned that we face, at a minimum, spikes in heat-related deaths, an increase in respiratory and cardiovascular problems, and the spread and emergence of diseases.

Clement, as a good drone of the boss, came out and deflected the bullet. From CBC News:

"Milder winters, heat waves and summer droughts could affect mosquito and tick populations, triggering the spread of West Nile virus and Lyme disease, the report says.

"Climate change could tip the ecological balance and trigger outbreaks of disease previously rare or unknown in Canada," the report states.

The report also says that communities in Canada's North are most vulnerable to climate change. Avalanches and landslides are projected to be more frequent. Northern communities will also have to contend with food shortages and less clean drinking water.

"This report makes it clear that Milder winters, heat waves and summer droughts could affect mosquito and tick populations, triggering the spread of West Nile virus and Lyme disease, the report says.

"Climate change could tip the ecological balance and trigger outbreaks of disease previously rare or unknown in Canada," the report states.

The report also says that communities in Canada's North are most vulnerable to climate change. Avalanches and landslides are projected to be more frequent. Northern communities will also have to contend with food shortages and less clean drinking water.

Speaking to reporters at the Conservative caucus retreat in the rural Quebec town of Levis, Health Minister Tony Clement said Canadians will "have to get used to" the gloomy scenario laid out in the report.

"This report makes it clear that if you have bad health outcomes now, you're likely to be more impacted by extreme weather events than if you're at the top of the health ladder," he said.

There it was in all it's glory. Appear to acknowledge the severe implications of the report and then tell Canadians, "they will have to get used to" it. The guy even goes on to blame the most susceptible. "This report makes it clear that if you have bad health outcomes now, you're likely to be more impacted by extreme weather events than if you're at the top of the health ladder," is Greaseball Tony's way to suggest that most of those who lose their lives are at least partially to blame for allowing themselves to become more vulnerable to these environmental predations.

It's subtle, sort of, but it's there for anyone who wishes to see. They're acknowledging the problems but then, instead of honestly embracing the problems and proposing meaningful action, they veer far off track with distracting nonsense. "Fantasy" to really do anything right now about it. "Top of the Health Ladder" argument to diminish concern by holding up a certain segment of the inevitable victims as somehow responsible for their fate and thereby avoiding having to embrace the problem and advocate the appropriate emissions response.

In any real democracy, the leader's first responsibility is to do everything necessary to safeguard his/her citizens. Failing to do everything necessary to safeguard Canadians against any avoidable consequences of climate change is a complete violation of that responsibility. Shirking that responsibility and using these sorts of diversions demonstrates that there's nothing inadvertant about this affront. It's entirely deliberate. It's not just neglecting the safety and welfare of the Canadian people, it's wilfully putting the interests of certain powerful governments and wealthy companies ahead, and in direct detriment to, the safety and welfare of the Canadian people.

Think about that. 1. Global warming presents this truly urgent, existential threat to humanity. 2. Some countries must, by example, lead and even cajole other nations to embrace action. Those countries most able to afford setting that example have to lead if the rest are to follow. There's no other way. It's essential that a few, advantaged countries can lead so as to establish a norm for others to achieve at subsequent intervals. Only by leading by example can the most advantaged countries wield both the carrot and the stick to get other nations to follow. 3. Without common action, individual or bloc action has no probable hope of avoiding the worst consequences.

If you can accept those three simple statements of fact, you must then judge the actions of our prime minister and his health and environmental ministers accordingly. If they're using logic diversions as smokescreens to deflect popular demands for responsible action, measures that would, in turn, be adverse to the interests of certain governments and companies, there's a message in that. Diversion = Deliberate. It demonstrates culpability. What of a government that culpably acts to the detriment of the safety and welfare of its people for the sole benefit of the elite, advantaged and powerful?

Government is service. We elect our governments to serve our interests, our welfare. Surely that principle defines our relationship more than any other. Surely we hand to them the power to govern us, to make even life and death decisions upon us and our families, in exchange for their implicit, but often unacknoweldged, promise to govern so as to achieve our greatest security and welfare.

Is it not virtually, if not legally, treasonous to abuse one's powers to refuse to act on an existential threat and then distract public attention from it by misleading or confusing diversions? You decide.

100 Billion Dollars - Chump Change?

It is if you're holding 100-billion Zimbabwean dollars which, incidentally, is less than the price of a loaf of bread in that country today.

What to do, what to do? Well Zimbabwe has decided to simply knock 10-zeroes off its currency. Now, $100-billion becomes a more manageable one dollar, for the next few days at least.

Big deal. Economists estimate that the country's annual inflation rate is as much as six times higher than the officially acknowledged 2.2-million per cent rate. 2.2 million versus 12.5 million, who cares? It doesn't matter who's right, it really doesn't.

There's only one way out for Zimbabwe and that entails President Robert Mugabe either swinging from the end of a rope or locked away in some dungeon. He knows it and so does everyone else. Of course that would also mean pretty much the same fate for Mugabe's cronies and minions which include his murderous military and security services. They're propping him up because their only way out is decidedly unpleasant.

Mugabe is now in power sharing talks with the country's political opposition but, out of necessity, Mugabe insists that any deal must leave him as leader of the new government. To Mugabe, leader means dictator and so he's essentially asking the opposition to consign itself to irrelevancy and place themselves at the mercy of his security forces. Ouch, ouch and ouch.

For the sake of the people of Zimbabwe this dark farce must stop but there is too much force defending him within the country and a woeful lack of resolve to intervene by the leaders of Zimbabwe's neighbours.

If only Zimbabwe had oil.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dissecting "The Surge"

John McCain clings to "the surge" of US troops into Iraq as proof that 1) America is winning in Iraq and 2) that he's the best man to serve as America's next president.

The success line is built on two facts - the US sent an additional 30,000 soldiers to Iraq and violence in that country subsided. It's highly convenient for McCain to claim that one led to the other, convenient but also highly misleading.

There are a number of reasons for the drop in violence in Iraq but there's also an awful lot of wishful thinking thrown in for good measure by those with a personal stake in the surge.

We know that a major cause for the drop in violence in Baghdad has been the conclusion of ethnic cleansing. The Shiites have taken over the city and the Sunni and other minorities have been "cleansed" to their own, ethnic enclaves. The surge did nothing to stop much less reverse the ethnic cleansing of Iraq's main city.

Another major cause for the drop in violence has to be credited to Muqtada al Sadr who has reined in his powerful Shiite militia, the Mahdi army. The good news is that al Sadr has told his forces to lay low. The bad news is that al Sadr has told his forces to lay low. The fuse on that little bomb may have been put out but the guy holding it still has a pocketful of matches.

Then there's the Sunni resistance which has, at the moment, loaded up with American weapons and American cash to fight their fellow Sunnis, the al-Qaeda terrorists. Now that al-Qaeda has decided to refocus its efforts on Pakistan and Afghanistan, the resistance is pushing on something of an open door. The good news is that the Sunni resistance is winning. The bad news is that the Sunni resistance is winning. You see, the resistance has all along said, quite openly, that they've only called a temporary truce in their battle with the Americas and the Shiite militias. That was enough, however, for the US forces to re-arm, re-equip and heavily fund their once and future adversaries.

If the surge had really worked it would have meant somehow defanging the militias and the resistance. The whole political reconciliation business was intended to lay the groundwork for an end to ethnic violence but that hasn't happened.

The spoiler is America itself. The United States wants Iraq to grant it a near-permanent and autonomous military presence in that country. The Pentagon envisions expanding its existing 32-bases to 60 in total. That, kids, is a clear statement that America has no intention of leaving or even limiting its military dominion over Iraq any time soon. There's a reason why the US has built its largest embassy in the world in Baghdad, on a site bigger than the Vatican itself.

This is a demand that neither Sunni nor Shia can accept. America will need one hell of a lot more than a paltry surge if it incites Arab Iraq to unite and rise up against it.

In Iraq, all eyes are on America. With Obama leading McCain in the polls it probably suits the interests of the Sunni resistance and the Shiite militias to lay low for the time being. Why fight if not fighting is the best way to rid the country of foreign forces? There'll be plenty of time for the Sunni and Shiite to hash out their differences once American forces are gone. Those people aren't going anywhere, are they?

But this is an election year and we're talking about an electorate not very good at digesting nuance. Surge works, mmmm goood! It may even be that John McCain truly believes it's working. After all he believes that Iran is training al-Qaeda and that the terrorists are Shiite, not Sunni, and that Iraq shares a border with Pakistan. This guy doesn't know which way is up but, then again, he's only running to be president.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Let's Get Something Straight

A particularly malevolent creature has attacked me claiming that I don't "support the troops" in Afghanistan. This vermin equates my criticisms of the "War on Terror" with my regard for Canada's forces, at home and abroad.

I do support Canada's forces whether in the Middle East, at sea on the Atlantic or in the skies over Cold Lake. I come from a military family and am a former serviceman myself. That said, I know there is nothing contradictory in the warrior-pacifist. Real soldiers of the kind this country and our allies have counted on in their darkest moments utterly abhor war and only begrudgingly accept that it is sometimes, but only sometimes necessary.

There are those who pound their chests and bang their drums when our soldiers take the field. These types inevitably make loud noises but they're always at a safe distance when they do it. Their bravery is hollow and vicarious and phony. It is they who find nobility in the squalor and morbidity of high-tech slaughter. I don't. I see nothing lofty or noble in a 120 mm. tank round smashing into a mud hut or a thousand-pound high explosive aerial bomb detonating in a residential compound. Those things are merely gunnery and nothing more. That's not fighting, just range shooting when there is no tank firing back, no fighter defending the target.

I support our troops but I loathe what we've done to them and what we've asked of them. In truth, we have betrayed them which is, of itself, a very time-honoured tradition.

I am not naive about the nature of warfare. Clausewitz described war as an extension of politics, a means to achieve political goals when diplomatic measures have failed. Almost all wars incorporate political dimensions. That said, there is a vital distinction between wars fought to achieve political objectives of the state and wars exploited to benefit the political fortunes of individuals. The War on Terror, in all its manifestations, falls squarely in the second category which undermines its legitimacy.

Let's be honest. Canada went into Afghanistan in order not to go into Iraq. We went into Afghanistan to appease Washington and to stand with some of our NATO allies, most of whom also went to Afghanistan to mollify the Bush regime. That was the political dimension of Ottawa's war plan.

The Commander in Chief of the Global War Without End on Terror, George w. BushCheney conducted America's war to advance his political fortunes, not the political objectives of the United States. The war, after all, was an armed response to the attacks on America by extremists on 9/11. That framed America's political objectives of the war: get bin Laden, crush al-Qaeda. BushCheney manipulated the tragic opportunity in order to serve their personal political interests at the expense of their nation's. BushCheney all but abandoned America's "just war" in order to pursue their own interests in a decidedly unjust war, an illegal war, a war of aggression against the oil rich nation of Iraq. It was because it was unjust and illegal that the regime had to doctor intelligence and contrive patently false justifications for their criminal acts.

The element of contrivance extends throughout the War on Terror. It is a powerful element in the "mission" in Afghanistan today. What is contrived about Afghanistan? Just about everything when you examine it closely.

Our effort at counterinsurgency warfare is pure contrivance. We stand in a country several times larger than Iraq facing a terrorist movement, a nationalist insurgency, a broad criminal subculture shackled firmly to a central government by a fundamentalist warlord-driven power structure and we dump the problem on a grotesquely understrength force. In that lies the nub of the betrayal of our armed forces. Sending a minuscule force of Canadian soldiers to Kandahar into the jaws of these circumstances is beyond anything we have any right to ask of them. Supporting this mission is not supporting the troops but the very opposite.

The best military minds on counterinsurgency warfare have a prescribed ratio of counterinsurgents to populace of about 1:25. That is one properly trained, properly equipped and properly led infantryman for every 25 civilians. In Kandahar province that would mean a minimum force of 25,000 and up to 50,000 combat troops contrasted with the 1,000-strong combat group we actually have deployed. That is a betrayal of our fine soldiers.

Canada ought not to have committed our forces to Kandahar at all without ensuring they would be adequate in numbers to meet the tasks given them. That would have necessitated an effort similar to the force we mustered during the Korean War.

Why the need for so many troops? They're needed in order to wrest control of the countryside from the insurgents. The civilians must be protected from the terrorists and the insurgents (and the corrupt Afghan security services to boot) if we're to have any hope of winning the "hearts and minds" of the people. If we're not in their villages at night when the Taliban come calling, how do we expect them to resist the insurgents? Instead we play directly into their hands.

It's a now all-too-common scenario. A friendly patrol is brought under fire from a village or compound. The insurgents have infiltrated the villagers' homes because there was no force present to stop them. We identify the source of the hostile fire and then call in airstrikes or artillery or tank fire to destroy the enemy. If we're lucky we kill some or most of the enemy but often cause civilian casualties at the same time. If we're not so lucky we may just kill a lot of civilians and miss the bad guys all together.

The civilians see themselves as beset by both sides but they lay the blame for the dead on the side that actually killed them and that's often us. They're not interested in our justifications for the death of their family members. They're not interested in how we rationalize that it's all the insurgents' fault. We did the killing and their tribal codes demand the deaths be avenged.

Our comedians masquerading as generals puff themselves up and berate the insurgents as cowards for exploiting the civilians but there's plenty of cowardice lying at the feet of these generals themselves. These careerists are too cowardly to stand up and defend their troops by lambasting their equally cowardly political bosses for putting these soldiers in such an awful, understrength position in the first place.

These young men and women honour us and our country by their commitment and sacrifice and perseverence. We repay them by saddling them with a mission they cannot hope to achieve. So far our casualty rates have been low enough that morale hasn't collapsed and yet I recently heard the early grumbling from one veteran, a tanker. Just because we're not American, don't get lulled into thinking our soldiers will take anything thrown at them.

Let's get something straight. You don't support the troops with magnetic plastic decals stuck to your trunk lid. You don't support the troops by blindly backing the "mission." You support the troops by doing what almost no one is doing today - by standing up for them and demanding that our political leaders and our military leaders either give them what they need to meet the challenges we've imposed on them or else get them out of there.

This is not a partisan issue. Conservative or Liberal, it makes no matter. We all owe it to these young people to support them and we owe that above and regardless of our political affiliations.

His Last Campaign

My father and mother, shortly before Dad shipped out to England. He suffered massive wounds in the war that nearly claimed him many times in the decades that followed. A man of great strength and enormous goodwill, who accomplished much and helped so many, now lost to us at age 90.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Truer Words

Throughout the twentieth century, small groups of men seized control of great nations, built armies and arsenals, and set out to dominate the weak and intimidate the world.”

- President George w. Bush, 2003 State of the Union Address

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Iraq's Maliki Backs Obama, Not McCain

Oh Johnny boy, this has got to sting.

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki has told Der Spiegel that Barack Obama's 16-month timeframe for withdrawal of American forces from Iraq is spot on:

"Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki supports US presidential candidate Barack Obama's plan to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months. When asked in and interview with SPIEGEL when he thinks US troops should leave Iraq, Maliki responded "as soon as possible, as far as we are concerned." He then continued: "US presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes."

Oops, that isn't going to sit well for John, 100-Years War, McCain.

"...apparently referring to Republican candidate John McCain's more open-ended Iraq policy, Maliki said: "Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems."

Iraq, Maliki went on to say, "would like to see the establishment of a long-term strategic treaty with the United States, which would govern the basic aspects of our economic and cultural relations." He also emphasized though that the security agreement between the two countries should only "remain in effect in the short term."

Maliki went on to say that he wasn't expressly endorsing Obama, just his policy on Iraq.

"So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat," Maliki told SPIEGEL.

Is Sadr Tamed or Merely Waiting to Pounce?

Has Washington's troop surge in Iraq truly succeeded as so insistently claimed? Violence on the streets of Iraqi cities has abated and attacks on US forces there have diminished. That is undisputed. But has this become yet another example of "Mission Accomplished" triumphalism?

I suppose it depends what you read, who you listen to, what you're willing to believe.

If you believe George w. Bush, the man whose greatest skill of the past seven years has been lying through his teeth, the surge has been an unqualified success, a "Hail Mary" pass to redeem his presidential legacy. If you believe what you read or hear in the North American media, the surge has at least the appearance of success. That tends to be as far as most of us go. However there are others who don't buy it, among them a lot of Iraqis.

What are the key components of the surge success? One has been the schism between Iraq's Sunni resistance and the mainly foreign al Qaeda terrorists. The two worked more or less cooperatively for a few years but Iraq's Sunni fighters have now turned against their former comrades and are hunting them down.

Under the American military's "Awakening" programme, the Sunni resistance groups are now receiving arms and cash from the Americans as compensation for crushing al Qaeda. These groups, however, have repeatedly made clear their intention to once again turn on their American benefactors in the future.

Then there's the Shiite militias. They fall into two main groups, the Badrs and the Sadrs. The Badr brigades are closely aligned to the Iranians. They're also Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki's team. That relationship has seen the Badr boys infiltrate Iraq's security services with entirely predictable and frequently murderous results. Their chief competition is the Sadr militia who more or less follow bad boy cleric Muqtada al Sadr, al Maliki's main rival and nemesis.

The second element of the success of the troop surge has been the retreat of the Sadr militias. A couple of months back, al Maliki sent the Iraqi army to destroy them in Mosul but he failed, even after American intervention.

There's a growing sense of unease at the moment about the Sadr militia and what they're really up to. Some suspect they've collaborated with the Sunni resistance in laying low, awaiting the outcome of the American election and preparing to pounce should Bush/Cheney attack Iran.

In effect, heralding success of the troop surge may be little more than whistling past the graveyard. There can be no success until Iraq's armed camps are brought to heel, until they turn in their arms and their leadership dissolves. Until then, the game is still very much afoot.

Another "Seniors' Moment" or Simple Incompetence?

The American media never seem to miss a chance to point out an Obama flip-flop, no matter how minor. John McCain, on the other hand, flops around like a fish hauled up on a dock and gets a pass on it.

Here's another example, one of so very many. On Friday, McCain backtracked on a campaign pledge to set aggressive, national emissions standards for automobiles. Instead he said he endorsed the right of individual states to set their own. Why? Because the old bugger was in Michigan, land of the SUV and 350 pick-ups.

American Support for Afghanistan Slumps

An ABC News poll has found that 45% of Americans surveyed now believe that the Afghanistan war just isn't worth fighting any longer.

51% now believe the US military effort in that country has been unsuccessful. The numbers reflect a sharp slump from the massive support received from the American people when the war began in 2001.

"For Sholom Keller, a veteran who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, it comes as no surprise that support for the war in Afghanistan is fading.

"I'm not shocked at all that American support is waning," Keller told ABC "If we are in Afghanistan because the U.S. was attacked on Sept. 11, then I want to see the perpetrators captured and brought to justice.

"If we're not finding them in Afghanistan, then I don't know why we're there," he added. "And if they are there I want to know why we haven't found them in the last seven years if they've been giving troops the right intelligence and missions."

The poll is reflective of the Achilles' Heel of counter-insurgency war waged by any democracy; the insurgents merely have to win the "hearts and minds" of their own people and they can take their time doing it while the foreign military force cannot afford to lose either in-country or at home and must win decisively and reasonably quickly. Time is on the side of the home team, not the visitors and, in counter-insurgency warfare, time is very much "of the essence."

Despite all the historical precedents and even the clear warnings of people like General David Petraeus, American and NATO leaders never let the issue of "time" cross their lips.

The Americans don't acknowledge the time factor because that would mean they might have to account for the losing effort they've made since 2001 which would, in turn, lead to why they lied themselves out of Afghanistan and into Iraq which would then lead to why they ignored sound military advice and pursued their sophomoric ideology in waging that war.

Canadian and other NATO nation leaders don't acknowledge the time factor either because that would mean they too might have to account for the losing effort they've made since 2001 which would, in turn, lead to why they went to Afghanistan in the first place and why they continued to carry water for the White House well after it became clear that we'd all been lied to about Iraq and that Washington, the ally we were ostensibly in Kandahar to support, had all but completely turned its own back on Afghanistan.

Paul Martin was duped into expanding the Canadian mission from Kabul into Kandahar by a swaggering Newf who was "all hat and no cattle" and who has now slipped away into retirement having waged an enormously successful PR campaign and a disastrous military one. Monica Harper, well, I don't need to go into that. Our own Stephane Dion? When it came time to stand up for principle he decided he wasn't ready to fight an election. He put his personal political fortunes ahead of the lives of our soldiers and capitulated to an extension of "the mission" to 2011 and, in reality, well beyond.

So the irony is that we're neatly locked in to the mission in Afghanistan while the American people steadily sour on it. We'll continue to squander the lives of our soldiers while ensuring they'll never win, like Hillier, leaving the failure for someone else to shoulder.

"Ensuring they'll never win?" Sounds a trifle "over the top" doesn't it? Yet that's just what we're doing. We don't have a "winning army" of 500,000-800,000 soldiers and, no matter what happens in Iraq, it's unlikely we'll ever have a quarter of that force. We haven't yet acknowledged much less excised the cancer spreading through that country, the "nexus" of a corrupt government; warlords, drug barons and other criminals; and the insurgents themselves. That's right, they're all connected. Sometimes they're actually indistinguishable. We aren't willing, at least not yet, to recognize that this has grown into a regional war, not just in the southern, Pashtun regions of Afghanistan but into the greater region extending from Pakistan through to Iran. We don't have any game plan for dealing with a much wider war even as that draws closer to our lines.

NATO member support for the Afghan war is flagging. Those already in are looking for the exits and those who've stayed out look on this debacle and breathe a quiet sigh of relief.

We're stuck in a time warp, continuing to fight a Cold War "military" war, insanely expecting the opposition to come out and stand up so we can bomb and shell them into oblivion while pretty much ignoring their war, the political war, the war that truly matters and that will decide the outcome of this conflict at the end of the day.

In these conditions it's hardly likely that American support for the Afghan war can or will be rebuilt. What we need to worry about is when their loss of confidence in "the mission" will reach political critical mass.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Warning, Warning - Attack of the SlutBot

Every now and then it's nice to do a good turn for our tight-ass, right-wing friends - the sort that seem to pervade internet chat rooms. The Russians now have these types in their sights.

Enter the SlutBot, a Russian software robot properly known as CyberLover. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

"Romantic comedies. Reality television. Online dating websites. Speed dating. Documentaries about American women and their sexual obsessions with toasters. There is no limit to the amount of vocalised love being shared across every available medium, in particular the internet.

Cue CyberLover, a Russian software robot (known as a "bot") that poses as a would-be paramour in sex chatrooms. While the use of love to hoodwink unsuspecting dorks is as old as the dirt, the use of so-called slutbots is a relatively new innovation.

According to a report from the tech site PC Tools, the slutbot can conduct automated "flirtatious" conversations with up to 10 people in 30 minutes. During conversations it is programmed to garner personal information and lure correspondents to other websites where they are infected with malware (malicious software).

"CyberLover demonstrates an unprecedented level of social engineering," an expert in software designed to damage computer systems, Sergei Shevchenko, told the site.
"It employs highly intelligent and customised dialogue to target users of social networking systems."

It can operate in a number of different personality modes, varying from "romantic lover" to the particularly appealing "sexual predator". Not to mention that CyberLover could present an even greater risk if paired with emerging technology.

Updating your virus protection and limiting the amount of personal information you give out to strangers on the web are the best ways to protect yourself from CyberLover at the moment, PC Tools says.

However, it offers no advice on what to do if the minxbot is in your lounge room, dressed in a small black dress and patent leather pumps, smiling demurely as it surreptitiously uploads your credit card details to a server in Vladivostok."

A Rose-Coloured Window to Renewable Energy

The Massacheusetts Institute of Technology has announced a breakthrough in the effort to transform our windows into powerful solar energy collectors.

The MIT development uses a sequence of dyes that efficiently trap incoming light and transmit it to solar cells built into the window frame. From TechNewsWorld:

"The MIT procedure uses something called a "solar concentrator." Unlike the 1970s-era devices, this creation is able to grab the light -- and then hang onto it. The concentrator can send the light at a much longer distance than past models have achieved, shooting the energy straight into solar cells along the glass's edge.

"A lot of technology goes into ensuring that the light is transmitted to the edge of the glass panel," Rob Collins, professor of physics at the University of Toledo, told TechNewsWorld. "Oftentimes, when you illuminate a dye, it will radiate in all directions. What you want to do is capture it within a glass, [and] they have established a way of efficiently doing this."

The solar concentrator results in 10 times more energy being created than what current systems can provide -- and theoretically, it can do it at a fraction of the price."

"You could do dual-use as a window or skylight, where you have some light passing through but also have power being produced by it. It could be interesting because it would have those aesthetic advantages," [MIT researcher Jon] Mapel pointed out.

The MIT team estimates the products could become widely available within the next three years."

Afghanistan Coming Unglued

More news about Afghanistan and, as expected, little good in it.

The Aussies have leaked a secret NATO study showing we're not winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. To the contrary, a majority of those polled now see ISAF unfavourably. Maybe it has something to do with shelling and bombing the hell out of their villages, maybe not.

The Australian report was from last Saturday's Syndney Morning Herald:

"AUSTRALIAN troops in southern Afghanistan face worsening security and their battlefield successes against the Taliban are not winning the support of local people, a confidential report and secret polling show.

The Sun-Herald has obtained a confidential security report that warns the capital, Kabul, will become virtually cut off from the rest of the country and is likely to be the target of a "spectacular" terrorist attack.

It says security in Oruzgan province, where about 1000 Australian troops are based and where Signaller Sean McCarthy was killed last week, will deteriorate, with the likelihood of more casualties among foreign troops.

The report, by international security consultants, says tactical successes against the Taliban are not being translated into long-term improvements in the lives of Afghan people.

The report's warnings are underlined by a secret poll undertaken for NATO that reveals Oruzgan residents are increasingly negative towards foreign troops and regard their level of security as poor and getting worse."

In Oruzgan province alone, where the Australians serve alongside the Dutch, 60% of the population has been found to be anti-NATO.

The Globe & Mail reported that the Canadian military has been reviewing the Soviet failure in Afghanistan in hopes of avoiding the same mistakes.

Researchers said the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is a major hindrance. The mujahedeen used the porous frontier to smuggle arms and resources into Afghanistan in the 1980s and are offering Taliban supporters the same supply route for insurgents and weapons today.

...In a separate memo that year, the same authors warn that NATO forces will never be able to stabilize Afghanistan until the country's economy is sufficiently stable and growing to allow the fledging Afghan government to cover a substantial amount of its own security and welfare bills.

The main reasons behind the fall of the pro-Moscow regime in Kabul were not defeat on the battlefield nor military superiority of the resistance but the regime's failure to achieve economic sustainability and its overreliance on foreign aid,” says a document called Economic Development in Afghanistan during the Soviet Period 1979-1989: Lessons Learned from the Soviet Experience in Afghanistan.

...The authors say Afghanistan should redevelop its petroleum wealth as part of the solution. “Revenues from the sale of natural gas were a substantial part of Afghan state income until 1986. The development of oil and natural gas industries has great potential to benefit the Afghan economy."

...Douglas Bland, chair of Defence Management Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, said a key lesson from the 1980s is not to leave in a hurried manner as the Soviets did.

“One of the big lessons for us is, don't beat a hasty uncontrolled retreat because the place then really goes nuts,” Prof. Bland said. “The exit strategy has to be some very carefully considered process and based on a strong local security situation.”

Canadians should be prepared for the fact that Canadian soldiers and policemen and others will be employed in security duties in Afghanistan for a very long time.”

Unfortunately Mr. (Dr.) Bland overlooks a fundamental point - time is not on our side. We're infidels to the Afghan people. We're ethnically, culturally, economically, politically, linguistically and religiously alien to them. We're just the latest gang in centuries of Euros to set up shop in that country, stay a few years and then leave. General David Petraeus knows that counter-insurgency operations such as the Afghan effort have a markedly short shelf life before the foreign soldiers transition, in the eyes of the locals, from liberators to occupiers. The NATO report leaked by the Australians shows we're already losing these people in droves.

Did someone mention "oil"? Why, of course, by all means build up Afghanistan's oil and natural gas infrastructure. Pipelines. That's the ticket, eh? One problem. We don't control the countryside. We're a tiny, garrison force. We don't have but a fraction of the troops we need just to defend against the Taliban. Who in hell is going to defend vast stretches of pipelines that can be so easily destroyed with just a small amount of explosives? If the Taliban can virtually surround Kabul and cut it off from the rest of the country, pipelines will be destroyed as fast as they're built - just another way of so many to undermine the Afghan people's confidence in their government.

Then there's the pipeline route. It's planned to run through Farah, Kandahar and Helmand provinces, all Taliban hotbeds. From there it's straight into Pakistan's Baluchistan province, itself embroiled in an insurgency (with some American support). If the bad guys have a reserve of people willing to blow themselves up at the first sight of a NATO patrol, how hard will it be to persuade folks to place explosives on vulnerable pipelines?

The Globe's Paul Koring went to Moscow to see what he could learn about the Russian experience in Afghanistan and got an earful from retired four star general Ruslan Aushev who spent five years with the Soviet army during the occupation:

“You are just repeating our mistakes,” Mr. Aushev said in an elegant, memento-filled office close to the Russian Duma.

“Most Afghans still live in a feudal society, in villages far from the cities,” he said. “For them, there is no difference between being bombed by the Soviets and now being bombed by the Americans … and it won't succeed.”

The Taliban may not be able to win militarily but they can't be defeated and sooner or later the Western alliance will be forced with pullout,” he warned.

Support for the insurgents will grow the longer the foreign armies remain in Afghanistan, he said. Although the Soviets deployed more than 100,000 soldiers across Afghanistan – roughly double the number of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops currently deployed – and trained an Afghan army three times the size of Kabul's current security forces, it was never enough, Mr. Aushev said.

If we wanted stability we would have needed 800,000 soldiers,” he said, echoing the estimates of some unheeded American generals who called for much larger occupation forces in Iraq."

The leaked NATO report is interesting. It clearly contains nothing that our adversaries - the insurgents, the drug barons and the corrupt politicians and government officials who collaborate with them - don't already know. The risk to NATO is that the information might reach the voters in its member nations and further erode support for the hapless adventure in Afghanistan. After all the core element of guerrilla warfare is the struggle for the "hearts and minds" of the public and that's a struggle NATO has to win both in Afghanistan and at home. If it loses either, it loses both.

We ought to be wary about the latest oil and gas proposals. Look at the facts. Our forces, alien as they are to the Afghan peoples, have been in-country since 2001, seven years already. We're now propping up a decidedly unpopular central government and a power structure predatory to its citizens. We're wearing out our welcome. Petraeus himself warned of the very limited shelf-life of counterinsurgency warfare in which the "liberator" comes to be seen as the "occupier." We're now in the "occupier" stage and we can only reinforce that perception, and play into the Taliban's propaganda machine, if we get involved in developing, managing and militarily defending the country's gas and oil resources.

With the Afghan mission already faltering, adding an oil dimension to it can only undermine its credibility with the Afghan peoples. We need an influx of American troops to help hold off the Taliban, not to defend long tracts of steel pipe. If the American army doesn't secure the pipelines, the job will fall to someone else. Can you say Blackwater?

Hey Ed, Put Up or Shut Up!

If Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach wants to protect his supposed, Tar Sands bonanza, he knows just how to do it. In fact, he keeps telling us he wants to do it. The problem is, we've been waiting for years for any sign that Special Ed or his predecessors will or even can do it.

The "It" is carbon sequestration. Alberta produces the dirtiest oil on the planet but whenever anyone points that out, Ed tells us what his employers, Big Oil, have been prattling on about for years - the answer is to take all that carbon output and sink it deep underground where it can do no harm to man or any other lifeform.

Ed's even put up two billion petrobucks to fund a sequestration initiative, or so he says. He wants you to take his word for all of this. Just don't ask Ed or Big Oil to lift the veil so that we can see the awesome results of their efforts. That would be rude, wouldn't it?

The Alberta Tories are possibly even more indentured to Big Oil than the gang of squatters that currently occupy the White House. If it wasn't for this windfall of unearned, subterranean treasure, the province might actually have to live off the labours of its own people. In today's Alberta that must seem a thoroughly scary prospect indeed.

But TWO BILLION DOLLARS for carbon sequestration, that's pretty impressive, rien? Hardly. The Americans recently scrapped their own sequestration trial after many years and countless bags of treasury doubloons because they couldn't make it work. In fact, the technology has been or is being attempted elsewhere but... that's where these alchemist's tails always end, "but."

The science and technology is much too complex for the likes of you and me to really comprehend which explains why the Eds of this world use such childlike language when they speak to us of these things. But you don't really need to understand coal seam geology to sort your way through this anymore than you need to know what makes the canary fall of its perch and die in the mine.

Here's the dead parrot for carbon sequestration claims. In fact you've got a flock of dead parrots, all of them lying at your feet.

The ever popular Norwegian Blue. If Special Ed really believed that the miracle of carbon sequestration was in his hands, why would he bridle at the first suggestion of capping carbon emissions?

The Reunion Ring-Neck. Taking Ed at his word, why are his projections for Alberta's carbon emissions so high as to render futile Our Furious Leader Harpo's "50 by 2050" commitment completely unobtainable?

The African Grey. If this vaunted carbon sequestration technology that Big Oil has been hailing for so many years existed, where the hell is it? They've been promising this FOR YEARS but never allowing us so much as a peek at anything resembling a practical, carbon sequestration system.

My favourite, the Bismark's Hanging Parrot. Ignoring the Blue and the Grey (and that pesky Ring-Neck) altogether, why are the Petro-Morlocks so stubborn about timelines for their eco-salvation technology? Could it be they don't want us to know that, even if they could turn lead into gold, it would take two decades, possibly more to refine and deploy the technology?

The Scaly-headed Pionus. If Big Oil and its legislative henchmen can perfect carbon sequestration, why are they doing so precious little about the other environmental ills associated with the Tar Sands? Why are those oily tailing ponds now visible from space? How about Fort Chipewyan downriver and its strange cancer rates? How about the other aspects of land, air and water pollution? What about the inordinate strain on the region's fresh water and natural gas resources?

You see, everywhere you look it's the same thing - dead parrots. That's got to tell you something.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Problem with Deregulation

It's the mantra of the rightwing - deregulate now, deregulate everything. The idea is that it's always better to rely on free enterprise, on the markets to self-regulate. After all, they know what's best, not some bureaucrat regulator.

Brian Mulroney deregulated Canada's airline industry. At the time we had a reasonably stable system of carriers headed by Air Canada and Canadian Pacific Airlines, two flag carriers. Below them were a stable of charter and regional carriers.

One of the advantages of airline regulation was the advancement of public policy. The big carriers were given preferred access to the major, big-city and international routes but they were also expected to bring air service to smaller centres that might otherwise not have been served. Like the early investment in microwave towers, regulated air travel helped open up Canada's remote regions.

Everything seemed to be ticking alone reasonably well when the whole business got overrun by free enterprise in the wake of Mulroney's deregulation of the industry. Air Canada was privatized and began the steady descent that continues to this day. Canadian Pacific got into an aggressive takeover and expansion mood, in the process swallowing Pacific Western Airlines and even Max Ward's Wardair, emerging as the bloated, Canadian Airlines International.

Both airlines engaged in a mutually-destructive air war, each scheduling unnecessary flights trying to muscle the other out on major routes such as Vancouver-Toronto. The revenue lifeblood drained out of both, forcing the final showdown.

The inevitable dog fight ensued (not the aerial kind, the sort that involves dogs tossed into a ring). Canadian tried to salvage itself by overrunning Air Canada. The former People's Airline fought back. Canadian Airlines finally collapsed under its own weight and Air Canada got busy picking at the corpse before wrestling with its own insolvency.

Where are we today? That all depends on your perspective. If you don't recall Canadian air travel at its zenith in the late 70's/early 80's, today's airline service might not look godawful. If you do, it does.

But the airline industry doesn't stand alone as an indictment of deregulation. A more recent example is the sub-prime mortgage debacle in the United States. Rather than intervening to regulate excesses, the Fed sat back and let havoc ensue. In the months leading up to the bubble bursting, two out of three new mortgages in California were "interest only."

America was awash in cheap, unregulated money for which there were far too few legitimately qualified borrowers. That didn't bother many mortgage lenders who weren't planning on holding on to the securities anyway but, instead, bundling them and flogging them out to eager buyers. Lending mortgage money became a means to create product for the "asset-backed commercial paper" market. Insane? Of course. Inherently self-destructive? Absolutely. Yet these realities don't bother the deregulated hucksters who see easy, short-term money and have no plans on being around for the collapse anyway.

These are just a couple of examples of the downside of deregulation. There is an unspoken assumption in deregulation - that the newly deregulated will act rationally and in the best interests of their industry and society.

Government doesn't deregulate an industry hoping it will fail and collapse. Deregulation is always presented as a means to free up and thereby strengthen the affected sector. The logic is always the same - the industry knows better than the government regulating it. In reality that's usually true. The industry usually does know better. However there's a giant leap between knowing what's best for one's own industry and actually doing what's best instead of what offers the greatest, short-term reward or immediate competitive advantage.

I'm not sure whether the problem is inherent in deregulation of itself or in our poor grasp of the deregulation process. Maybe we just don't understand how to deregulate effectively. Maybe we're too quick to throw the doors wide open before laying the groundwork for self-regulation.

Was the implosion of the Canadian airline industry not foreseeable? I think it was. Was the subprime collapse not foreseeable? Sure it was. What about the preceding bubble, the collapse? Not foreseeable? Of course it was. Enron, WorldCom? You decide.

The subprime fiasco may be the straw that broke the camel's back. E.J. Dionne, writing in the Washington Post, claims that a new reality is settling over American capitalism:

"Since the Reagan years, free-market cliches have passed for sophisticated economic analysis. But in the current crisis, these ideas are falling, one by one, as even conservatives recognize that capitalism is ailing.

You know the talking points: Regulation is the problem and deregulation is the solution. The distribution of income and wealth doesn't matter. Providing incentives for the investors of capital to "grow the pie" is the only policy that counts. Free trade produces well-distributed economic growth, and any dissent from this orthodoxy is "protectionism."

"... [In a recent speech, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben] Bernanke sounded like a born-again New Dealer in calling for "a more robust framework for the prudential supervision of investment banks and other large securities dealers."

Bernanke said the Fed needed more authority to get inside "the structure and workings of financial markets" because "recent experience has clearly illustrated the importance, for the purpose of promoting financial stability, of having detailed information about money markets and the activities of borrowers and lenders in those markets." Sure sounds like Big Government to me.

This is the third time in 100 years that support for taken-for-granted economic ideas has crumbled. The Great Depression discredited the radical laissez-faire doctrines of the Coolidge era. Stagflation in the 1970s and early '80s undermined New Deal ideas and called forth a rebirth of radical free-market notions. What's becoming the Panic of 2008 will mean an end to the latest Capital Rules era.

[Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Barney] Frank also calls for new thinking on the impact of free trade. He argues it can no longer be denied that globalization "is a contributor to the stagnation of wages and it has produced large pools of highly mobile capital." Mobile capital and the threat of moving a plant abroad give employers a huge advantage in negotiations with employees. "If you're dealing with someone and you can pick up and leave and he can't, you have the advantage."

"Free trade has increased wealth, but it's been monopolized by a very small number of people," Frank said. The coming debate will focus not on shutting globalization down but rather on managing its effects with an eye toward the interests of "the most vulnerable people in the country."

We're only just beginning to recognize that our notions of capitalism are based on a deeply flawed understanding of economics. It's not all "supply and demand" curves any more. Our traditional economic models based on the mythical producer and mythical customer are increasingly failing us. Some of the best minds in the business are now introducing us to the powerful realities of things like social economics and environmental economics. We're beginning to see the notion of "costs" as never before.

We're entering an era in which "growth" may no longer be the saviour of our economies and our societies. We're witnessing the inescapable consequences of massive growth in emerging economies such as China's and India's. We're confronting the realities of resource depletion and renewable resource exhaustion and the resultant excessive demand. This rising tide doesn't float all boats, it causes some to settle lower in the water.

As we adapt to these new economic realities we'll probably require more regulation, not less, to help us adjust. Call it protectionism if you like but unless you've got a better idea...

Now, as I noted a tad prematurely in my previous post, I've gone fishin'. See ya later.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gone Fishin'

Gone fishing. Back soon. In the meantime, try solving this, the Gordian Knot.



Weighing National Carbon Emissions - How About "User Pays"?

Looking at carbon emissions on a national basis, China versus the United States for example, is simplistic and misleading. China has four times the population of America. So, even if China has just edged out the U.S. in total emissions, it's per capita emissions are still a small fraction of the carbon footprint of the average American.

What's fair in that? Nothing. If you want to use that approach, why not judge the United States against a smaller country, say Lichtenstein? That would be silly, wouldn't it. Of course. America would say, "but you're just a fraction of our size, so it's not fair." Hmmm, isn't that what China and India are saying? Maybe we should assess America against the carbon emissions of Malawi. No, that would be even sillier, wouldn't it? Sure. Malawi's national GHG emissions and it's per capita emissions are miniscule compared to America's.

Trying to come up with a meaningful assessment on a nation by nation basis is virtually impossible. It leads each nation to seize the particular measure that best suits them as the one to use. The most populous countries want to go per capita. The most energy-consumptive nations want to the test to be total national emissions (provided the small countries are left out of it). The Third World? Who cares what they think? Apparently nobody.

There's also the debate about contemporary emissions versus historical emissions. The developing world says to the West, "you got rich by contaminating everyone's atmosphere, so you ought to make the deepest cuts." The West would like to ignore that point altogether.

Now there's another issue being raised, one that's of direct importance to Canada. A new report shows that nearly a quarter of China's total carbon emissions arise from the manufacture of goods for export. Who should be responsible for the problem - China or the countries that get the goods? From the Environmental News Network:

"[British] researchers, who embarked on their project in 2006 and have an end date in 2009, wrote a commentary note called the Tyndall Centre Briefing Note on the G8 meeting and suggested that a nation’s entire carbon footprint should also include imported goods and services manufactured elsewhere.

It’s an argument that is heard frequently. The supply chain logic follow through is gaining momentum in the corporate world these days in particular. As carbon calculations are increasingly getting more sophisticated, more and more companies are getting to the nitty gritty parts of their carbon emissions by including data on their suppliers.

The Tyndal researchers, Tao Wang and Jim Watson, make a number of strong points. First of all they suggest that China’s carbon emissions from goods exported to the first world are the equivalent of more than double the UK's emissions or the whole of Japan’s. That is quite hefty. Then they claim that industrialised countries are both historically responsible for the majority of carbon emissions to date and that they’re likely to have accelerated the rapid growth in emissions in these countries.

The arguments build up to the logical deduction that it makes sense for the developed world to get on with cleaning up the environment by imposing strict rules and by helping the poor countries along the road.

Wang and Watson’s calculation of just how China’s greenhouse gas breaks down firmly supports this argument. The numbers are taken from China’s official 2004 data (the most recent year for which full data was available) and they indicate that China is now the world’s top polluting country (having overtaken the US). And these results may be on the low side because between 2004 and 2006, China’s export increased from $32bn to $177bn."

The same issue arises out of the Athabasca Tar Sands project. The Tar Sands (and no, they're not "oil" sands) have become the strategic energy darling of the United States. Most of the production of synthetic oil is destined for the American market. Washington is urging us to quadruple production of their SUV juice. Why should the U.S. get the oil while leaving Canada saddled with responsibility for the emissions created to get them their fuel? It's not even as though Big Oil was paying the Alberta government anything remotely approaching realistic royalties.

Slashing global carbon emissions isn't going to be easy but there's almost no chance of it happening if we insist on simplistic approaches to emissions allocations. If emissions are measured in a way that's unrealistic or that fails to recognize valid factors such as population disparities, export production and so on, those calculations will be rejected as unfair by one or more of the key players. Unfairness dooms any hope of coming up with a global solution and, as far as the global warming problem is concerned, nothing short of a global solution will work.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Harper's Hot Air on Climate Change

If there's one lesson Harper has learned from his Big Brother in the White House, it's that talk is cheap. He's also learned the value of saying anything and doing something else.

Jeffrey Simpson points out in the Globe & Mail that Harper's performance at the G8 summit was just another load of Harper horseshit:

"Some time in mid-2009, the Americans will be ready to talk seriously inside the United Nations negotiations format. The talks are supposed to culminate in an international agreement at a conference in Copenhagen that December, but no one will be surprised if that date slips into 2010.

...This is just as well for Canada, whose federal government has advanced a position in the international arena that cannot be achieved, as everyone in that arena following climate change knows. Extra time will be needed for Canada to bring some credibility to its incoherent position. Otherwise, it will be accurately labelled as a climate-change miscreant, just as it was in the years after it ratified Kyoto, when it compiled the worst climate-change record of any signatory.

Canada's problem is that the Harper government's target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions cannot be achieved. It is arithmetically impossible for Canada to reduce its emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, as the government proposes, while Alberta's emissions are set to rise by 20 per cent. Nor will it be possible to achieve a 50-per-cent reduction target by 2050, as Mr. Harper pretends, if Alberta remains wedded to a policy calling for a mere 14-per-cent reduction by then.

The Harper government knows this. So do other countries' negotiators. They can see through the veneer of Canada's position. But the government is unwilling to publicly state this self-evident proposition in case it irritates people in Alberta, its political base.

Mr. Harper can claim that the G8 summit inched toward a stronger common commitment to attack global warming. But if pressed by knowledgeable people, he could not plausibly claim that Canada is inching toward a common federal-provincial position to allow this country to meet Mr. Harper's own target."

We've seen this before from Harper. For example, when he pushed through the extension of Canada's military mission to Afghanistan until 2011, he did absolutely nothing to make it remotely possible for us to leave by that deadline. That would have required negotiating with NATO and Washington - exchanging the extension for a binding commitment from Brussels and Washington to come up with a replacement force to take our place when the mandate expires.

Harper assures Canadians that 2011 is it while he knows that the very measures needed to allow us to leave will not be taken, certainly not by him and, therefore, not by NATO or the US either.

So there's no reason to be surprised that Harper would crow about the G8 agreement as a "breakthrough" in the fight against global warming. It's a crock and he knows it.

Maybe They Should Just Go Underground

Parliament has said they ought to be able to stay here. The Federal Court has ruled that the pretext under which the immigration authorities sought to throw them out was invalid. Yet the SHarpies, like their American Idols - the Bushies, apparently feel that the law means nothing to them.

American deserter Robert Long is being given the bum's rush by the federales, despite the recent ruling of the Federal Court of Canada upholding fellow deserter, Joshua Key's, appeal of his failed refugee application. The same day that Key's rights were upheld by the Federal Court, the immigration cops nailed Long in Nelson, B.C. on a deportation warrant. Word is he'll be booted back to Bushland in just a couple of days.

I'm not entirely onside with the deserters. They did volunteer after all. That said, the abject political cowardice of the Bush regime in continuing to wage its wars by creating a hostage, "stop loss" army instead of having the courage to institute a draft, transforming loyal, well intentioned volunteers (and their families) into hardship cases, to me justifies allowing them to slip away to refuge in Canada.

This will undoubtedly infuriate you rightwing nutjobs who visit this page. Up yours. I know all too well what befalls these kids and their families. I also know it's those who condemn them the loudest who stay the farthest away from the recruiting centres. If you feel so outraged, hop across the border and sign up yourselves.

So, Parliament has clearly spoken and the Federal Court has weighed in on these kids' side. That's enough for me. If Lard Ass chooses to ignore the court and Parliament, if he insists on being Bush's Monica, I think these kids ought to go underground, disappear. I'd like to think they'd find plenty of Canadians willing to take them in.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Canadians Want Harpo to Clean Up

The Canadian public isn't put off by skyrocketing gas prices, they still want urgent action to combat climate change from their government.

A Canadian Press/Harris Decima poll found Canadians, by a 2-1 margin, want strong action on the environment as a way to find greener, alternative sources of energy.

Gee, given the level of popular support, what could be holding our Furious Leader back? Oh, silly me, I forgot - it's his boss in Washington and their mutual pals better known as Big Oil.

But wait, didn't these guys just agree to a 50% cut in emissions by 2050 at the G8 summit? Of course they did but, then again, they would have as easily promised everyone a tasty hunk of green cheese from the moon by 2050 if only they'd been asked.

Iraq Wants American Pullout Timetable

Barack says "soon," McSame says "sometime, maybe" but that's not good enough for the Iraqi government.

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki wants a fixed date for the withdrawal of American forces and he wants it enshrined in the "status of forces" agreement now being negotiated between Baghdad and Washington. From the Associated Press:

"Maliki said in a meeting with Arab diplomats in Abu Dhabi that his country also has proposed a short-term interim memorandum of agreement rather than the more formal status of forces agreement the two sides have been negotiating.
The memorandum "now on the table" includes a formula for the withdrawal of US troops, he said.

"The goal is to end the presence [of foreign troops]," Maliki said."

But, but, but... what about those 58-military bases the Pentagon is planning to operate in Iraq (30-already exist, 28-new installations to be built), and that Vatican-sized US embassy? And what about all that oil? Yeah, that's right, the oil.

McCain still can't bring himself to say the "w" word - withdrawal. All his spokesman offered up was that the senator "has always said that conditions on the ground - including the security threats posed by extremists and terrorists, and the ability of Iraqi forces to meet those threats - would be key determinants in US force levels." Read between the lines and you get "we're not going anywhere."

Meanwhile Afghanisnam is quickly turning into a regional conflict. Kabul is blaming yesterday's suicide bombing of the Indian embassy as the work of Pakistan's wily intelligence agency, the ISI. India has long worked in Afghanistan, not so much out of concern for the Afghans, but to get at Pakistan. There's nothing India would like better than a Kabul government truly at odds with Islamabad. There's been no proof yet that the Pakistanis were actually behind the embassy attack but it wouldn't be surprising either.

G8 Chiefs Agree to 50% Emissions Cuts by 2050

The Devil is, of course, in the details but the G8 leaders have reached an agreement to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The deal, while unexpected, is replete with "ifs," "ands" and "buts" conditions that leave the committments far from certain. At worst the deal may be merely window dressing. From The Guardian:

The Japanese prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, praised the deal, but added: "Needless to say, we cannot achieve the long-term goal without contributions from other major emitters."

"At tomorrow's major economies' meeting, I would like to call for their cooperation," he said.

Fukuda's hedging suggests that Canada, the U.S. and Japan still see their obligations as dependent on equal levels of cuts by China and India which brings us right back to the same old deadlock.

It's also unclear whether any of the Reluctant Three are willing to adopt hard caps without which the targets may be meaningless.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Louise Arbour - the New York Times' Take

In the crusty minds of those like Vic Toews, Louise Arbour is a "disgrace" but the non-befuddled world sees her in a much different light. The Times article notes that her tenure as the UN's Human Rights Commissioner has been tumultuous:

"...Ms. Arbour’s forthright views have angered many governments and interest groups. This year, Zimbabwe’s justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, said Ms. Arbour had turned her office into a “deified oracle which spews out edicts we all must follow.” Some supporters of Israel have called her an idiot.

The Bush administration, too, has objected to her frequent complaints about its use of torture, secret arrests and disregard of international law as part of the campaign against terrorism."

India Rolls Out Climate Change Initiatives

The Indian government has unveiled a series of climate change initiatives. The eight point programme focuses on solar energy, enhanced energy efficiency, sustainable habitats, water conservation, sustaining the Himalayan ecosystem, developing a 'green' India, sustainable agriculture and building a strategic knowledge platform on climate change.

Yada, yada, yada - good luck with that. But what about greenhouse gas emissions? Well, there's the rub.

India won't commit to GHG caps except to assure us that per capita emissions in India won't exceed those of the developed world.

Relax. For India and China to get to North American carbon footprint levels we'd need about three times the maximum sustainable energy our environmentally besieged planet can produce. Since that is a geological impossibility, we can see that assurance for what it is - telling the developed world to take their racist carbon policies and shove them.

Not Like They Didn't Have It Coming

Australia - the untamed Outback, the Great Barrier Reef and some of the busiest coal pits on the planet.

Long on coal, short on oil, Aussie leaders like the munchkin Howard have fought tooth and nail against calls for climate change action. Now, it seems, the hens are coming home to roost.

As you may be aware, Australia has been staggered by a recent, multi-year drought. The Guardian reports on a new Australian study that shows this is only the beginning:

"A new report by Australia's top scientists predicts that the country will be hit by a 10-fold increase in heatwaves and that droughts will almost double in frequency and become more widespread because of climate change.

The scientific projections envisage rainfall continuing to decline in a country that is already one of the hottest and driest in the world. It says that about 50% of the decrease in rainfall in south-western Australia since the 1950s has probably been due to greenhouse gases.

The analysis, commissioned by the government as part of a review of public funding to drought-stricken farmers, was published days after another report, by Professor Ross Garnaut, warned that Australia had to adopt a scheme for trading greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 or face the eventual destruction of sites including the Great Barrier Reef, the wetlands of Kakadu and the nation's food bowl, the Murray-Darling Basin.

Yesterday's report revealed that not only would droughts occur more often but that the area affected would be twice as large as now. The proportion of the country having exceptionally hot years could increase from 5% each year to as much as 95%, according to the projections.

The report says rainfall in Australia has been declining since the 1950s and about half of that decrease is due to climate change. It says the current thresholds for farmers to claim financial assistance are out of date because hotter and drier weather will become the norm."

The report is expected to add pressure for new prime minister Kevin Rudd to act on greenhouse gas emissions. Many Australians who initially supported Rudd's environmental message have recently lost their appetite for strong climate change measures.

Australia may be one of those countries that will write the textbook for how to respond to the challenges of global warming and what lies in store if we don't.

If Not Now, Then When?

Blowhard EnviroMin John Baird warns not to expect any climate change deal coming out of the G8 summit.

Bush and his Yo 'Ho Clone of the North say no deal unless India and China sign on for equal cuts. I've already addressed their highly selective idea of what "equal" means but it ought to be more than enough to ensure that Big Oil isn't given an enviro-wedgie anytime soon.

Leave Bush out of this. He's finished anyway, a washed up malignancy. What about our own? No deal without China and India, eh? Okay then when will we see that kind of deal? How long can we wait? What are we going to do to entice/cajole India and China into a deal to our liking? Where's our carrot and our stick? Better yet, what will be the fallout of insisting on a deal that India and China won't accept?

Bairdo doesn't like getting into these questions. He's quite content to stonewall, depicting India and China as the recalcitrants without ever acknowledging any merit to their "per capita" arguments. Baird would rather throw up a smokescreen any day than clear the air.

The Dumbest Generation?

I'm not much for telephones. I don't like them. In my professional days I was practically tied to a phone but that was business. Other than that (and, I admit, long long-distance chinwags with my Dad), I pretty much consider the telephone something best suited to conveying necessary information with the grace of brevity. Don't get me wrong, I am talkative. I love to talk to people, face to face.

I know I am of my own generation. I know how much technology, value systems and other cultural mores can shift from generation to generation. Although I just got a BlackBerry, I realize that I'm on that slope where I'm no longer keeping up with technology and it seems I'm no longer keeping up faster by the day. Oh well, at least I can fall back on being a curmudgeon.

Whether I'm out on the street or in a mall or any other place where people transit or gather, I'm constantly amazed at the numbers of young people walking along, seemingly oblivious to the world, instead gazing intently at their hands into one of which they've embedded a cell phone. Or, if they're not checking their e-mail or texting someone they seem to have the damned things glued to their ears as they babble on while endlessly staring up into the sky. Not to pick on youth, adults have their own version of this game only it involves an extra element - the internal combustion engine.

What eludes me is who are all these people communicating with so often and what have they really got to say to each other? None of my business? You're absolutely right or at least possibly right but, still, the question needs asking.

The weekend Los Angeles Times ran a review of Mark Bauerlein's book, 'The Dumbest Generation.' Bauerlein, a former director of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts, contends that the internet, far from leading to a more knowledgeable, better educated generation, has actually spawned a generation of dummies.

"In the four minutes it probably takes to read this review, you will have logged exactly half the time the average 15- to 24-year-old now spends reading each day.

...The way Bauerlein sees it, something new and disastrous has happened to America's youth with the arrival of the instant gratification go-go-go digital age. The result is, essentially, a collective loss of context and history, a neglect of "enduring ideas and conflicts." Survey after painstakingly recounted survey reveals what most of us already suspect: that America's youth know virtually nothing about history and politics. And no wonder. They have developed a "brazen disregard of books and reading.

...The problem is that instead of using the Web to learn about the wide world, young people instead mostly use it to gossip about each other and follow pop culture, relentlessly keeping up with the ever-shifting lingua franca of being cool in school. The two most popular websites by far among students are Facebook and MySpace. "Social life is a powerful temptation," Bauerlein explains, "and most teenagers feel the pain of missing out.

"This ceaseless pipeline of peer-to-peer activity is worrisome, he argues, not only because it crowds out the more serious stuff but also because it strengthens what he calls the "pull of immaturity." Instead of connecting them with parents, teachers and other adult figures, "[t]he web . . . encourages more horizontal modeling, more raillery and mimicry of people the same age.'",0,6248930.story

And, of course, when kids can't get behind a laptop they've always got their increasingly sophisticated and capable "mobile devices." The good ones (with web browsers) make it possible for them never to be out of touch with the world of SpaceBook - never, ever.

Until the past decade or two, when kids wanted the companionship of their friends they sought them out. Back then, instead of buying their kids cell phones, parents bought them bicycles. You at least got a chance to know something about your children's friends because they often wound up at your place. How do parents today have any idea with whom their children are really associating?

As I wrote last week, I fear that these technologies are making us smaller, less aware and far less resilient at a time when our world, our societies and we as individuals will be confronted with extremely complex challenges unprecedented in human experience. Decisions will have to be taken and, with them, adjustments of all sorts implemented. Whether we make those decisions or they're simply taken by a chosen few for a chosen few may come down to whether we have an alert and informed populace.

On this last point, I'm not optimistic. I see young people today who have little understanding of our rights and the critical importance of them. Let me give one example. Recent studies have found that young people have a much different view of privacy than was held by previous generations. They don't tend to care very much about government or, for that matter, corporate intrusion into their private lives. Their generation ought to be the strongest voice of outrage but, instead, it stands mute, preoccupied with scanning SpaceBook or text messaging people who may not even matter.

Will there be an awakening, an epiphany among our youth? We can only hope. If not, if they surrender to the technological Soma, we may be in for a Brave New World indeed.

p.s. the photo above is of Morgan Pozgar, the 13-year old who became America's texting champion. Pozgar defeated "West Coast Champion" Eli Tirosh, texting the message: "Supercalifragilisticexpialidoucious! Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious. If you say it loud enough you'll always sound precocious", without abbreviations.

p.p.s. I bought the BlackBerry online, cheap. I got it as a emergency communication system for when I'm motorcycling in the boonies. Beyond that, I have very little use for it, even if I did know how to text message.