Friday, October 31, 2008

I'm With Red

I've thought it over. Red Tory is entirely justified in demanding that Lib4evr be dumped from Liblogs. The only thing remotely liberal in that blog is the first three letters of its title. This character has gone well over the line in comments about RT he allowed to be posted to his blog.

So, if Red's out, I'm out too. And I would urge others to take a stand against this sort of nonsense too.

This is my last post until Lib4evr is gone. Bye.

Dick Sighting

It never pays to get complacent when you've heard nothing about Dick Cheney for a while. The man, who is perhaps the least popular politician to Americans since the Nuremberg trials, still draws breath - sort of.

While Bush spends the last weekend before the US election cloistered away at Camp David, Cheney is planning to attend a "get out the vote" rally in Wyoming where McCain holds a 20-point lead. On election day itself, Cheney will be out shooting something - or someone - to death.

No word yet on whether the Dickster has agreed to hand over his book of spells to the Sorcerer's Apprentice should McCain carry her to veepdom on Tuesday.

Don't Tell Sarah - Man Is Melting the Arctic

This should hardly come as a surprise to anyone but the fundamentalism-blinded governor of America's only Arctic state. A new study by climate scientists has concluded that man-made production of greenhouse gases is definitively linked to warming in the Arctic and Antartic regions. From the Toronto Star:

"Nathan Gillett, who co-wrote the study appearing Thursday in the online journal Nature Geoscience, said they compared four different models using man-made versus naturally occurring factors on temperatures.
"Their stark discovery was that only with the influence of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, could they simulate the warming trend in parts of the remote regions.

"It makes clear that the warming that we're seeing definitely can be linked to human influence in the Arctic and the Antarctic," said Nathan Gillett of the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis at Environment Canada in Victoria.

"We could only explain the warming when we included greenhouse gases and human climate influences."

The carbon lobby immediately countered with - nothing, just as they have for year after year. With supporters as wilfully naive as theirs, the denialists' persistent lack of any credible, peer reviewed research to counter the almost-daily, entirely legitimate research proving global warming isn't embarrassing in the slightest. If should be, but it's not.

"A Vile Smear" - Senator J.S. McCain - the Angry Nut In the Shell

It's too bad it only reaches people who read, but the Washington Post has roundly denounced John "Lowball" McCain's latest attempt to smear Barack Obama over his acquaintance with Rashid Khalidi.

Although Khalidi is a native born American, graduate of Yale and long time professor at the University of Chicago, McCain and his wretched sidekick, are using the incredible power of the bigotry of their supporters to allege that, once again, Obama has been caught palling around with terrorists. Of course it's a lie, of course they know it, and, of course, it works with the two-legged malignancies who crave this garbage.

"We don't agree with a lot of what Mr. Khalidi has had to say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the years, and Mr. Obama has made clear that he doesn't, either. But to compare the professor to neo-Nazis -- or even to Mr. Ayers -- is a vile smear.

"Perhaps unsurprising for a member of academia, Mr. Khalidi holds complex views. In an article published this year in the Nation magazine, he scathingly denounced Israeli practices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and U.S. Middle East policy but also condemned Palestinians for failing to embrace a nonviolent strategy. He said that the two-state solution favored by the Bush administration (and Mr. Obama) was "deeply flawed" but conceded there were also "flaws in the alternatives." Listening to Mr. Khalidi can be challenging -- as Mr. Obama put it in the dinner toast recorded on the 2003 tape and reported by the Times in a detailed account of the event last April, he "offers constant reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases."

"Our sense is that Mr. Obama is a man of considerable intellectual curiosity who can hear out a smart, if militant, advocate for the Palestinians without compromising his own position. To suggest, as Mr. McCain has, that there is something reprehensible about associating with Mr. Khalidi is itself condemnable -- especially during a campaign in which Arab ancestry has been the subject of insults.

"...We did ask Mr. Khalidi whether he wanted to respond to the campaign charges against him. He answered, via e-mail, that "I will stick to my policy of letting this idiot wind blow over." That's good advice for anyone still listening to the McCain campaign's increasingly reckless ad hominem attacks."

It's sad really. John McCain, a man whose stock in trade for decades has been his supposed nobility, chucking it all away to wallow in slime.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Could You Really Vote For a Black Man?

Do you want to find out?

Here's a link to some tests that may show just how likely or unlikely you would be to vote for a guy who looks like Barack Obama.

The Alaskan Anchor Around McCain's Neck

John McCain's blunder, also known as his veep running mate, Sarah Palin, is dragging the Old Geezer down, quite possibly permanently. The Alaska governor hasn't travelled well (as the wine folk say) and the more Americans have come to know her the less they see to like.

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll found 59% of respondents now consider Sarah Palin unfit to serve as vice-president. That's not good news with the election just six days away.

"In a possible indication that the choice of Ms. Palin has hurt Mr. McCain’s image, voters said that they had much more confidence in Mr. Obama to pick qualified people to serve in his administration than they did in Mr. McCain.

"The survey suggested that the historic candidacy of Mr. Obama, who would be the first African-American president if elected, has changed some perceptions of race in America. Nearly two-thirds of those polled said that white and black people have an equal chance of getting ahead in today’s society, up from the half who said that they thought so in July. And while 14 percent still said that most people they know would not vote for a black presidential candidate, a question pollsters often ask to try to gauge bias, the number has dropped considerably since the campaign began. "

You know, he might just smash his way through the racist vote and actually win this thing.

And Thank You for That, Paul Martin

A survey by TD Securities claims to have found that Canada is considered the most solvent country in the world. Pretty cool, eh? From The Globe & Mail:

Chief strategist Eric Lascelles examined credit default swap data for 25 countries, and found markets believe there is only the slimmest of chances that Canada would ever default on its obligations.

Canada is now regarded as quite possibly the world's safest sovereign country in terms of the solvency of the country's government,” Mr. Lascelles said in a research note.

“Since it is the government that is generally called upon to fix major problems that crop up, this suggests that the market does not expect major problems out of the broader Canadian economy and financial sector.”

Sovereign credit default swaps are the market's way of putting a number on the chances of a government defaulting on its debt. Canada's five-year CDS levels are at 13 basis points, which is less than half the rating given to second-place Germany, at 33 points. The United States is at 38 points, while Spain is at 93 and Korea is at 561.

And to think all of us, even Stephen Harper, owe it all to Mr. Dithers, Paul Martin.

What Are They Smoking at the Toronto Star?

That was my initial reaction when I read Murray Brewster's piece on Afghanistan, "Taliban Jack" No Longer Alone.

After effusively praising Jack Layton for introducing the entire planet to the idea of negotiating with the Taliban even though both the Brits and Karzai were parlaying with the insurgency before Jack ever breathed a word of it, Brewster went on to make some remarkable claims about the mission.

He talked about a "battlefield strategy" that is "part of an evolving counter-insurgency doctrine" by Western military leaders in Afghanistan. Strategy? That's rich. And it's heartwarming to realize that we actually have a "counter-insurgency doctrine" where none has been evident before. Is everyone rushing off for talks with the Taliban a counter-insurgency doctrine? Well, there's nothing else so I guess, to Mr. Brewster, that must be it.

The scary thing is what if Brewster's right? What if this is our battlefield strategy, our counter-insurgency doctrine? Oh dear.

George Will Drops a Stinker in McCain's Lap

Conservative columnist George Will doesn't think much of John McCain but the contempt in which he holds his fellow Republican may have hit a new peak:

And If He Doesn't Win?

If Barack Obama doesn't win next Tuesday, I'll be okay with that. I'll take it for what it is and, to me, that's at least another eight to twelve years in darkness. America and the world will have a president who's lost his marbles and a veep who was never very heavy on that score to begin with.

We, as in all of us, haven't got an awful lot of time left to see some traction on the really pressing issues of the day and you can be damned sure that the "drill, baby, drill" camp isn't going to make anything happen. Whatever cojones McCain had going into this campaign are now neatly preserved in the same jar as the cojones of the pre-Palin mayor of Wassila and the pre-Palin governor of Alaska, both of whom learned the hard way the lesson about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.

I believe that our planet absolutely needs progressive leadership in Washington of a very high order. We, the world, need America fully engaged in the pressing issues of the day, all of them, not one here and one there. We face critical security issues. We face critical environmental issues, a lot of them and not limited to just global warming. We face critical energy issues. We face critical population issues and critical food supply issues. We face critical economic and social issues.

We face such an array of issues, all of them critical, all demanding effective response, that it would make any leader's head spin if they were tackled individually. But they're all to some degree, often to a remarkably large degree, interrelated and in that may just lie the answer.

Precisely because there's so much overlap, such a degree of commonality and interrelation in these problems, it may be possible to define a set of core principles to guide the resolution of each in a manner that is coherent, complimentary and even synergistic to all the others. In other words, if we have a solution to problem "A", the answer to problem "B" may be sufficiently similar in principle as to be mutually reinforcing with the "A" answer. The operative word there is, of course, "principle."

One of the main reasons we've landed ourselves in this mess is our reluctance during the "greed is good" era to accept principles of broad, even mass application to guide us not just for a year or two but for decades, generations even. That's precisely how we now find ourselves beset on all sides by generational problems, challenges for which effective responses will have to be generational in scope.

Let me explain. In much of the world we've fished out the oceans. We have so overfished as to bring stocks to exhaustion, in some cases to the verge of extinction. It's a problem of enormous proportions that impacts adversely on other problems we're facing and it admits of just two responses. One option is to do nothing which will pretty much complete the devastation now so far advanced. The other option is to enact policies to sharply limit our predation of endangered stocks and permit their recovery. That just doesn't happen in a few years or even in a decade. It's a generational challenge that's chock full of problems and pitfalls that will have to be overcome.

We need policies that acknowledge the problem and identify the resolution, the objective to be achieved. From that can flow a series of principles that will, for generations, shape policy and the inevitable changes in policy that occur over time. Principles that encompass both adaptive and remedial measures.

We might prefer a steak or chicken, but large swathes of the world are utterly dependent on fish as their source of protein. Unless you want them camping in your backyard, you have to recognize their needs, their reality and make it part of your own. We have to find ways to get more fish to these people and there's a lot we can do right now. We can stop enormously destructive bottom trawls. We can begin to tackle the by-catch problem. It's no longer acceptable to rely on fishery techniques that waste a ton of fish in order to catch a hundred pounds of an allowable species.

Look at the arms races underway right now - in China, in India, Russia and America. Do we really think that China and India can't find a better use for the resources they're pouring into new submarines, aircraft carriers, combat aircraft, nuclear weaponry and missiles? Do we really think that advancing our interests by setting countries up as strategic, military rivals is somehow going to enhance our ability to get the essential cooperation we need from them on challenges such as overpopulation and global warming? Are we mad? Did we learn nothing from the past half century about the risks, dangers and profligate waste of resources inevitable in arms races and cold wars?

What about Islamist extremism? Is it better to just keep swatting away at something we're not going to defeat or, instead, to find out what's driving moderate Muslims to give the extremists the support without which they cannot function? Why do we support oppressive, undemocratic regimes like Mubarak's in Egypt that drive moderates in frustration into the arms of their only alternative, the Islamists? Are we stupid? Do we not want to solve this problem or at least shrink it where we can? What do we get out of it by not yanking the rug out from beneath the feet of terrorists? Believe it or not, there is an answer to that.

It's pretty clear to me that we have to resuscitate some of the values our great grandparents understood, values that somehow got discarded as quaint and ridiculous. Foremost among them is posterity, shaping the world today for the benefit of generations to follow. We've done an astonishing job at making the future worse, wouldn't it be grand (my long-departed granny's favourite word) if we focused instead on making the future better, of at least undoing some of the damage we've bequeathed to those generations to come?

I sure hope Obama wins on Tuesday and I sure hope that he is the leader that America, and the world, so badly need right now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama Live on Daily Show Tonight

For those of you who might not have heard, Barack Obama is making a live appearance on The Daily Show tonight. It's going to be a video-link interview.

Good for the Soul - Another Republican Falls to Hate-Based Blowback

The Republicans have been in power in too many places for far too long. It's made them say the most stupid, hateful things and they're starting to pay the price for it.

In keeping with the theme underlying the McCain-Palin campaign, North Carolina congressman Robin Hayes sought to warm up the crowd for a McCain campaign rally with this zinger:

"Liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God."

Hayes later denied he'd said any such thing - until the tapes came out. When he shot himself in the foot, the incumbent Republican was five points ahead of his Democratic rival. Oopsie! Hayes Democratic opponent now leads 51-46.

The Best Way to Fight Terrorism

Terrorism is a crime. It's not an act of war, it's a crime.

When terrorism is treated as a crime, something to be dealt with by law enforcement working with security services, results happen. The key is sleuthing, not bombing.

Ask Momin Khawaja, the Canadian foreign affairs department computer tech, who's now facing life behind bars after being convicted, in Ottawa, of five terrorism charges. Evidence adduced at his trial showed that Khawaja was an Islamist extremist who joined forces with likeminded villains in England. He agreed to produce 30-bomb detonators for his chums.

It was police work that brought Khawaja down and a criminal justice system that's put him behind bars for what may well be the remainder of his natural life.

It's not often mentioned, but when it comes to thwarting al-Qaeda, the FBI and the CIA have been vastly more successful than the Pentagon.

Have Your Say

Half a million people can't be wrong. Go here to have your say on next Tuesday's election.

The Delusional Warrior

The world really doesn't need this guy in the White House

Cannibalizing Earth

Another report today on the state of man's ecological deficit. What's that? It's the rate at which we're depleting our planet's renewable resources faster than they can be replenished. That doesn't sound possible, does it? Well it is.

We have an ecological deficit. It's everywhere. You can see it from space. It comes in the form of deforestation, the rapid loss of our planet's forests. It comes in the form of desertification, the transformation of once arable (farmable) land into desert wasteland. It comes in our rapidly emptying seas where we've exhausted fish stocks. It even comes underground in the ancient freshwater aquifers we've been voraciously draining.

If you've got a cow you rely upon for milk, you're not doing yourself any favours if you begin chewing the flesh off its bones. You're going to kill the cow, aren't you? Once it's dead and you've finished off the meat, you're not going to have meat or milk, are you?

A new report out today, the Living Planet study of just how well we're doing with earth's renewables. Full points if you guessed "not good." The report is the joint effort of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) based in Geneva, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network based in Oakland, Calif. From CBC News:

Demands on natural resources overreach what the Earth can sustain by almost a third, the report says, adding that people are drawing — and often overdrawing — on the agricultural land, forests, seas and resources of other countries to sustain them, it adds.

"If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles," said James Leape, international director general of the WWF.

Now here's a little something to chew on. It was only a few years ago that we figured we had until 2050 to reach the point of consuming two planets-worth of resources. That's just been moved up by about 15-years.

The report claims that three-quarters of mankind live in countries where consumption is outstripping environmental renewal. Let's see, that'd be just shy of five billion people. And it's not just the poor countries that make the list.

Even the United States is facing a looming freshwater crisis. Normally arid parts of the U.S. have been transformed into agricultural powerhouses thanks to acquifer irrigation - that is pumping groundwater to the surface. Think about places that used to be arid, prairie grassland like Kansas. The problem is they've been pumping ground water at rates up to ten times their acquifers' recharge rates. That means pumping out ten barrels of water for every barrel of rainwater that makes its way back in. Do the math, it's a suckers' bet. And yet they're still filling artificial lakes around Las Vegas casinos. Mind-boggling.

There's the great Colorado River that supplies water to much of the southwest. So important is the Colorado that decades ago the neighbours signed a treaty defining which state got how much. Something like 20% was supposed to be left for the Mexicans. Guess what? The Colorado no longer flows into Mexico and the US states are at each others' throats over what remains.

Madness? Of course it is. Sheer madness and it's a mental infirmity that's rapidly becoming the norm around the world.

An Idea Whose Time has Come?

Trust the French. They've come up with an idea to vent frustrations over their country's rightwing demagogue, Nick Sarkozy. It's a voodoo doll. From The Guardian:

A Nicolas Sarkozy voodoo doll that became a bestselling cult classic when the president tried to have it banned is to remain on sale after a French court threw out the case today.

A judge ruled that Nicolas Sarkozy: The Voodoo Manual, which features a doll, a set of pins and a book explaining how to put the evil eye on the president, fell within the boundaries of "free expression" and the "right to humour".

With recession staring Canadians in the face there might soon be a lot more of us looking to fill some time. Wouldn't a Stevie doll be just the thing?

May I Have Your Autograph, Please, Mr. Taliban?

The next thing you know they'll be on The View or maybe even Oprah.

Pakistan is talking to them, so is Afghanistan. The Saudis are always up for a chat with them. The Brits have exchanged pleasantries. Canada thinks it's not a bad idea that someone talks with them and now even the Americans are toying with the idea of having them over for tea.

The Terrors of the Khyber Pass are the most popular bunch in town these days. Everybody wants to make nice. But wait, these are the insurgents, the bad guys, the widowmakers of Kandahar. Aren't we supposed to be talking to them across open sights?

Welcome to the era of "if you can't beat'em, try something, anything else." Everybody is trying to find some deal sweet enough that even an Islamist fundamentalist can't refuse.

Imagine what it must be like to be a Taliban leader these days. You have to decide which invitations you're going to accept (presumably the ones with the best swag), what to wear, what hat goes with which shoes - these are tough things for a jihadi mountain man.

Now the trick is to always negotiate from a position of strength. Oh, that might be a problem for our side. You can't find an American or NATO general these days willing to say we can beat them. They used to say that - a lot - they said it for years - and years - but no more, sigh. Now that they've decided it's better for their careers to change course, it's no longer just a military problem, no, no, no. Now it's a political problem. In fact you just might notice that, when it comes to sitting down with these guys, there's not a general to be seen from our side. No, that would be rude.

So, if you're going to sell a deal, you have to have a deal to sell. We know they're not bringing any deals to us. We're the offeror, they're the offeree. What have we got that they want? What do they want? What do they have that we want?

It's obvious that we'd be happy if they stopped blowing up our convoys and shooting at people. We want them to "stop." To make sure they don't start again, we'd like them to integrate into the political structure of Afghanistan and of Pakistan. It would help no end if there was a viable political structure in either Afghanistan or Pakistan but you have to play the cards you're dealt. I mean, let's be realistic. What would you pay for a piece of the action at Hamid Karzai's table? Probably even less than it's worth and that's hard to do when it's worthless.

Reality sets in. We know we're not going to land any sweetheart deals with the Taliban so we'll leave that futile chinwag up to the Afghan, Pakistani and Saudi governments. What we want is to focus on the supposedly less-extreme parts of the Taliban, persuade them to defect. We'll set them up on Easy Street and that will lure even more to come over. This way we'll hollow out the insurgency.

It sounds like a plan - a very, very bad plan. To begin with, you never, ever let the other side know they've got the upper hand. You don't let on that they're winning. Well, that horse is already out of the barn. If we can't control the insurgency - and we can't - we can't protect defectors, or their families, from retribution. The Taliban doesn't get its support from playing nice, we know that. Given that the insurgents have already infiltrated the government and the police and the army, where's a defector to hide?

"Too many cooks." The Saudis and Afghans and Pakistanis are talking with the Taliban Head Office boys. If we Infidels start messing about with the Branch Office types, how well do you think that's going to go down with the Taliban board of directors?

The Talibs have always said they would negotiate but only after US and NATO forces leave. Do we have some reason to believe they're bluffing, that they'll settle for less? If we don't, we're in an "A" or "B" situation and if we can't break that, we'll eventually have to accept it. We've pretty much known that all along. That's the whole idea about establishing a strong, central government supported by a well-trained, well-equipped army. Now, if we were succeeding on the government thing and the army thing, we wouldn't be talking about negotiations, would we? Of course not. We'd have them sew on their brigade patches, hand them the keys to the armoury and di di mau right out of there. Oops, sorry for the Vietnam reference.

No, my take on all these negotiations is that they're a tacit admission of defeat, even fear. We haven't done what we said we'd do when we went in there seven years ago. We haven't even held the line. We haven't succeeded on a single front over there, not one. Now we're in a dilemma. The Taliban are not only resurgent in Afghanistan, able to operate pretty much as they chose wherever they chose, but they're also destabilizing our key ally next door, Pakistan. And we don't have anything in our fabulous, state-of-the-art bag of tricks to make it go away.

What would success from these negotiations look like? I figure if we could somehow get the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda, that would be victory beyond what we deserve. We've spent the last seven years driving them into the arms of al-Qaeda so undoing what we've wrought would be a Herculean task. Still, al-Qaeda is an Arab outfit. It's not Pashtun or Hazara or Uzbek or Tajik or Turkmen or Kurd or any of the other ethnic players in the region. They're foreigners in a land that doesn't particularly like foreigners. That may be enough to tip the scales.

Getting out of Afghanistan isn't going to be pretty, no matter how these talks turn out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

There are Pols, and There are Pols - A Giggle

Harper's Dilemma

Inheriting a government with a balanced budget, a solid economy and big surpluses is a pretty sweet deal. Ideology doesn't matter much when the good times are rolling.

Facing the prospect of having to govern in a recession with a big unemployment problem and government deficits is something else altogether. That's where ideology comes into play and where it can truly make or break a minority government.

Dealing with a nation in trouble doesn't come naturally to Stephen Harper. In hard times, Canadians expect you to govern from the left. They begin to worry about themselves and their kids and their neighbours and how everyone is going to get by.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study released yesterday couldn't be clearer. 96% of the 2,000 surveyed want the government to move, now, to protect their jobs. Four in ten believe they're just one to two paycheques away from poverty. 90% want government action to reduce poverty.

There's the dilemma for Stephen Harper. Social spending goes against his grain. He's defunded the government so that he'll have to go into deficit if he has to introduce recession relief programmes. And yet the Canadian public won't be thinking of that 2-cent GST cut when they're feeling vulnerable and a right-wing, doctrinaire government doesn't meet their expectations.

Right now no one knows what's in store for Canada, how bad the fallout from the American meltdown is going to get. Steve has already committed billions to bail out Canadian banks and the insurance industry is looking for a bailout too. If Steve "spreads the wealth" around the financial sector but doesn't come through for the populace, he may be writing his own pink slip.

China's One PerCent Solution

Beijing has named China's price for getting serious about greenhouse gas emissions. It wants the "developed nations" to allocate 1% of their GDP to a fund to help poor nations fight global warming. China is also demanding that the industrialized nations commit to a transfer of green technology to less advanced states, presumably including China.

China's "you first" gambit doesn't come as a huge surprise. They've been arguing all along it was up to the industrialized nations to commit to cutting carbon emissions before expecting the developing nations (i.e. China and India) to follow suit.

The Chinese announcement is pretty specific on what it wants from the Western world but it's also extremely vague on what China will commit to do in exchange and how it will deliver on any promises it may make.

From the lead toy scandal to the melamine-tainted food scandal, the world has seen that Beijing doesn't have its own house in order. How does the central government think it can enforce its promises to cut carbon emissions?

When it comes to China, there's a huge and well-deserved confidence issue. It'll be interesting to see how the Chinese attempt to overcome that hurdle.

McCain Scores New Endorsement - al Qaeda's

McCain may not "pal around" with them but he's the president of choice for al-Qaeda.

The story surfaced a couple of days ago that a password-protected web site known as a vehicle for the Islamist terrorists has openly endorsed John McCain as their choice for the next president of the USA.

Why McCain? Because George w. Bush has been the best thing that every happened to al-Qaeda and McCain is the candidate most likely to repeat every Bush blunder. They need each other, it's as simple as that.

Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times notes that the al-Qaeda endorsement of McCain comes as no surprise to the experts:

"...the endorsement of Mr. McCain by a Qaeda-affiliated Web site isn’t a surprise to security specialists. Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism director, and Josephy Nye, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, have both suggested that Al Qaeda prefers Mr. McCain and might even try to use terror attacks in the coming days to tip the election to him.

“From their perspective, a continuation of Bush policies is best for recruiting,” said Professor Nye, adding that Mr. McCain is far more likely to continue those policies.

An American president who keeps troops in Iraq indefinitely, fulminates about Islamic terrorism, inclines toward military solutions and antagonizes other nations is an excellent recruiting tool. In contrast, an African-American president with a Muslim grandfather and a penchant for building bridges rather than blowing them up would give Al Qaeda recruiters fits."

The Only Way Out of Afghanistan

Is a national army viable in a country that is riven with tribalism?

Rivalries are endemic in tribalism. Afghanistan has five main tribes - the Pashtun (including Balochs), Uzbek, Tajik, Turkmen and Hazara along with a smattering of Kurds and a few others. They represent a diverse patchwork of ethnicities - Persian, Oriental, South Asian - vestiges of centuries of war and conquest. The tribes, in turn, are organized around the authority of warlords who, during the Soviet and Taliban eras, operated some pretty powerful militias. These are people and leaders steeped in civil strife and armed conflict.

How can a national army be any more viable than the national government it serves? History shows it can't and history also shows that, in the absence of a viable national government, some militaries have stepped into that power vacuum to take control themselves. South Vietnam, Pakistan, Central and South America, the list goes on.

In Afghanistan, we're counting on the creation of a sufficiently large, adequately trained, effective Afghan National Army as our way out of that place. That is our only exit strategy.

So just how is the ANA doing seven years after the Taliban was sent packing? NATO commanders say when they get the Afghan army in the field, they're not bad at all. Beyond that, we don't hear much about the ANA.

In the early years, the Afghan National Army was plagued with high desertion rates. No one knows what the desertion situation is now because that information is no longer given out. A story in yesterday's Toronto Star pointed out that the Taliban are now using bribery to fuel desertion and undermine the Afghan army. "...U.S. and Canadian mentors complain privately about the slovenly appearance and lack of discipline among soldiers in the Afghan army. There are also complaints about petty theft, mistreatment and infiltration of the army by Taliban spies."

An immediate concern is the state of the central government in Kabul. Despite the assistance provided by NATO and the US military, Hamid Karzai has been a dismal failure at extending the government's control much beyond the capital. That creates power vacuums throughout the countryside that, as expected, are being filled by various ne'er-do-wells. Forget the Taliban, how is the central government going to dislodge these other rivals?

Even the wardrum-beating National Post has finally caught on to the state of affairs in Kandahar. Yesterday the paper reported that the Taliban have established a parallel government that operates pretty much throughout Kandahar as they please.

It's always been my view that nothing we did in Afghanistan could make any real difference unless and until there was a viable central government in Kabul. A country needs a backbone and, in this case, it's struggling without one. Training an army is a great idea - if it has an effective government to serve. What if it doesn't? With the insurgency growing and new groups joining in with the Taliban, I don't think we're going to have to wait too long to see how long the Afghan army can function in a political vacuum.

Another War in Iraq?

The world is abuzz with rumours of impending war between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs. The International Crisis Group has come forward with a suggested settlement that would see the Kurds suspend their claims on Kirkuk for a decade in exchange for exclusive rights to the oil reserves in their region.

The New York Times reports that American commanders fear that a mission now underway in Mosul, "could degenerate into a larger battleground over the fragile Iraqi state itself."

"The problems are old but risk spilling out violently here and now. The central government in Baghdad has sent troops to quell the insurgency here, while also aiming at what it sees as a central obstacle to both nationhood and its own power: the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north and the Kurds’ larger ambitions to expand areas under their control.

"The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is squeezing out Kurdish units of the Iraqi Army from Mosul, sending the national police and army from Baghdad and trying to forge alliances with Sunni Arab hard-liners in the province, who have deep-seated feuds with the Kurdistan Regional Government led by Massound Barzani."

...the American military has already settled on a policy that may set a precedent, as the United States slowly withdraws to allow Iraqis to settle their own problems. If the Kurds and Iraqi government forces fight, the American military will “step aside,” General Thomas said, rather than “have United States servicemen get killed trying to play peacemaker.”

It's hard to imagine how the US military would react if it had to get involved. It's notionally obliged to support the government, that would be Maliki's Arabs, but Washington's closest allies in Iraq are the Kurds.

The real thorn in Maliki's side is the city of Kirkuk and the oil-riches in its vicinity. The Kurds are claiming Kirkuk as part of their territory. Referenda to settle the issue have been scheduled and postponed at least twice.

The seeds of Arab/Kurd unrest were sown in the constitution of the Kurdish Autonomous Region written with the assistance of American foreign service expert, Peter Galbraith, back when Saddam was in charge. In the wake of Saddam's removal, the Kurds threw their constitution in the face of the provisional administration of Bremer as a "done deal." Eventually the Kurds succeeded in forcing Baghdad to incorporate the Kurdish constitution into the Iraqi constitution. There it's been sitting, a ticking time bomb, ever since.

The International Crisis Group warns, "The most likely alternative to an agreement is a new outbreak of violent strife over unsettled claims in a fragmented polity governed by chaos and fear."

For those either so ill-informed, unaware or completely gullible - your surge really didn't bring peace to Iraq. No, it didn't settle anything, nothing. There was just a temporary lull in the mayhem as the parties went on about their business and prepared for what they saw coming. That goes for Maliki and his Badr Organization, Sadr and his Mahdi Army, the Sunni and their insurgent militias, the Kurds and their Peshmerga. It took a pretty infantile outlook on Iraq to believe that the Bush surge had accomplished anything.

I think it was Joe Biden who endorsed a "3-state" solution for Iraq and was mocked for it by John "Victory" McCain. In fact, if you understand the issue of the Kurdish constitution and its major, unresolved inconsistencies with the Iraqi constitution, the 3-state solution is actually the default option. Just don't tell the Old Geezer, it would break his heart.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I Oughta Be Rich, Insanely Rich

I oughta be rich right now, a multimillionaire at least, maybe even a billionaire. I oughta be basking in comfort and luxury, having to worry about whether I would spend next week at my beachfront villa on Maui or my suite in Rio. Hmmm, decisions, decisions.

If only someone had told me a few years back that, for just pennies on the dollar, I could buy a bet, at 20 to one odds no less, that the US housing bubble would burst. Imagine, a "bubble" bursting? Just like every bubble before it has burst? What are the chances?

So I buy the ultimate no-lose bet for just pennies on the dollar and reap an insane windfall when one morning I get up and discover that, golly gee, the housing bubble has burst.

But no one ever came to my door asking if I'd be interested in picking up a few Credit Default Swaps. I didn't receive any flyers offering to let me win big by betting that the American housing bubble would burst. Not even any telephone solicitations.

Hell, I'd never even heard of Credit Default Swaps until I saw Steve Croft explain how the damned things are at the heart of the American financial meltdown that's bringing recession to every industrialized nation on the planet.

Now these Credit Default Swaps are just a decriminalized form of grand larceny. In fact, until McCain cronie and sometime economic advisor Phil Gramm used his position as then Chairman of the senate banking committee to introduce and push through a law that literally pulled America's pants down around its knees and pushed it right over a barrel, these bogus insurance side bets were very much illegal. Why they were big time, felony illegal.

Maybe that's why we didn't hear of Credit Default Swaps until the meltdown. I figure they were just for "insiders." I mean they were too good to be real and, if the public had known that someone was fool enough to take bets against a bubble bursting, the demand for them would have been so great and widespread that the whole house of cards would have collapsed as fast as it went up.

No, there's no doubt about it. Credit Default Swaps, even though they had been decriminalized, still had to be treated as though they were criminal. They still had to be done under the table, very much on the Q.T. Lowlife like you and me would have killed this Golden Goose.

I visited a pretty credible site today that listed several categories of these CDSs that came to a grand total of - wait for it - just under SIX HUNDRED TRILLION DOLLARS. 60 Minutes only had them pegged at sixty trillion greenbacks but I'm now told that real estate assets were sometimes leveraged up to thirty times their value. Say what? Well that's how America's housing stock, which in 2006 was valued at just over $20-trillion all in, could be parlayed into $600-trillion of securitized side bets.

You see, you didn't have to actually hold the dodgy securitized mortgage to bet against it, to get a Credit Default Swap/Insurance contract. Anybody could bet on it, the more the merrier. That's how this monster grew. Thirty, fifty, hundreds of people who realized that the wiring was faulty could take out fire insurance on the same house. When it predictably burned to the ground, there were thirty, fifty, hundreds of policies to pay. Weird, ain't it?

It's much too late to get in on this scam. That came to an end with the subprime mortgage crisis/housing bubble crisis/Wall Street liquidity crisis-driven US meltdown turned global meltdown.

But wouldn't you love to know just who was in on it? Wouldn't it be great to get the names of everyone in the Bush administration, immediate relatives included, and every member of Congress, immediate relatives included, and every major political contributor, immediate relatives included, who did dabble in the Dark Arts of Credit Default Swaps?

You see, you can't have larceny without thieves. And I suspect that the more we know about who got in on this gravy train and how, the more obvious it is going to be that this was a hell of a lot more than just greed-driven Wall Street adventurism. This reeks of culpability. It screams of an organized effort to fleece the financial sector worldwide.

Remember, these people are still standing in line, awaiting their windfall, wage-earner taxpayer-funded handouts. If the taxpayers are going to fund it, they should at least get a look at who's raking in the loot. That, I think, will put this villainy in a brand new light and I'm guessing that will make my proposition that these Credit Default Swaps simply be wiped off the books, declared null and void, seem pretty reasonable.

It's time to name names.

Obama Would-Be Assassins Nabbed

I guess it's begun.

Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have arrested two Tennessee men alleged to be plotting to assassinate Barack Obama. From Reuters:

Law enforcement arrested two men in Tennessee who had plans to rob a gun dealer to shoot Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and "as many non-Caucasians" as possible, an official said on Monday.

An official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said police found the men in the Jackson, Tennessee area with a number of guns, including a sawed-off shotgun, in their car.

"They wanted to go to a place where they could shoot as many non-Caucasian as they could," the official said, noting that the men first planned to rob a gun dealer. "They also had a plot to assassinate Sen. Obama."

Four in Ten Canadians Fear Imminent Poverty

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has released a poll showing that 39% of Canadians believe they're but one or two paycheques away from poverty.

From CTV News:

Pollster Environics surveyed 2,023 Canadians for the left-of-centre think tank. It found that Canadians are almost unanimous in their call for governments to protect their jobs.

"A shocking 96 per cent are saying 'Do something about investing in jobs and skills (and) training right now. Don't wait until there are better balanced budgets,'" CCPA senior economist Armine Yalnizyan told CTV's Canada AM on Monday.

The CCPA poll found that:

39 per cent of Canadians think they're just one or two paycheques from poverty
47 per cent struggle with personal debt regardless of income
44 per cent worry about having enough to retire comfortably
26 per cent say they are worse off than a decade ago

"The interesting thing about the poll is that Canadians looked beyond their own pocketbook issues and said ... that governments need to step up to the plate, too," Yalnizyan said.

She said Canadians look at Scandinavian and European countries' focus on poverty reduction and say, "Why can't we do that here?"

According to the survey:

90 per cent want the government to take leadership to reduce poverty
86 per cent believe concrete government action can greatly reduce poverty
81 per cent support reducing poverty by at least 25 per cent over the next five years.

Well, if our Furious Leader, Stevo, is looking for a mandate, there's one for him. 96% is one helluva mandate, Steve.

Curious that so many Canadians are looking to those awful "Northern European welfare states" isn't it Steve?

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens - Guilty as Charged

The New York Times reports that Alaska senator Ted Stevens has been found guilty of lying about gifts he received, including major house renovations, from an Alaskan oil contractor.

According to the paper, Stevens was convicted on all seven counts of making false statements on senate financial disclosure documents.

Nick Stern - Global Warming Worse than US Meltdown

Former top British treasury economist, Sir Nicholas Stern, has issued a blunt warning that the consequences of ignoring climate change far outweigh the global financial meltdown now entrancing our governments.

"The risk consequences of ignoring climate change will be very much bigger than the consequences of ignoring risks in the financial system. ...That's a very important lesson, tackle risk early," Stern told a climate and carbon conference in Hong Kong.

Most governments badly affected by the meltdown are looking to the tried and tested solution of major capital programme spending to kickstart their flagging economies (my take on this is in an earlier post, "Spending like there IS a Tomorrow"). Stern is adding his voice to the growing choir of those advocating that government use this as an opportunity to advance clean technology:

"The lesson that we can draw out from this recession, is that you can boost demand in the best way possible by focusing on low carbon growth in future," Stern said, including greater public spending on mass public transport, energy and green technologies."

A Message to the Grand Old Party

My dear Republicans.

When this is over it would be a good time to clean house. Time for the grownups to take back the Grand Old Party. It's supposed to be a conservative party in what may just be the most conservative country in the industrialized world. Conservative, as in conserve, as in preserve.

First things first. From now on, "political freak of nature" won't be an acceptable credential for high office. You've had Bush II, you've had Sarah Palin, you've had it. What have you got, 60, maybe 80-million citizens who consider themselves Republican? They're not all bozos, they're not all incurious, they're not all rabid ideologues.

You really have to stop pissing in the gene pool. Your anti-intellectualism, this absolute phobia about "elites," is transforming Republican leadership into a carnival sideshow. You don't have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find genuine, patriotic Americans.

Being well-educated, well-informed and highly accomplished shouldn't blacklist a person from the top spots. Understand that your party needs a leader who doesn't bite when some swindler tells him that deficits don't matter or who isn't gullible enough to believe that you can topple a dictator and be in and out in under 90-days at a cost of less than $60-billion. You need a leader who understands that the only thing worse than 'tax and spend' politics is 'spend and borrow' politics.

Speaking of taxes, try to find a leader who understands what taxes mean to effective government. Maybe you can find one who grasps what Oliver Wendell Holmes meant when he said, "I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization." There must be someone on the GOP shortlist who recognizes that governments need to spend on some things but shouldn't spend on others like endless wars of whim, especially when they're spending borrowed money.

Above all else, find someone who doesn't absolutely cleave to the mysticism of the American myth. Being the first at something is great but it doesn't permanently endow you with exceptionalism. Go for reality, it won't bite. And for Christ's sake get religion out of government.

So run along now, you've got some cleaning to do and some trash to take out. Actually, you've got a lot of trash to take out.

The NRA Sends Its Condolences

Who in his right f..@king mind would let an 8-year old blast away with an Uzi? Well how about a "certified firearms instructor" in attendance at yesterday's Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo at the Westfield Sportsman's Club in Westfield, Mass.

The 8-year old - as in eight years old - kid was handed a loaded, submachine gun to blaze away downrange. Blame Sir Isaac Newton and his damned Third Law, the one about "equal and opposite reaction." When you fire a handgun, it kicks back and up. When you fire a handheld submachine gun, it wants to keep kicking back and further up and up.

That's what happened. The youngster didn't or couldn't let go of the trigger and the weapon kept recoiling upward until a bullet found the child's head.

Whatever Happened to the "Shawinigan Handshake"?

So, it's cost the taxpayer $30-million dollars to protect Stephen Harper since he took office in 2006. Sounds like a lot but without figures for previous prime ministers who can tell?

Still, what about the days, not that long ago, when you could count on a prime minister to handle at least some of his own security? Maybe Jean Chretien could give Steve a few lessons in the manly arts. Lord knows he could use them.

Wipe Credit Default Swaps Off the Books

I learned something new on 60 Minutes last night about Credit Default Swaps, those nasty, unregulated mortgage default insurance contracts that are the disease behind the global financial meltdown.

At first I had the impression that these were insurance contracts that Wall Street used to convince prospective customers to buy its toxic securities - securitized mortgages, derivatives, bundled bad debt. Okay, I'm not really sure what it is I'm buying so I want insurance. That makes sense and it's Wall Street's fault for selling insurance when they had no means, no assets to honour those committments when the bottom fell out.

But there's more, a lot more. These Credit Derivative Swaps were available to anyone. They weren't limited to buyers of derivatives. Anyone could buy a CDS for a few pennies on the dollar without having to buy or hold the dubious mortgage bundles. In this way you were betting against the housing bubble, betting against the securitized mortgages, betting that this madness would collapse.

These unregulated bets earned some people billions in profits, and it's their billions in profits from gaming CDSs that are a big chunk of the problems that have rocked markets around the world.

What really is outrageous is that governments around the world are using wage-earners' tax dollars to bail out banks that need to make good on these gamed Credit Default Swaps and, right now, nobody even knows the total value of them or even who is liable for what. It's estimated that there are 60-trillion dollars of Credit Default Swaps in circulation.

Here's an idea. Rather than soaking taxpayers why don't our governments use their sovereign powers to declare those Credit Default Swaps to be redeemable for exactly what was paid for them. If you paid pennies on the dollar, you get pennies on the dollar and thank you for your patriotism in a time of troubles.

The Western world has been raped by these gamblers and swindlers. Why should working stiffs be saddled with making good their bad debts, especially on these gamey Credit Default Swaps? You want to clean up the financial markets, restore confidence and liquidity, get credit moving again? A good way to start is to wipe the CDS garbage off the books. Write them down to what was actually paid for them, pennies on the dollar.

Yes, some people will lose out on their windfall bets but, so what? After all, they not only bet the housing bubble would burst, they also bet that the outfit selling them the CDS would be good for it. That's a two part bet and they lost. Why should taxpayers be expected to make winners out of losers?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fun With Sarah

A Little Palin Levity

David Frum Urges Republicans to Throw In the Towel on McCain

Republican pundit David Frum is urging fellow Repugs to shift their efforts, and their money, from what he considers an already lost presidential campaign and use them instead to fight a rearguard Congressional defence.

David, son of Barbara, wrote in the Washington Post, that McCain, "is losing in a way that threatens to take the entire Republican Party down with him."

"The very same campaign strategy that has belatedly mobilized the Republican core has alienated and offended the great national middle, which was the only place where the 2008 election could have been won.

"I could pile up the poll numbers here, but frankly . . . it's too depressing. You have to go back to the Watergate era to see numbers quite so horrible for the GOP

McCain's awful campaign is having awful consequences down the ballot. I spoke a little while ago to a senior Republican House member. "There is not a safe Republican seat in the country," he warned. "I don't mean that we're going to lose all of them. But we could lose any of them."

Frum argues that Republicans should shift "every available dollar" to the senatorial campaign. For some reason he can't bring himself to say those dollars ought to be shifted from the presidential campaign. He also argues that Republicans should hammer home the message that the Dems are probably going to take the White House and voters can't take the risk of also handing congress to a bunch of liberals.

McCain and Palin Go For the Throat - Each Other's

The giveaway was the morning after the vice-presidential debate when Sarah Palin let slip that she had learned of the McCain campaign's decision to pull out of Michigan when she read it that morning in a newspaper. To quell any doubts, she then proceeded to criticize McCain's decision and said she and Todd could have worked the state if McCain wasn't up to it.

It was obvious that McCain hadn't consulted Palin about the Michigan decision. He hadn't even informed her. She had to find out about it from a newspaper well after his campaign had announced it to the press. Her response put McCain's wisdom, even courage into question. Ouch, ouch, ouch and ouch.

Since then, Palin hasn't minced any words about what she sees as McCain's weakness in going after Obama. She has repeatedly criticized McCain's refusal to go after the Reverend Wright issue.

Now, as reported by Canadian Press, it's come to open warfare among McCain's and Palin's insiders:

"The tattered remains of their ticket were everywhere Sunday, with both McCain and Palin insiders publicly on the attack to hold the other side responsible for their candidate's woes on the campaign trail.

"She is a diva - she takes no advice from anyone," an unnamed McCain adviser told CNN over the weekend.

"She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else ... also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."

It was their decision to limit Palin's media contact to interviews with ABC's Charlie Gibson and a series of chats with CBS's Katie Couric parcelled out over several cringe-worthy days. They proved to be disastrous for both the Alaska governor personally and McCain's campaign.Wallace sent an emailed response to several news organizations over the weekend: "If people want to throw me under the bus, my personal belief is that the most honourable thing to do is to lie there," she wrote.

In recent weeks, Palin has publicly parted ways with the McCain campaign on various fronts, leading many to speculate she is attempting to distinguish herself from the flailing Arizona senator and forge her own identity in preparation for a run for the White House in 2012."

Alaska's Main Newspaper Endorses Obama

The Anchorage Daily News has endorsed Barack Obama for president. Coming from a solid "red" state that's something. Coming from a red state which the Republican vice presidential candidate calls home and sits as governor, that's something again. From the Associated Press:

The Daily News said since the economic crisis has emerged, Republican presidential candidate John McCain has "stumbled and fumbled badly" in dealing with it.

"Of the two candidates, Sen. Obama better understands the mortgage meltdown's root causes and has the judgment and intelligence to shape a solution, as well as the leadership to rally the country behind it," the paper said.

The Daily News said Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has shown the country why she is a success as governor. But the paper said few would argue that Palin is truly ready to step into the job of being president despite her passion, charisma and strong work ethic.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mr. Dithers Strikes Back

In my opinion.

In my opinion, Jean Chretien was never as great a leader as many now perceive him. In my opinion, Paul Martin was a far better leader than many considered him then or now.

In my opinion, Paul Martin was handed a poison pill by the Chretien administration in the form of the sponsorship scandal. That skulduggery happened on Chretien's watch while Paul Martin sat purged in backbench exile.

A lot of folks claim that Martin must've known about it. He didn't. How do I know? Because if he had known about it he'd have been all over Chretien with it like a Newfie on a Harp seal, beating the living bejeebus out of him over it.

Curiously enough, Paul Martin seems to think the same as I do. In his new book Hell and High Water, Martin takes aim squarely at Chretien. From the Toronto Star:

In a chapter devoted to the sponsorship scandal, he takes angry aim at Chrétien, his political nemesis, for leaving him saddled with a damning auditor's report into questionable government funding in Quebec.
"I was mad at Jean Chrétien for having left me this time bomb," Martin writes. "It drove me crazy that I had to deal with this leftover mess when there were so many more important issues I had come into government to confront."

Martin repeats his assertion that he was in the dark about the sponsorship program [an often overlooked conclusion of the Gomery Commission as well]. But he conceded that the revelations of kickbacks to party backers in Quebec fuelled a political firestorm.

"We did not win the communications battle over sponsorship in the end. I don't know whether it was winnable," he said.

He said the resulting controversy revived the separatist parties in Quebec, boosted the sagging fortunes of the NDP and "lubricated the unity of the right."

Martin also critiques Harper for his "pinched vision" of Canada.

Maybe it's a function of Canadian politics. Trudeau begat Mulroney. Mulroney begat Chretien. Chretien begat Harper.

Anyway, that's my opinion.

Carpetbagging On The Public Dime

I just spotted this in The New York Times and decided it needed to be posted. It concerns the hundreds of billions of dollars the US government has chosen to inject into the nation's banks to improve their liquidity in order to get credit flowing again to American business.

Guess what? The banks are happy to take it but they have a different idea of what to do with their Washington windfall. One executive at one of the surviving megabanks was careless enough to let a Times reporter eavesdrop on an internal discussion:

"In point of fact, the dirty little secret of the banking industry is that it has no intention of using the money to make new loans. But this executive was the first insider who’s been indiscreet enough to say it within earshot of a journalist.

(He didn’t mean to, of course, but I obtained the call-in number and listened to a recording.)

“Twenty-five billion dollars is obviously going to help the folks who are struggling more than Chase,” he began. “What we do think it will help us do is perhaps be a little bit more active on the acquisition side or opportunistic side for some banks who are still struggling. And I would not assume that we are done on the acquisition side just because of the Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns
mergers. I think there are going to be some great opportunities for us to grow in this environment, and I think we have an opportunity to use that $25 billion in that way and obviously depending on whether recession turns into depression or what happens in the future, you know, we have that as a backstop.”

So, to summarize, those hundreds of billions of dollars of wage-earning taxpayers' money the banks are getting to free up America's credit markets are to be used, instead, as a mergers and acquisition windfall.

That kids is fraud, plain and simple, old-fashioned fraud. And it's fraud on the very taxpayers whose own financial future already has been put in jeopardy by the greed of these same banksters.

I think it's time that Washington simply seized these banks and threw their scheming managers out on the street.

This is truly mind-boggling.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Blue State Democrat to His Red State Cousins

Dear Red States:

We've decided we're leaving. We intend to form our own country, and we're
taking the other Blue States with us. In case you aren't aware, that
includes California , Hawaii , Oregon , Washington , Minnesota , Wisconsin, Michigan , Illinois and all the Northeast. We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation, and especially to the people of the new country of New California.

To sum up briefly: You get Texas , Oklahoma and all the slave states. We get stem cell research and the best beaches. We get the Statue of Liberty . You get Dollywood. We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom. We get Harvard. You get Ole' Miss. We get 85 percent of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama . We get two-thirds of the tax revenue, you get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22 percent lower than the Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. Please be aware that Nuevo California will be pro-choice and anti-war, and we're going to want all our citizens back from Iraq at once. If you need people to fight, ask your evangelicals.

With the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of 80 percent of the country's fresh water, more than 90 percent of the pineapple and lettuce, 92 percent of the nation's fresh fruit, 95 percent of America's quality wines(you can serve French wines at state dinners) 90 percent of all cheese, 90 percent of the high tech industry, most of the U.S. low-sulfur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools plus Stanford , Cal Tech and MIT. With the Red States, on the other hand,you will have to cope with 88 percent of all obese Americans (and their projected health care costs), 92 percent of all U.S. mosquitoes, nearly 100 percent of the tornadoes, 90 percent of the hurricanes, 99 percent of all Southern Baptists, virtually 100 percent of all televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones University , Clemson and the University of Georgia. We get Hollywood and Yosemite , thank you.

Additionally, 38 percent of those in the Red states believe Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale, 62 percent believe life is sacred unless we're discussing the death penalty or gun laws, 44 percent say that evolution is only a theory, 53 percent that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and 61 percent of you crazy bastards believe you are people with higher morals than we lefties.

Finally, we're taking the good pot, too. You can have that dirt weed they grow in Mexico.


Blue States

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Blog Block

Time for a bit of R&R. I find myself starting posts that I never finish. About halfway through it's hit the "save" button. The doldrums have set in.

I'll be back before the American elections. In the meantime I think my beagle just left some lawn chocolates in the backyard.

Stay well.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Obama Suspends Campaign

It's not the self-serving, faux suspension McCain tried last month.

The Obama campaign has told reporters that he'll be taking Thursday and Friday off. He'll be going to Hawaii to be with his failing grandmother who, it appears, is not doing at all well.

Few realized it but Obama left his campaign for a week in August, again to spend time with his grandmother.

On Saturday the Illinois senator is scheduled to resume his campaign events. At this point so close to the November 4th election there's no way to tell whether the suspension will have a substantial impact on this close race.

Your Daily Giggle

McCains Brain - video powered by Metacafe

Condelusional Rice

If there's been one trait that has distinguished Condoleeza Rice's eight years of service with the Bush administration, it's her ability to completely ignore reality and spin whatever fantasy best suits the boss - and do it with a straight face.

Her latest, according to BBC News, is to proclaim that the policies of George w. Bush have left the Middle East a better place.

Asked to assess the outgoing US administration's legacy, she said she was especially proud of the situation in the Palestinian territories.
She insisted that what she called a US-inspired "freedom agenda" had taken hold in the Middle East.

Ms Rice also said Iraq had become a "good Arab friend" of America.

"The Middle East is a different place and a better place," Ms Rice told BBC Arabic TV.

Iraq, far from being destroyed, was fully integrated into the Arab world, she said.

There you have it. Iraq is now fully integrated into the Arab world. When did Tehran turn Arab?

Get Over It - He Was No Messiah!

I carry no brief for any Liberal insider, no preference for who ought to become the next leader of the LPC. None, I'm neutral.

I wanted Dion to step down solely on performance reasons. I read a post the other day that described Mr. Dion as a person best suited to serve as Prime Minister but ill-suited to becoming elected Prime Minister.

The fury and outrage of Dion loyalists is profound. I realize that, in any party, there are people who are more closely attached to an individual than to the party. I confess to a bit of that myself when I was young and Pierre Trudeau was our leader. Maybe it's something one grows out of, who knows?

Not all of our party's leaders have been iconic. Some, such as Mr. Chretien, caught an awful lot of breaks. Brian Mulroney, after all, left the PCPC in a shambles when Mr. Chretien stepped in and the right remained terminally divided during the Chretien years. I liked Mr. Chretien and happily supported him but I never overlooked the role that circumstances not of his or our party's making had in his success.

So, now we must seek a new leader. Good, I hope we can focus on finding someone who will unite and motivate the party as Mr. Dion never managed to do. We have to ensure that the next leader has the aptitude for the job, an ability to connect with voters outside today's narrow Liberal realm. That will be a leader with vision, political acumen, solid communication skills and the charisma essential to motivate voters who stayed away from the polls last week or who voted for Mr. Harper because they saw no viable alternative.

We need a leader, now more than ever.

Kim-Jong Il - or Dead?

Japanese newspapers are reporting that diplomats in North Korea have been ordered to be on standby for some sort of major announcement and that there are plans to temporarily ban foreigners from entering the country.

Something's up, just what isn't clear. Speculation ranges from an announcement of Kim's death to proclamation of a coup d'etat. So far nobody knows nothin'.

Kim hasn't been seen in public since August. The government recently released a video showing Kim inspecting some facility but the trees in the background were in full leaf which Gwynne Dyer notes means the video wasn't taken anytime recently.

Spending Like There IS A Tomorrow

There's a growing consensus in the United States that this is no time to be waging war on deficits, just the opposite. The idea, proposed by Krugman and others, is that the US government needs to stimulate the economy by a variety of means, a key one being infrastructure projects. In essence they're talking about a new New Deal.

Unlike government giveaways, infrastructure projects are an investment, the sort of thing designed to reap big dividends in years to come. They're also a means to introduce major technology shifts.

Why restore obsolete or unproductive infrastructure? Maybe in the future the rising cost of fuel will mean you won't need three highways in some places but only one. Restoring all three, therefore, would plainly be little more than a glorified, make work project.

However, past experience shows this sort of depression-era infrastructure spending can, by its very size, allow governments to introduce new technologies and major changes that would otherwise have been impossible.

Look at Germany in the 30's. Monster that he was, Hitler's Nazi government brought that country back to life through some key pre-war infrastructure projects ranging from public housing to autobahns. Similar benefits came to Americans from Roosevelt's interventions which are neatly summarized in this from

"Together with a plethora of well-built public schools, libraries, post offices, parks, water systems, bridges, airports, hospitals, harbors, city halls, county courthouses, zoos, art works and more, New Deal initiatives spread the wealth and enriched the lives of uncounted Americans."

Most of North America is well overdue for a serious makeover. There's the essential infrastructure decay that needs fixing - water and sewer systems in many Canadian cities, for example. But there are also opportunities to get our nations aligned for the 21st century realities. I'll give you an example.

Rail transport. We know that rail is up to five times more fuel efficient for transporting freight over great distances than long-haul truck transport. Unfortunately the rail system we have today isn't up to the job. What if the government was to commit to a mega-project to construct a new, high capacity railway system for the 21st century? Use rail in lieu of trucks. Not only would it reduce fossil fuel consumption but it would make the transport of goods far more affordable. Trucks would be used for short and medium-haul delivery, not inefficient cross-Canada transport.

I'm sure there are several other equally sound ideas for overhauling and modernizing Canada's infrastructure to meet the changes we'll face this century. Let's identify them, see what can be done and what rewards we'll reap from them in the future.

If you see this as just standard, socialist babble, take a look at the 401 highway from Windsor to Montreal. Read about the old, pioneer path 2-lane routes it replaced and then learn about the role this one superhighway played in Ontario's economic rise in the postwar decades. Once you've digested that, you can come back and rail on about socialism. Look at the expansion and development of secondary airports and microwave communications and the role they played in opening up Canada's north and then you can bleat anti-socialist mantras.

We all pretty much realize that a real future lies in so-called green industries, everything from carbon capture technology to alternative, clean power projects. Those are industries that will create jobs and wealth. What better time to kickstart things like that?

Of course it will take a government with real vision to recognize the opportunities and exploit them for the benefit of the country. I doubt very much that's within the scope of the one-dimensional administration we have today.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

McCain Goes All In - Even His Integrity Is On The Line

John McCain will do anything, say anything to defeat Barack Obama and win the White House and he's willing to sacrifice everything, including what remains of his dignity and integrity.

It's sad really to see a guy who's built this legendary image based on an ordeal in a North Vietnamese POW camp four decades ago show just how little that truly matters - to himself. Here's a hint - if it doesn't matter to John McCain, it shouldn't matter to anyone else either.

And it doesn't matter to John McCain. Heroes don't dive into the gutter. I've had the privilege of meeting and knowing a few real heroes. They're all dead now. One was a true "Knight of the Air," two others were ground pounders. They all had one thing in common. They didn't try to wear their heroism on their sleeve - they were extremely private - and they always stood tall.

John McCain has traded on his heroism. He's exhausted it, reminding all who'll listen of it with an implied suggestion that someone owes him the presidency because of an event largely beyond his control forty years ago.

Heroism doesn't wear well for very long when it's flown like a flag in public. Maybe that's something real heroes instinctively understand. There's something disingenuous in tossing it up in the air for people to watch again and again.

But when you couple the political marketing of heroism with slimeball, gutter politics, the aura combusts like white phosphorous exposed to oxygen. All you're left with is ashy residue. And I guess that's an apt metaphor for John McCain, 2008.

This campaign will cost John McCain more than his last shot at the US presidency. He will have also forfeited his dignity and his integrity. He won't be the first hero to turn bum and he won't be the last. At least he won't have to spend time in the Crowbar Hotel like his fellow Vietnam hero and Republican compatriot, the former senator Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

Obama Had Better Get Ready to Kick Back Hard

Just a couple of weeks left before the American elections and John McCain is running hard to narrow his Democratic opponent's considerable lead.

The McCain campaign seems to be out of ideas, nothing appears to be getting traction, and so their last-ditch effort may be to fall back on smear, the deliberate exploitation of outright lies and treacherous distortions, to make gullible American voters fearful and distrusting of Obama.

There's a pretty good analysis of this in Talking Points Memo:

"...McCain's final strategy relies on two pillars. The first is aggressively playing to voters' fears of electing a black president. Make no mistake: not just his campaign in a general sense, but McCain himself and his top handful of advisers, are banking on the residual racism in a changing America to get them over the finish line. The second is an aggressive use of innuendo to convince casual voters that Obama is in league with Islamic terrorists bent on killing Americans.
Many people have asked whether enough Americans really care any more about the cultural convulsions of the 1960s. The answer? It doesn't matter. For the McCain campaign, Bill Ayers has nothing to do with 60s radicalism. Ayers is nothing more than a tool that permits McCain, Palin and all their surrogates to use the noun "terrorist" in polite company in the same sentence as "Obama," over and over and over again. It allows them to cobble together a 'respectable' version of those Obama smear emails they can push in commercials and robocalls and surrogate talking points every hour of every day.

Stripped down to its components McCain's message to voters is this: "Don't forget. He's definitely black. And he may be a terrorist." That's the message. The nuts and bolts is a concerted effort to keep Democrats from voting -- through intimidation, by striking new voters from the rolls, which is going to happen to lots of them, clogging polling stations to create delays that keep late day (predominantly) Obama voters from voting altogether. Smears in the air and voter suppression on the ground.

Many people say, well ... all this stuff just hasn't worked. But the truth is that the really corrupt and vicious part of McCain's effort only comes now because it's only in the last couple weeks that you can pull stuff that the press won't get to call you on before election day -- after which it doesn't matter. Will it take Obama down? So far McCain's gutter campaign has hurt him more than helped. But there's no reason to be sure it will continue that way."

Obama has one advantage that will let him fight back - money and lots of it. He'll need it to wage a last-ditch media campaign of his own that just might bury McCain in his own trash.

Pakistan Takes Refuge Under Chinese Wing

Pakistan continues to drift further away from the West and closer to China. When Pakistan plays such an integral role in the war which we're supposed to be fighting next door in Afghanistan, that's hardly welcome news.

The Pakistan news agency, Dawn, gives a pretty good indication of where this is going:

..Islamabad is looking forward to bolstering ties with Beijing in a big way.

The president’s decision to visit Beijing after every three months and agreements for the setting up of two nuclear energy plants, launch of a satellite and heavy investments by Chinese corporations in several other projects are some of the signs.

According to the foreign minister, the president would visit China every three months for “promoting economic integration between the two countries, enhancing their connectivity, optimally utilising the economic complementarities; and promoting trans-regional economic cooperation”.

“President Zardari wants to give a new dimension to China-Pakistan relations, basing them on enhanced economic cooperation,” the foreign minister said.

In the energy sector, Mr Qureshi also saw a role for China in the gas pipeline project between Iran and Pakistan. “I see a role for China whether China joins the projects at some later stage or invests in it.”

Another Pakistani news service, PakTribune, has this from Zardari:

The President pointed out that Pakistan has been following China’s progress and “we take pride in their success, because we are like a family.”

“Chinese and Pakistani people are like a family”, he said. “We see their progress with pride and are happy to see our friends strong. If China is strong, we are strong

There has been a groundswell of anti-Americanism building in Pakistan since before the ouster of Pervez Musharraf. The Zardari government seems to be riding that wave with real success. There are real economic, military and security questions that will come out of the closer bonds being forged between Islamabad and Beijing.

Powell Lays It All Out

Open Season on Little Boys' Bums in Kandahar

For Gung-Ho Steve, the Afghanistan mission was all show, no go and now that it's lost its lustre and partisan, political advantage, it's "out of sight, out of mind" for the Cons. To help that along they've conveniently gagged the Armed Forces. Harper's PMO will let you know everything they want you to believe about Afghanistan. Why? Because our media sheep let them get away with it and there's nobody within their party willing to stand up for Canadians and our soldiers. But I digress.

There's an awful scandal going on in Afghanistan. It concerns complaints of Canadian soldiers that they've had to watch, helpless, as Afghan soldiers and interpreters rape young boys. In June, the Toronto Star reported that several soldiers said they had complained but were ignored by higher ups.

Now the uproar is that the Canadian military's National Investigation Service has said it could take up to two years to investigate the soldiers' claims. Two years for them to come back and tell us that - oh my gosh, our side, the good guys, the folks we're fighting to prop up, really do have a thing for little boys' bums. Who could've known, quelle surprise!

Their dirty little secret is that we've known about this and quietly gone along with it literally since we got there.

This is from The New York Times, February 21, 2002: "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.

Yeah, that's right kids. We ran the Taliban out of town in 2001 and since then it's been open season on little boys' bums. But don't worry, little Afghan girls get their share too. Fathers selling pre-pubescent teen daughters to other old guys is relatively common. They're not being bought for their culinary skills either. If they don't go along with sexual slavery their fathers can sling them into prison, indefinitely. Two years ago there were detailed news reports of one such prison where girls as young as 12 were being held, indefinitely, just down the road from the main gate of our base in Kandahar.

You can't blame the foot soldiers for this. They have to follow orders and procedures. But you can damn well blame those who are giving those orders, dictating those procedures. And you can damn well blame those who are covering this up, because they're silently condoning pedophilia and, right now, that chain of command goes right to the top. Steve, are you getting this? These animals are ass-raping kids, Steve, on your watch, Steve. So, what are you going to do about it Steve or are you just going to cover it up, pretend not to notice? At this point, Steve, isn't that condoning pedophilia by omission? You can gag the Armed Forces all you want Steve but this one is on your books and it isn't going away.
By the way, if you found the language of this post coarse and offensive - good - that's precisely what I wanted. This is a subject that deserves no less.