Friday, July 31, 2009

Bill Maher - "Birthers" Must Be Stopped

From today's LA Times:

For the last couple of weeks, we've all been laughing heartily at the wacky antics of the "birthers" -- the far-right goofballs who claim Barack Obama wasn't really born in Hawaii and therefore the job of president goes to the runner-up, former Miss California Carrie Prejean.

Also, when Obama was sworn in as president, he forgot to give his answer in the form of a question.And yet, every week, the chorus of conservatives demanding to see his birth certificate grows. It's like they're the Cambridge police, Obama's in his house -- the White House -- and they need to see some ID.

And there's nothing anyone can do to convince these folks. You could hand them, in person, the original birth certificate and have a video of Obama emerging from the womb with Don Ho singing in the background ... and they still wouldn't believe it.

...Which raises the question: Why, in this country, is it always the religious right that won't take anything on faith?

So far, the reaction from Democrats is to laugh this off, and I understand why. If you seriously believe that President Obama is an African sleeper spy, get out of your chat room and have your house tested for lead.

...And once these stories get out there, they're hard to stamp out because our media do such a lousy job of speaking truth to stupid. Vietnam, Iraq and the Spanish-American War were all sold on lies that were unchallenged or even abetted by the media. Clinton got impeached and Kerry got destroyed in large part because the media didn't have the guts to say, "This is nonsense."

Lou Dobbs has been saying recently that people are asking a lot of questions about the birth certificate. Yes, the same people who want to know where the sun goes at night.

And Lou, you're their new king.

Think About It

I'm a Cassandra and I know it. I write a lot about the decay in our institutions, the rot in our leadership and the environmental and ecological cataclysm that's descending on us from so many directions.

One of my favourite contemporary chroniclers, Chris Hedges, explains how we will be paying dearly for a society in self-delusion. Think about it:

The childish idea that we can always prevail, that reality is never an impediment to what we want, is the central motif of illusion peddled on popular talk shows, by the Christian Right, by Hollywood, in corporate retreats, by the news industry and by self-help gurus. Reality can always be overcome. The future will always be glorious. And held out to keep us amused and entertained are spectacles and celebrities who have become idealized versions of ourselves and who, we are assured, we can all one day become.

The cultural embrace of illusion, and the celebrity culture that has risen up around it, have accompanied the awful hollowing out of the state. We have shifted from a culture of production to a culture of consumption. We have been sold a system of casino capitalism, with its complicated and unregulated deals of turning debt into magical assets, to create fictional wealth for us and vast wealth for our elite. We have internalized the awful ethic of corporatism -- one built around the cult of the self and consumption as an inner compulsion -- to believe that living is about our own advancement and our own happiness at the expense of others. Corporations, behind the smoke screen, have ruthlessly dismantled and destroyed our manufacturing base and impoverished our working class. The free market became our god and government was taken hostage by corporations, the same corporations that entice us daily with illusions though the mass media, the entertainment industry and popular culture.

The more we sever ourselves from a literate, print-based world, a world of complexity and nuance, a world of ideas, for one informed by comforting, reassuring images, fantasies, slogans and a celebration of violence the more we implode. We ask, like the wrestling fans or those who confuse love with pornography, to be fed lies. We demand lies. The skillfully manufactured images and slogans that flood the airwaves and infect our political discourse mask reality. And we do not protest. The lonely Cassandras who speak the truth about our misguided imperial wars, the global economic meltdown and the imminent danger of multiple pollutions that are destroying the eco-system that sustains the human species, are drowned out by arenas full of fans chanting "Slut! Slut! Slut!" or television audiences chanting "Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!" The worse reality becomes, the less a beleaguered population wants to hear about it and the more it distracts itself with squalid pseudo-events of celebrity breakdowns, gossip and trivia.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Ever have a non-partisan political discussion? Most of us are so miserably enmeshed in partisan politics that it's tough to turn non-partisan, especially when you're having a lengthy political discussion with, say, a lifelong Tory insider. For several decades I've had a close friend from the Dark Side with whom I've had my very best political chinwags.

The other day our conversation turned to Stephen Harper. I mentioned I thought Harper must be getting close to quitting time. Unable to win a majority and his legislative agenda tied up in knots, why would a guy want to hang on any longer? My Tory friend said he thought Harper would leave except for the prospect of an election call this fall. Unless he manages a miracle and somehow swings a majority, Stevie will be packing his bags.

I asked what the Tory rumour-mill had on possible successors. My friend said that, up until a couple of weeks ago, Jean Charest's organization was laying the groundwork for the Quebec premier to stage a comeback. Then, it seems, some sort of health issue popped up, ending Charest's ambitions to join the ranks of Canada's prime ministers.

Interesting bit of gossip. Just thought I'd pass it along.

Playing the Great Game - Badly

When it comes to global security, the greatest threat today may not be terrorism or nuclear proliferation either. The gravest danger may lie in the lack of a coherent American policy toward South and East Asia.

To put it simply, America is stirring the pot in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and in India with potentially destabilizing ripple effects spreading to China and Russia. America's love/hate relationship with Central and South Asia seems to have drawn it into policies that are, by turns, inconsistent and even dangerously incoherent.

American policy in this region would make plain sense if only Pakistan, nuclear armed Pakistan, didn't exist. It's when Pakistan is factored into the mix that reason and sense seem to go out the window.

Hillary Clinton is continuing the Bush administration's initiative of cozying up to India with both nuclear technology and military support and co-operation treaties. This is bound to give the Chinese fits especially given the Indian navy's stated goal of maritime supremacy from the Indian Ocean to the Sea of Japan which just happens to envelope China's entire coastline. Both nations are now furiously expanding their blue water fleets. The latest move in this arms race came this week with the launch of India's first. made-in-India nuclear missile submarine, the Arihant.

While China is remaining silent, Pakistan is openly proclaiming the Indian sub will kick off an accelerated nuclear arms race. Yeah, now there's something the world could probably do without. From the Pakistan news service, Dawn:

ISPR spokesperson for the Pakistan Navy Commander Salman Ali told Dawn on Monday the Indian move would have far-reaching destabilising effects on the security environment not only of Pakistan but also of all the littoral states of Indian Ocean and beyond. He said the induction of 6,000-tonne INS Arihant in the Indian Navy had the potential to trigger a nuclear arms race in the region and all littoral states, including Pakistan, would have to take appropriate safeguards.

Washington never hesitates to loudly demand that Pakistan turn its military forces to fighting the Taliban and securing its western border with Afghanistan. Then it collaborates with India in ways bound to make Islamabad ever more paranoid about the security along its eastern border, the one it shares with India. At the same time the United States does nothing to curb India's involvement with the Kabul government in Afghanistan, a second-front for Pakistani paranoia.

America doesn't seem to grasp that stabilizing Afghanistan won't be possible without securing Pakistan. Without the full support of Pakistan, Afghanistan is a lost cause. Without securing Pakistan, America risks creating two failed states, one of them with a nuclear arsenal. This also gives rise to a power vacuum that could well suit China's interests in meeting an emerging Indian military challenge. Just imagine a Chinese naval base on the Arabian Sea at Gwadar.

If there was ever a time demanding coherence in American foreign policy toward Asia, this is it. Unfortunately the Obama administration's foreign policy, like that of its predecessor, isn't up to the challenge.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The End of Warming Deniers, The End of Tar Sand Shills

It may be time for Michael Ignatieff to yet again recalibrate his position on global warming (if you actually know what that is today, please let the rest of us in on it).

Iggy, the Liberal Party's self-styled Knight Errant and arch Bitumen-Booster may yet again find his irresistible impulse toward political expediency has dumped him in another mess of his own making.

Now we all know that Ontario has been cold and wet of late which, of itself, ought to be enough to put everyone on enquiry but beyond the centre of the universe the rest of the planet has been hot, very hot indeed. Now, as reported in The Guardian, the world is poised to warm much faster over the next five years than imagined by the IPCC.

The analysis shows the relative stability in global temperatures in the last seven years is explained primarily by the decline in incoming sunlight associated with the downward phase of the 11-year solar cycle, together with a lack of strong El Niño events. These trends have masked the warming caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

As solar activity picks up again in the coming years, the research suggests, temperatures will shoot up at 150% of the rate predicted by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Lean and Rind's research also sheds light on the extreme average temperature in 1998. The paper confirms that the temperature spike that year was caused primarily by a very strong El Niño episode. A future episode could be expected to create a spike of equivalent magnitude on top of an even higher baseline, thus shattering the 1998 record.

Read the report and then ask yourself where the leadership of the Liberal Party is taking us. But let's not get too carried away with global heating even as many of us non-Torontonians are trying to find ways to keep our homes somehow liveable. How are the flora and fauna doing these days? The easy answer is, "bloody awful." A report just released in the journal Conservation Biology says we may be on the verge of an extinction in the southern hemisphere. Again from The Guardian:

Researchers trawled 24,000 published reports to compile information on the native flora and fauna of Australasia and the Pacific islands, which have six of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. Their report identifies six causes driving species to extinction, almost all linked in some way to human activity.

"Our region has the notorious distinction of having possibly the worst extinction record on Earth," said Richard Kingsford, an environmental scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and lead author of the report. "We have an amazing natural environment, but so much of it is being destroyed before our eyes. Species are being threatened by habitat loss and degradation, invasive species, climate change, over-exploitation, pollution and wildlife disease."

The review, published in the journal Conservation Biology, highlights destruction and degradation of ecosystems as the main threat. In Australia, agriculture has altered or destroyed half of all woodland and forests. Around 70% of the remaining forest has been damaged by logging. Loss of habitats is behind 80% of threatened species, the report claims.

...The report sets out a raft of recommendations to slow the decline by introducing laws to limit land clearing, logging and mining; restricting deliberate introduction of invasive species; reducing carbon emissions and pollution; and limiting fisheries. It raises particular concerns about bottom trawling, and the use of cyanide and dynamite, and calls for early-warning systems to pick up diseases in the wild.

"The burden on the environment is going to get worse unless we are a lot smarter about reducing our footprint," said Kingsford. "Unless we get this right, future generations will surely be paying more in quality of life and the environment. And our region will continue its terrible reputation of leading the world in the extinction of plants and animals."

History has shown the governments either confront problems or they confront catastrophes. The difference is often whether they act proactively, that is to say effectively and in time, or drag their heels long enough to permit what had been a problem to grow and return as a catastrophe.

The slack jawed leadership so prevalent in the world today and particularly in Canada are foreclosing the proactive option. Our Conservative, Liberal and NDP 'leaders' are resolute heel draggers who are leading this country and future generations to a very difficult time and place. We know Stephen Harper is a genuine knuckle-dragger but what is Iggy's excuse? Cowardice? Let's face it, these changes aren't materializing on Iggy's personal political timetable. They're not somehow nicely slotting in to his agenda. He's so out of step with this growing basket of threats that he doesn't even talk about them.

A couple of weeks back I wrote to Ignatieff's office, asking that he press Harper to do for Canadians what the British government did for its own people - give them a forecast based on the greenhouse gas emitted so far of what warming effects they should expect by 2070 - a baseline, "best case" scenario for the global warming we absolutely will not be able to avoid.

This time I did hear back from Iggy's policy advisor, Jean Benoit Fournier:

I concur that adaptation to the inevitable hardships that Canada will face because of climate change should be an immediate concern. Fortunately, some scientists have taken the lead on this issue, filling the void left by Conservatives. I would recommend to you visiting the website of an organism called “Ouranos” ( I know them from a former life, and am following their work closely. They provide advice (mainly to the Québec government) on how to adapt to climate change.

Yes, Jean-Benoit, it should be an immediate concern but it's not and your guy is doing nothing to change that beyond ladling out utterly banal posturing.

Next to the United States, Canadians have become the most ill-served public on the major environmental confronting us. The Oil Patch government of the day doesn't want to talk about it and the opposition (with the exception of the Bloc) doesn't want to either. They're all afraid to touch it and the irony is that this is an issue that sells itself. Even the "best case" scenarios, if put in the hands of the Canadian public, would be enough to generate solid support for meaningful action, both domestically and internationally.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Abject Futility of Our War in Afghanistan

I have largely given up writing about our stupid and counterproductive war in Afghanistan but I found Chris Hedges' take on it from TruthDig worth excerpting:

...We have stumbled into a confusing mix of armed groups that include criminal gangs, drug traffickers, Pashtun and Tajik militias, kidnapping rings, death squads and mercenaries. We are embroiled in a civil war. The Pashtuns, who make up most of the Taliban and are the traditional rulers of Afghanistan, are battling the Tajiks and Uzbeks, who make up the Northern Alliance, which, with foreign help, won the civil war in 2001. The old Northern Alliance now dominates the corrupt and incompetent government. It is deeply hated. And it will fall with us.

We are losing the war in Afghanistan. When we invaded the country eight years ago the Taliban controlled about 75 percent of Afghanistan. Today its reach has crept back to about half the country. The Taliban runs the poppy trade, which brings in an annual income of about $300 million a year. It brazenly carries out attacks in Kabul, the capital, and foreigners, fearing kidnapping, rarely walk the streets of most Afghan cities. It is life-threatening to go into the countryside, where 80 percent of all Afghanis live, unless escorted by NATO troops. And intrepid reporters can interview Taliban officials in downtown coffee shops in Kabul. Osama bin Laden has, to the amusement of much of the rest of the world, become the Where's Waldo of the Middle East. Take away the bullets and the bombs and you have a Gilbert and Sullivan farce.

...We have ensured that Iraq and Afghanistan are failed states. Next on our list appears to be Pakistan. Pakistan, like Iraq and Afghanistan, is also a bizarre construct of Western powers that drew arbitrary and artificial borders, ones the clans and ethnic groups divided by these lines ignore. As Pakistan has unraveled, its army has sought legitimacy in militant Islam. It was the Pakistani military that created the Taliban. The Pakistanis determined how the billions in U.S. aid to the resistance during the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was allocated. And nearly all of it went to the most extremist wings of the Afghan resistance movement. The Taliban, in Pakistan's eyes, is not only an effective weapon to defeat foreign invaders, whether Russian or American, but is a bulwark against India. Muslim radicals in Kabul are never going to build an alliance with India against Pakistan. And India, not Afghanistan, is Pakistan's primary concern. Pakistan, no matter how many billions we give to it, will always nurture and protect the Taliban, which it knows is going to inherit Afghanistan. And the government's well-publicized battle with the Taliban in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, rather than a new beginning, is part of a choreographed charade that does nothing to break the unholy alliance.

The only way to defeat terrorist groups is to isolate them within their own societies. This requires wooing the population away from radicals. It is a political, economic and cultural war. The terrible algebra of military occupation and violence is always counterproductive to this kind of battle. It always creates more insurgents than it kills. It always legitimizes terrorism. And while we squander resources and lives, the real enemy, al-Qaida, has moved on to build networks in Indonesia, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Morocco and depressed Muslim communities such as those in France's Lyon and London's Brixton area. There is no shortage of backwaters and broken patches of the Earth where al-Qaida can hide and operate. It does not need Afghanistan, and neither do we.

Afghanistan is no longer a primarily military war but a domestic political war being waged overseas by military means. We still pretend that winning in Afghanistan will strike a mortal blow at al Qaeda and thereby avenge the 9/11 attacks. We still maintain that fiction even though we know, everyone knows, it's complete nonsense. We still claim we're saving Afghanistan by fighting the Taliban while we know, everyone knows, that the country is beset by a host of lethal maladies. No point operating on a patient's heart while someone else holds a bag tightly over his head.

Ultimately, the war in Afghanistan was lost in Washington and in the capitals of every nation that joined America's crusade. It was lost to sophomoric political leadership and military careerism, a double whammy that cannot be overcome.

As I have long argued on this site, the key to defeating Islamist fundamentalism lies in the radicalization of the Arab Street. In those supposedly friendly Muslim nations, reform movements are brutally crushed by tyrants we prop up. In places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, those who suffer the lash of tyranny feel our hand on the whip along with their own ruler's. In these conditions, to whom can they turn? That's commonly the Islamist fundamentalists who stand as the only viable resistance to the tyrants. They're the default option. They're also the side that shares the Arab peoples' fury over the Palestinian oppression as well as the Crusader's attacks on the Muslim world - Afghanistan and Iraq.

We keep putting ourselves on the wrong side of the Arab Street, in opposition to the Muslim peoples. We do the terrorists' work by driving these people into the arms of the radicals. Why are we so insistent on using firepower to impose democracy on Afghanistan while condoning strongman rule among our supposed friends? What message are we sending to Muslim people worldwide without whose support much of the terrorist threat would wither and die?

When are we going to stop bashing our heads against this wall of stupidity?

Putting the Sizzle Back Into Sleaze

The New York Times is reporting on a "major corruption and international money laundering conspiracy probe" in New Jersey.

Oh this promises to be juicy, very juicy.

Federal prosecutors say about 30 people have been arrested in the two-track investigation. They include Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III and Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell. Federal prosecutors say several rabbis in New York and New Jersey are also arrested.

A state assemblyman, the mayors of Hoboken and Secaucus and several rabbis walk into a bar...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Power of Positive Pessimism

One of my fellow bloggers very respectfully asked if my environmental posts weren't too pessimistic? It's a question I ask myself a lot. Most of the information and opinions I post here are obviously much darker, far more pessimistic than anything you're going to hear from our political leadership and most of what you hear from contemporary media outlets.

In terms of relative pessimism, however, they are pretty close to the unfiltered opinions coming from leading climate scientists and experts in related fields including biology, botany, epidemiology, geology and hydrology among others. They also closely parallel a lot of the concerns shared by military experts from, among others, the Pentagon and the British Ministry of Defence.

Is it pessimistic to accept these opinions as most probably true? Isn't life itself a constant weighing of probabilities, a process essential for us to evaluate options, priorities and trade-offs and then make decisions, often very difficult decisions?

I have accepted that these opinions are probably right. These writings are aimed at getting this information in front of people to get people thinking and discussing and reading so that they too can decide whether to accept these opinions as probably correct. Because once you've evaluated the information and decided these opinions are probably correct, it gives you a compelling reason to begin to evaluate options, priorities and trade-offs and then reach your own conclusions.

As I pointed out, we're very good at this process even if we're not always successful. We use it at the individual, community and societal level all the time.

Having come to accept these scientific opinions as probably correct, it gives rise to a couple of other thing we've learned to do fairly well - risk management and risk avoidance. There is no way to avoid all risks so long as you draw breath. What you can do is work to improve your odds by figuring out what threshold of risk is acceptable and what risks can be avoided. It's a trade-off.

Fly across the ocean or the polar cap today and there's a good chance you'll be in a modern, twin engine airliner. It used to be we demanded four engines for this sort of thing (think Constellation, 707, DC-8) but then engines became not only more powerful but, most importantly, more reliable. At that point the risk management people inside our various aviation authorities decided twin engine aircraft could probably carry passengers across vast stretches of open ocean in relative safety.

Everything in an aircraft is a trade-off. A big trade-off is the extra expense, especially in fuel consumption, we accept to maintain a minimum redundancy standard. Two engines to keep your jetliner flying aren't enough. We demand that those engines be big and powerful enough that the aircraft can be flown on just one far enough to probably be able to reach a runway somewhere.

Now for something completely different - the Cold War. During the standoff between the Western nations and the Soviet bloc everyone accepted the threat of a global, nuclear exchange. As British economist Nick Stern pointed out, many Western nations considered the threat serious enough that they were willing to invest up to 4% of their GDP into their military forces, their deterrence. (Stern, as an aside, believes we can avert catastrophic climate change by accepting a GDP reduction of less than half that)

Thanks to that investment in deterrence, and a good bit of luck, that world ending nuclear exchange never happened. For a while top generals would debate survivable nuclear war, a madness based on pre-emptive attack. The thinking went, "If I launch everything at him without any warning, I'll be able to wipe out all his cities and most of his nuclear arsenal. Then, at worst, he'll probably only be able to wipe out 70% of my cities, so I'll have 30% of my cities left, enough to rebuild and I win!" Fortunately we got past that to the point of MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction, nuclear Armageddon and rode that out to the end of the Cold War.

Now consider it this way. Is the risk of catastrophic climate change more or less probable than was the threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War? If you fall back on your acceptance that the views of these climate scientists and military experts are probably right, the risk of catastrophic climate change is considerably more probable than nuclear annihilation ever was during the Cold War. A logical conclusion, even if dire, is not pessimistic.

So, if you have climbed down off the fence and accepted that catastrophic climate change will probably occur the way mankind is going, then you either bury your head in the sand or engage the risk management and risk avoidance mechanisms that have served us well in the past - well enough at least that you're still around to read this.

The Brits (bless them and their horrid, greasy food) aren't afraid of probability. That's clear from the report recently released by the British environment secretary detailing the amount of warming Britons can expect by 2070 based on the existing state of carbon emissions. They've been told there'll probably be two degrees of warming in most parts of Britain and possibly as much as six degrees in some southern areas, including the City of London. Now, if you accept that as the probable outcome based on the existing situation, it's a no-brainer to see that things are probably going to get worse, much worse, unless the community of nations accepts that they must do whatever it takes to decarbonize their economies and get it done very, very soon.

Why do we need immediate action now? Because replacing a carbon-based economy is a decadal job. According to America's leading climate scientist, the Goddard Institutes James Hansen, the latest research shows the onset of global warming is happening at a pace they could not have imagined just a few years ago. Hansen sees smoke billowing out beneath the door and wants to pull the alarm. He now says, quite unequivocally, that we have no more than 20-years to completely give up our dominant energy source, coal. Twenty years, that's it. If we don't give it up, Hansen warns that we will very probably be unable to avert truly catastrophic global warming.

Now I think it's logical enough to assume that we're probably not going to decarbonize our economies without drastic action by all the major emitters. This is where "think globally, act locally" comes in. Any hope of meaningful action is being blocked by the dissenters, the heel-draggers. How do you know who they are? Easy. They're the guys who've fallen back on the disingenuous claim that they'll cut their own emissions only when everyone else agrees to do the same.

What's disingenuous about this "all or nothing" tactic? Among other things, it throws us right back into the arms of MAD or mutually assured destruction. It's like a scene from a western where all the bad guys are gathered around the poker table, holding their cards in one hand and a six-shooter in the other hand underneath the table. It's really, really hard to step down from that mentality because it fosters suspicion, delay and inaction.

Then factor in logical inconsistency. How much credibility on the global scene can either of Canada's two major political leaders hold when both are openly committed to the expansion of the Athabasca Tar Sands? They want China to do what, shut down its coal plants?

The Copenhagen summit is coming up in December and the climate science community is doing everything in its power to convince the world's leaders of the very real, very high probability of runaway global warming if they don't commit themselves now to radical action over the next decade or two. That's a very high bar to clear and I really don't think they're going to make it.

Now back to probabilities. If you believe that catastrophic climate change is probable unless we act quickly to do whatever it takes to stop emitting greenhouse gases and if, following the Copenhagen summit it appears probable that the collective will to act effectively, globally and in time hasn't been achieved, then it's probably time to reset our risk management and risk avoidance parameters accordingly and, as James Lovelock has been urging lately, prepare for the worst.

Why prepare now? Because we're lucky enough that we can, that's why. We're not Africa, and we're not the Middle East. We're not eastern Europe or Central, South or East Asia. We're not South or Central America. If you believe these top climate scientists and military experts are probably right and you're not willing to bet the farm that the world leaders are probably going to act quickly and radically enough, then we had better begin looking at what that probably means for Canada, for us and begin evaluating the unique options - call them blessings if you're so inclined - that are open to us, how we can take advantage of those and even what we may be required to do to protect them.

That's not pessimistic. That's simply logical. Okay, if you want you can call it "positive pessimism."

On Cronkite and Speaking Truth to Power

Walter Cronkite stands as an object lesson of how even the most influential Americans can expect a pummelling if they dare speak truth to power. It revolved around what became known as the Tet Offensive of 1968 when the supposedly vanquished Viet Cong insurgents rose up to overrun towns and cities the length of South Vietnam. In Saigon the guerrillas briefly occupied the American embassy, a symbol of US power and prestige in Vietnam.

Eventually American military firepower prevailed and the Viet Cong were largely wiped out in fierce fighting. While that appeared to be a victory in the Pentagon's view, it prompted Hanoi to step up the war by sending in regiments of the conventional, North Vietnamese Army.

In the aftermath of Tet, Walter Cronkite travelled to South Vietnam to draw his own conclusions and filed an opinion piece that sent shockwaves throughout America. Cronkite said that, try as it might, America was not going to win. On mainstreet America public support for the war collapsed but it still took another five years for American troops to leave the country.

America was traumatized by the failure of its war in Vietnam. America wasn't defeated, it just couldn't win and so it failed. In the wake of that failure, American hawks and the country's now widely discredited military blamed every scapegoat they could finger and one of their favourites was Walter Cronkite. Few could have withstood that. Cronkite was one who could.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite, Dead at 92

The veteran CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite has died, age 92. The iconic newsman's death was announced by his son. Cronkite had been seriously ill for the past month.

During the Bush years, Cronkite emerged from retirement to regularly lambaste America's right-wing, "lap dog" journalism that regurgitated every government lie and turned its head at the first sign of truth. That made him a target of the worst and slimiest in American broadcast journalism - the barrel bottom scrapings like Limbaugh and the FOX News crew.

Bracing for Our Future

Here's the bottom line. The world is facing a number of critical environmental and social challenges that are going to require remedial action but also adaptation. The severity of these various impacts isn't going to be felt universally. Some nations will be extremely hard-hit. Some are already being extremely hard-hit. For others the impacts may be later in arriving and less hard-hitting.

Canadians don't get to control how severe these problems will become. We can certainly contribute to making them worse or making them somewhat better but in either direction our influence will be limited. We can, however, do a great deal by way of how we adapt and minimize the negative consequences and that is what we ought to be focusing on right now, today.

How we position ourselves to meet these challenges is up to us. As a general rule, however, this may well be the century of the quick and the dead. Those who are quickest to act will most greatly increase their prospects of doing as well as possible. The best off will be those who are cognizant of the changes they'll experience, who have both the will and the means to respond as early as possible in order to take advantage of opportunities that may be fleeting and who happen to inhabit one of the few "lucky" countries. We are fortunate in that ours is indeed one of those really lucky countries. That leaves the other two criteria - recognition and action - entirely up to us.

Some experts, like James Hansen, now figure we're already well past the safe carbon atmospheric threshhold. He warns we have to get off coal energy entirely within twenty years. Twenty years. Yet there is no other fossil fuel remotely so abundant in a rapidly growing energy hungry world.

Then there's Peter Odell, professor of international energy studies at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. This energy economist says we don't have a (pardon me for this) snowball's chance in hell of breaking our fossil fuel addiction in this century.

Painting a gloomy picture of the short-term outlook for renewables, Odell told Reuters that even with a growing global effort to limit carbon dioxide emissions, the world would still be relying on hydrocarbons by 2100.

"Oil use won't peak until 2050," Odell said in an interview. "It will decline thereafter but even by 2100 oil supplies will be 20 percent higher than they were in 2000."

He said alternative, renewable forms of energy would increase 15-fold over the 21st century to become the biggest single source of energy by the year 2100, but even then alternative energy would still only account for 35-40 percent of the total energy mix.

...Odell said global energy demand could increase four-fold this century under some scenarios to as much as 38 giga (billion) tons of oil equivalent (gtoe) by 2100 from 9 gtoe.

He forecast world use of hydrocarbons would rise to a peak of 16.5 gtoe by 2070, from 5.8 gtoe in 2000.

Now, I personally find Odell's model unrealistic. He has failed to account for the fact that, in his outlook, civilization will have collapsed probably by mid-century and we'll have trimmed the hydrocarbon consumers to what James Lovelock estimates will be a "few hundreds of millions."

But Odell's predictions can't simply be dismissed because the important kernel is that we won't be able to shed our carbon economy. How many people are alive to consume fossil fuels in 2070 or 2099 is pretty much irrelevant. The only thing that really matters is whether, as Odell claims, mankind and the community of nations will be unwilling or unable to stop catastrophic climate change.

Even if there's a 20% chance that he's right then the Canadian people and our experts and our elected officials need to do a serious, brutally honest and open risk assessment right now. Not ten years from now. Not when we see how the global community performs on wrestling with greenhouse gas emissions. Even if we began analyzing the risk potential in Odell's report, it is going to take some time for us to put together something meaningful but we need to get started on that now.

As Canadians we have pretty much everything going for us. That's a gift best appreciated.

Bring Out Your Dead - Just Not Now

When is "dead" not really dead? That's an issue tackled today in the National Post.

The question revolves around the point at which helpful hospital staff can begin playing pickpocket with your internal organs, harvesting what they can for recycling in some other poor soul. The article warns of a "trend" of stripping organs from patients who have suffered cardiac death - no pulse - but may not yet be truly brain dead. Get'em while they're fresh!

Trouble is, you see, stopped hearts can sometimes be restarted. I know. Sometimes it's the paddles, sometimes it's a shot of adrenalin straight into the heart. But, surely, should the medical team not give up the ghost on us until we've really given up the ghost ourselves?

Dalhousie medical ethicist Jocelyn Downie has written a paper in which she suggests medical staff may be breaking the law in their rush to help save other patients from mortal illness.

The cardiac-death protocol, meanwhile, should probably be halted until more is known about when someone whose heart has stopped is beyond recovery, Prof. Downie said.
"We need clarity around this because it is critically important for a host of reasons," she said in an interview.
"It's only after the declaration of death that certain things can happen: We can take your organs, we can bury you, we can do an autopsy ... we can trigger all sorts of things around your property."

Who knows, is this next? -

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's the RCMP. What Did He Expect - The Truth?

Four high-level drug figures have walked because RCMP officers misled the court when they got their initial warrants and lied again when the matter came up in court.

Mr. Justice Peter Leask, a very sharp legal mind, ordered wiretap evidence obtained via the warrants inadmissible and, with that, the Crown folded its case. Leask didn't mince words. He found the officers misled the judge who granted the wiretap warrants and then lied to his court as they tried to explain away the false statements in their wiretap affidavits.

So the mounties got caught lying their asses off under oath, so what else is new? Sadly, here's something else that's getting old. Responding to the judge's ruling, an RCMP spokesman said the force is very concerned about Justice Leask's findings, so concerned that they're going to close ranks as usual and see if they can appeal. Not a word about taking a hard look at fellow officers who have broken the law, sullied the force and breached their duty to the Canadian public. I mean it's not as though they shot some unarmed kid in the back of the head in self-defence or Tasered some unfortunate to death in an airport.

Cleaning up the RCMP is Harper's responsibility. Seems that neither the prime minister nor the Tory apparatchik he appointed RCMP commissioner has much interest in doing that. Sad, really.

Just Because Stephen Harper Doesn't Want to Admit It, That Doesn't Make It "Dumb."

Canada's parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page has been exonerated by legitimate economists of accusations by pretend-economist Stephen Harper that Page's deficit warnings were "dumb."

The self-styled "Smartest Man in the Room" and part-time chair kicker had a sphincter malfunction when the budget officer said Canada was now running a structural deficit and would either have to raise taxes or cut spending before the budget would ever return to surplus.

"Not So" yelled the indignant man who has shown himself persistently inept and wrong-minded about this recession from well before it began. Furious that the budget officer should deign to tell Canadians the truth, Harper slammed Page, saying, "That’s a very dumb policy and, to the extent, frankly, that the parliamentary budget officer suggested it, it’s a dumb position.”

Of course Kevin Page's "dumb policy" was to presume he was able to speak candidly and honestly with the Canadian public and not first submit his remarks for "adjustment" by Harper's political commissars within the PMO. As the folks at DND and EnviroCan know, that sort of thing is a hanging offence in Harper's government.

Harper claims Canada's federal government will be rolling in a $700-million surplus by 2013-2014 (provided always that the Tories are not in power by then). Harper also claims the earth is 6,000 years old, global warming is a myth and tinfoil hats really do make watching television much more enjoyable. The insolent Page, however, foresees a deficit of $16.7 billion by then.

Harper's position is backed by, well, nobody except possibly his cherubic little finance minister with the impossibly red face. Page is backed by real economists:

Kevin’s numbers are quite close to the numbers we put out,” said Toronto Dominion Bank’s chief economist Don Drummond. “It depends on whether you think we can grow our way out of this deficit and our view, and Kevin Page’s view, is that’s not the most likely outcome.”

Veteran Bay Street economist Dale Orr also reportedly backed up Page’s numbers in a statement his Toronto-based consultancy released yesterday. It predicted the budget deficit in 2013-14 at around $15 to $20 billion and suggested new taxes or cuts to spending would have to be considered.

There's Gold In Green

California has a sometimes controversial medical marijuana industry. California growers produce 8.6-million pounds of weed annually valued at $13.8 billion. Now there's a proposal that could help California taxpayers - an excise tax on pot.

At $50 an ounce it would generate $1.4-billion in excise revenues atop the sales taxes already collected from purchasers. One can only imagine what California could take in if it decriminalized marijuana altogether and collected excise tax on all production, medicinal and recreational.

The Afghanistan Indictment

The role that Western nations have played in contributing to the current mess that we call Afghanistan is just beginning to come under scrutiny. The much expected re-election of Hamid Karzai will cement our legacy in that distant land and, as Nushin Arbabzadah notes in The Guardian, that legacy isn't good:

When the Taliban arrived in a village in Farah in May, the village elders approached them and asked them to leave. They told the Taliban that if the fighters stayed, the foreigners would bomb their village. The Taliban said: "We are fighting and dying for Islam and so should you. Why should you be spared death? Is your blood redder than ours?"

And so the foreign planes came, dropped their bombs and, according to locals, killed more than 100 civilians. "What could we do?" said a local man to the BBC's Afghan service. "The Talibs were young men with guns and grenades. We had no weapons to protect ourselves and no young men to help us."

...A cabal of discredited Afghan warlords accused of war crimes and ousted by the Taliban allied themselves with the foreign troops against the Taliban, and were co-opted into the system, becoming ministers, MPs and governors. To Afghans they remained just that – warlords – albeit warlords with new "democratic" titles and western friends. The 2001 intervention was a knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 done on the cheap. As local wisdom has it, there are three types of people in Afghanistan today: al-Qaida (the fighters), al-faida (the enriched) and al-gaida (the fucked). Most Afghans belong to the third category.

...Far from disarming the many Afghan militia gangs, the current intervention has created a new set of armed men who are highly trained and well-equipped. Their daytime job is to protect foreign problem-solvers. But in their spare time, they run their own criminal businesses, robbing and intimidating locals and recently, even killing a government official.

It's not as though any of this comes as a surprise. While we have been asking our soldiers to risk their lives we have been helping this cancer spread throughout the cities and the countryside, ensuring our soldiers' many sacrifices will be futile.

I find it telling that the many cheerleaders for this mission, the "Support the Troops" types with their yellow plastic ribbons on the trunks of their cars, never bothered to look at what was really going on in Afghanistan, never raised a protest. At the end of the day, they didn't really support the troops, they supported the troops being over there. Those are two really different things.

Is Harper Ready to Hang Up His Spurs?

Is Stephen Harper ready to pack it in?

Despite his endless flaws and shortcomings, Steve Harper has outgamed every Liberal team since Martin's.

I don't think Harper will be run out of town. I think he'll leave on his own terms. I would expect that sooner rather than later. I think Harper's horribly inept behaviour lately reflects a guy who's definitely not playing his "A" game.

What would possibly keep Harper in the job except some real prospect of winning a majority and that's not in the cards.

He's so far behind the curve on global warming that, even with the best and brightest at EnviroCan utterly gagged, he can't hide it much longer. He has bought as much time as possible. He's done an excellent job for the Oil Patch. It's not his fault that world prices cratered with the global meltdown. But time is running out.

Harper's hand will soon be forced on the climate change issue. He's going to have to set realistic and meaningful targets and he'll have to begin introducing measures to meet those. Other nations, particularly the United States, will be setting the bar and Canada is going to have to follow suit. To Harper's base that will be like shoving cloves of garlic down a vampire's throat. Do you really believe he, or the right wing of his party, want to be the people to deliver that up to their followers?

What have they got to lose by losing to Ignatieff right now? MI's already shown that he's willing to leave Canada's political centre far to the right (mission accomplished, point- Mr. Harper) and he'll be easy to attack as the successor to Dion when he has no choice but to introduce some form of carbon emissions controls.

Copenhagen is but six months away, the End Times are nigh. I think Harp's ready to pack his bags on a moment's notice and I don't think the Libs are remotely ready to deal with the vacuum he'll bequeath them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

California's Constitutional Crisis - Popular Revolt?

California's state government has ground to a halt, utterly dysfunctional. The state that proudly proclaims it has the 7th largest economy in the world can't pay its bills. A very small group of taxpayers have pushed the legislature over a cliff.

The state's constitution is booby-trapped. If the government needs to raise taxes, it takes a 2/3rds vote of the legislature to approve the budget. In a sharply-divided and intensely partisan legislature, that's left the state with a $23-billion revenue shortfall. If the legislature won't approve a tax hike the government can go to the voters in a "special election." That's what it did. 19% turned out. A majority of that 19% said no tax hikes. Paralysis.

Let's face it. It's really hard to get people to get out to the polls to support a tax hike but it's an awful lot easier to get people to the polls to reject a tax hike. You're almost guaranteed to get more to say no than to say yes. And, as this case shows, even 10% of the electorate can bring the state's government to a standstill. Right over the cliff.

But now there's a popular revolt underway. Left and right, voters are fed up with their legislature and their constitution. As the LA Times reports, the public are beginning to take matters into their own hands:

The unraveling budget has spurred groups of the political left, right and center to press full speed ahead with campaigns for what each considers the remedy for dysfunction.

A bipartisan organization sponsored by several foundations is finalizing a menu of potential solutions. Those are expected to include a change in budgeting practices and a possible shift of state-run programs such as health, education and welfare to local governments that may enjoy more public trust.

A deep-pocketed Bay Area business group that includes Google and Yahoo is pressing ahead with plans for a constitutional convention. In that scenario, 400 California residents of all stripes would ponder the state's problems in a months-long session and draft a new blueprint for government that presumably would land on the statewide ballot.

...The last true constitutional convention took place in 1878. Progressive-era reforms meant to overcome the power of railroad barons led to changes in 1911 that ushered in the initiative process. And a commission toiled for more than a dozen years in the 1960s and '70s, enacting a slew of constitutional revisions that included the birth of a full-time Legislature.

..."People are going to be looking for reforms at least up through next year's election," said Thad Kousser, a UC San Diego political scientist. "That will keep the pressure on the Legislature to do something."

Ideas for change abound: a more business-like budget process, election adjustments to lure more moderates, modification of term limits, a higher bar for approval of initiatives.

As a foreigner with a genuine fondness for California, all I can say is "amen."

Malaise in LibLand

I finally got around to reading Jim Travers piece on Michael Ignatieff in the Toronto Star.

Curious that, when the rest of us were saying these very same things, we were attacked by various IgLibs for being heretical and disloyal to the party.

Our critics gushed and swooned over the new guy while he put his stamp on the Liberal Party of Canada, transforming it into what Travers quite rightly labels "conservative-lite." Liberal, indeed!

The Eaton boys were no Timothy E., David and Lenny have shown they're no Izzy, Justin is no Pierre and Ian is no Keith. I can't imagine Keith Davey allowing Pierre Trudeau to come out with something as boneheaded as boasting about putting Harper "on probation." It's not inspiring, it's not even funny. It just makes you cringe when those words come out of Mr. Ignatieff's mouth. Yet it's even featured on the party's web page. What possible advantage is to be gained from constantly reminding everyone that you're all hat and no cattle.

Leave things like Gaza and the Tar Sands out of it for a while. Where Iggy really was tested and failed miserably was when Harper managed to get the GG to prorogue parliament. He and his advisors and his caucus had two precious months to get down to business and work furiously on a stimulus and recovery budget proposal of their own. They needed to be ready when parliament returned with a budget proposal that envisioned putting "new" money into the economy on any of the long list of genuinely needed infrastructure investments that would actually generate wealth for the country and the Canadian taxpayer when the spending costs fell due.

But Ignatieff used that precious two month window of opportunity to finish writing a book. What were his advisors thinking? How did they let that happen?

When parliament returned Ignatieff was empty-handed. He brought no grand vision to lay before the public as a real alternative. Instead he had to support what I labelled a pinata budget - throwing new decks on cottages or shouldering the tax burden for municipal works projects already on the books - that did precious little to stimulate or recover and would provide no lasting investment to offset the costs of the squandered money.

Snookered by the prime minister, Ignatieff supported the pinata budget and then puffed himself up mightily and pronounced the Harper government was "on probation." What a miserable farce.

I'm still willing to support Michael Ignatieff the moment he grasps the idea that it's the Liberal Party of Canada, not the Ignatieff Party of Canada, and that the key word is Liberal. The guy is unquestionably bright but he does need skilled handlers and he needs to listen to them.

Canada cannot afford two inept leaders. There are great challenges looming that we're going to have to address, challenges that will require real vision, the sort of vision that was nowhere to be seen in the pinata budget. I believe that Michael Ignatieff is capable of that vision if he stops screwing around pandering to everybody and starts acting like a liberal.

Pakistan Intrigue and Conspiracy - the Mind Reels

We get mail. Today it came in a contact from Pak Report claiming that Cheney, the CIA and India's foreign intelligence agency, RAW or Research and Analysis Wing, conspired to topple Pervez Musharraf. India, it claims, had its own motives but Cheney, it claims, was furious that Musharraf was not buying the US backed plans for the Central Asian pipeline but was, instead, favouring China - a result that could have been disastrous for companies like Halliburton and Unocal. Pak Report even hints at a possible Canadian connection.

Is this true? That's impossible to say but this is, after all, the very heartland of the "Great Game."

Seymour Hersh - Still Punching, Still Connecting

Last March, Seymour Hersh stood alone when he told an audience at the University of Minnesota that Dick Cheney had operated a secret assassination squad that he kept hidden from Congressional oversight.

"Congress has no oversight of it. It's an executive assassination ring essentially, and it's been going on and on and on. ...Under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That's been going on, in the name of all of us."

Hersh's revelation prompted the expected raised eyebrows and high level denials - pretty much the same thing he got four decades ago when he first wrote of the My Lai massacre. And now, as then, it turns out he was right on the money.

Now the New York Times is reporting that Cheney ran the squad through the CIA but it never was successful. The assassination squad reported by Hersh was run through the Pentagon's Special Ops Command and did, he claims, leave bodies in is wake.

Hersh told the Daily Beast that the Bush regime was very active in running covert military actions in the guise of intelligence operations not requiring government oversight. Hersh claims Bush even gloated about this in his 2003 State of the Union speech when he said:

"All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. And many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Whatever Happened to Liberalism?

What happened to liberalism? Where did we lose our way? How did we get to where we are today?

What does it mean to be Liberal without being liberal? To my simple mind it means bugger all. It means defining the party not in the context of the opposition, but on core beliefs.

This is Canada, not the United States. M.I. pay attention. You're not going to get far by abandoning your party's traditions in order to squeeze out votes from hither and yon by pandering.

Asbestos is bad, Asbestos is good, no Asbestos is bad. That kind of feeble, flickering conviction belongs in some bus station mens' room. And you're to be the successor to Trudeau, the leader to breathe new life into the Liberal Party of Canada? What a dark farce.

Look Michael, this isn't all about you. "You" haven't been able to sell your brand very well have you? Even as Canada descends into a serious recession under hapless Tory mismanagement, you're barely tied in the polls. Sorry pal but that's failure writ large.

But there might still be an "out." Maybe you could look at the real leaders who preceded you, those who made a difference to today's Canada, figure out why the Liberal party was first choice among Canadians under those lesser humans and - shudder - try to be a Liberal.

Or not. You have assembled a more than respectable legion of sycophants and hangers on that you might even, if Harper does something to actually put his razor hand to his own throat, and by default let you squeak in as a minority prime minister.

Sorry Mike but Canadians want and are waiting for a real Liberal to lead them out of this mess. They've had a good look at you and they don't see the goods.

"Chiquita Pete" Kent and the Great Honduran Coup

According to Ashley Holly's article in The Tyee, Canada under the Conservative Junta of Estaban Harpero and Pedro Kent is backing their fellow junta plotters who just pulled off the coup in Honduras. It is definitely worth a read:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

India Goes Dry - A World In Peril

Our leaders may not want to talk about the environmental cataclysm setting in around the world but those living with it are more than willing to talk.

I've been exchanging e-mails recently with an elderly Indian woman, a well-educated and highly intelligent individual. She's eager to discuss what lies in store for her fellow countrymen and mankind in general as they confront the challenges that can no longer be avoided.

Perhaps the greatest problem facing Indians today is disruption of their freshwater resources. They're now experiencing a triple-whammy. The Himalayan glaciers, whose headwaters supply India's key agricultural rivers, are in headlong retreat. As National Public Radio reported a couple of months ago, India's "green revolution" is beginning to teeter because it relied of massive overexploitation of the country's groundwater reserves. Now it's the missing monsoon.

The life-giving monsoon ought to have arrived five weeks ago but the Pacific has just been hit by a massive El Nino so much larger and different than previous El Ninos that they've renamed it El Nino Modoki. These ocean phenomenon usually disrupt rainfall to places like India and Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald reports alarm is spreading through India:

There are reports that monsoon-dependent crops in the north of the country have already been spoiled because of very hot weather and a lack of rain. Fears of a below-par monsoon in some of the most important farming districts have triggered a sharp rise in fruit and vegetable prices. This threatens to hit poor families the hardest.

The Meteorological Department, which issues a daily monsoon report, says the monsoon made a comeback last week but it admits rain has been "scanty" in some of the most productive food growing areas.

The fitful monsoon has created havoc in India's biggest city, Mumbai. Over the past fortnight the metropolis has been plunged into chaos by flash-flooding caused by heavy downpours. However, a lack of rainfall in the city's catchment areas has created a critical water shortage.

Mumbai's civic authority is so worried that it imposed a 30 per cent cut in town water last week and has stopped supplying water to non-essential services such as swimming pools.
There are reports the city may have only 20 days of water left unless the catchment areas receive more rain.

While Mumbai may have only 20-days of water stocks remaining, my friend, Salima, tells me that many smaller cities ran out of water in early April. Residents there who can afford it have to buy water that's trucked in which means water for drinking and perhaps some for cooking but none for sanitation or hygiene. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out what that will mean if this continues even for a matter of months longer.

India's government, however, is still forging ahead and is targetting for economic growth this year of 5%. What I'm told suggests they're running on autopilot.

To give you a clearer grasp of India's predicament, consider this from The Guardian:

It was a little after 8pm when the water started flowing through the pipe running beneath the dirt streets of Bhopal's Sanjay Nagar slum. After days without a drop of water, the Malviya family were the first to reach the hole they had drilled in the pipe, filling what containers they had as quickly as they could. Within minutes, three of them were dead, hacked to death by angry neighbours who accused them of stealing water.

In Bhopal, and across much of northern India, a late monsoon and the driest June for 83 years are exacerbating the effects of a widespread drought and setting neighbour against neighbour in a desperate fight for survival.

...In Bhopal, where 100,000 people rely solely on the water tankers that shuttle across the city, fights break out regularly. In the Pushpa Nagar slum, the arrival of the first tanker for two days prompted a frantic scramble, with men jostling women and children in their determination to get to the precious liquid first.

Young men scrambled on to the back of the tanker, jamming green plastic pipes through the hole on the top, passing them down to their wives or mothers waiting on the ground to siphon the water off into whatever they had managed to find: old cooking oil containers were popular, but even paint pots were pressed into service. A few children crawled beneath the tanker in the hope of catching the spillage.

Steve to Benny - It's Wafer Time

Gee yer Holiness, thanks for this awful swell pen. But look what I got for you - a wafer! Picked it up the other day just for you, special like.

All I Want From Michael Ignatieff

He's the leader of the Official Opposition and therefore it's his job to press the government to do necessary things it hasn't done or at least point out what the government has failed to do.

I want Mr. Ignatieff to bring every bit of pressure he can muster on the Harper government to do a very simple thing the British government did for its people just last month. Very simple but of enormous potential importance.

In June, Britain's environment secretary released a report on how much climate change is in store for that country based on existing carbon emissions. No hocus-pocus stuff speculating on what might or might not happen to slash greenhouse gas emissions in ten years or twenty years or forty years. Just a hardnosed, realistic look at what's almost certainly coming.

The report indicated that, by 2080, about every place in Britain will reach the two degree threshhold that we keep talking about. It also noted that some parts in the south, including London itself, could see temperature increases upwards of six degrees celsius.

The idea behind releasing that report was to get the population and their local governments thinking about their future environment so that they could begin to plan and prepare for it. By looking at a conservative estimate for 2080 you can work back to identify what might arrive by 2030 or 2050. Those are real numbers for much of the population. Then they can begin to examine and implement their options for adaptation and remediation.

We're not going to get that sort of potentially lifesaving information from our environment experts because Stephen Harper has their ministry effectively gagged. We'll get whatever climate change information he wants to give us and, based on what he's given us so far, that's a lot of nothing.

Somebody has to tear that gag off our best scientists at Environment Canada and who is more responsible for leading that battle than the leader of the opposition? Nobody. It's Michael Ignatieff's job to do just that and Britain's environment secretary has given our opposition a very powerful weapon to turn on Stephen Harper. Why can't the Canadian government do at least as much for our people as the British government has done for theirs? By what right does Stephen Harper choose to keep Canadians uninformed, even misinformed about this?

We're a big country. We have many regional environments and we'll all be affected somewhat differently. We have coastal environments, southern and northern, a mountainous region, a vast prairie, the Canadian Shield, and the Great Lakes basin. None of these is going to experience the same conditions. While we may have differing local environments, we are one people and we deserve to start getting some straight answers. Not political answers, scientific answers.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

CanWest and the Norwegian Blue

Izzy Asper built CanWest into a media empire with a book value of two billion dollars.

Izzy's gone, Lenny's at the helm and CanWest is now worth (optimistically) all of seven million dollars. When you're in hock to your creditors to the tune of four billion dollars, seven million book value isn't such a good thing.

CanWest has just announced a net loss of 110-million or 62 cents a share for the quarter ended May 31. showed Canwest shares opening yesterday at at 7 cents, hitting a low of 5.5 cents and closing at 11-cents.

Asper, reprising the role of Michael Palin in the pet shop, is struggling bravely to convince CanWest's creditors that the company is alive, unlike that Norwegian Blue parrot.

Friday, July 10, 2009

This is Rich. The Guy Who Took a Dump on Canada's Kyoto Commitments Calls other G8 Members Slackers.

The man is a tool, a complete tool. I guess he's got his nearest and dearest much too terrified to intervene and hand him a mirror. It's obvious from how he surrounds himself with bellicose arrogant flakes like Dimitri Soudas, specimens from a proctology lecture lab.

Now, having screwed this country and all Canadians three way to his 6,000-year old Sunday with his economics acumen and having done everything in his power to sabotage our promise to the rest of the world in the Kyoto Accords, this self-styled "brightest man in the room" has decided to castigate other G8 leaders for, oh yeah, not delivering on promised aid to the world's poor and hungry.

Apparently oblivious to the fact that the greatest threat facing the weakest, poorest and least advantaged is the onslaught of climate change (think Tar Sands, Tar Sands, Tar Sands) the engorged sphincter on legs complained that Western leaders, "make commitments and we don't fulfil them. This undercuts the credibility of our process."

Excuse me but isn't this the same butthole who promised Canadians open and accountable government among so many other promises that now lie broken discarded like so many plastic bags and empty beer bottles in the Baja. I think the other G8 leaders might have noticed how Harpo soiled his own diaper today in his inane attack of Ignatieff. Chances are they've already dismissed SHPM as an empty suit, chump change.

Mmm, mmm, mmm - Three Hour Ribs!

I don't eat much meat. Pork mainly, beef rarely. I tend to stick with fish and chicken most of the year. Then summer arrives and everything goes straight to hell.

I love to barbeque. I fell off the wagon and wound up with a gas grill until my old CBC buddy (now CTV) Paul Workman gave me a proper dressing down over it, reminding me of our more aesthetic grilling days when we were frequently besotted young reporters. So, out went the gas bottle and in came the Weber kettle.

I'm not a snob but I do know the difference between properly kiln-charred 'lump' charcoal and that processed crap mixed with powdered coal and petroleum by-products that we call briquettes. Fortunately Canadian Tire stocks a generous supply of real charcoal, the type your Dad would have used (if you were a kid in the 50's).

A barbeque is all about spice. I make my own with an old-school mortar and pestle and a variety of herbs including unground mustard seed, fennel, chile seeds, cardomom, and an array of black, red and white pepper corns. A little kosher salt, some brown sugar, real gourmet chile powders, fresh cumin and top grade Hungarian paprika and the universe literally unfolds.

Then it's the fire, the secret ingredient - the magic. You want heat but it has to be indirect heat and very, very low. Under 180 is the key. That requires a lot of trial and error until you get to know how to build that fire and get it to just that right point. That's a perfect storm requiring the right amount of coals at the right point and continually controlled by regulating both the air intake and the upper vents.

A couple of hours before I'm ready to put meat on the grill I begin soaking the wood chips - mesquite or hickory or apple (the latter mainly for fish). When I'm ready to go, the chips go on the coals immediately before the meat reaches the grill. Then I put on the kettle top, adjust the vents and marvel at the smoke that pours out carrying that awesome aroma.

Now to do this right you have to check your fire every 20-30 minutes. You don't want it hot but you have to be careful lest it go out. Once you're through the first round, all that's needed is to add twigs from any one of the fruit trees in the yard. The last ten minutes, when the fire has really died down, it's time to add your homemade barbeque sauce and let it set in under the remaining heat and smoke.

Three hours later and it's time to reap what you have sowed. Ribs that are so moist, so tender that they genuinely do fall off the bone. You could eat that even if you had no teeth. And I can't even begin to describe the texture. The stuff melts.

So, tomorrow's another day. Maybe Beer Can Chicken? Pretty hard to beat that.

As an aside, I have done 5-hour ribs - more smoke, less heat and even 7-hour ribs. Unfortunately I'm not able to appreciate the difference. Three it is for me.

Something to Think About

This map shows the 10 least-densely populated countries in the world. Eight of the ten lie in regions that are expected to be particularly hard-hit by climte change. Hmm, that big, green one looks interesting.

Is Afghanistan Facing Revolt?

Forget about the Taliban and al Qaeda. This concerns ordinary Afghans and their anger toward their central government and, in particular, Hamid Karzai.

Afghans go to the polls next month to elect their president and Karzai is considered a shoo-in. That's got the American commander responsible for taming the southern provinces of Logar and Wardak warning of a possible, popular revolt. From The Guardian:

"I think the people down here are disgruntled with the government because there feeling is, look, 'I'm just right to the south, I'm frigging 40 miles away and you couldn't help me?'" said [Colonel David] Haight.

"I think that apathy is going to turn into some anger because when the administration doesn't change, and I don't think anyone believes now that Karzai is going to lose ... I think there is going to be frustration from people who realise there is not going to be a change. The bottom line is they are going to be thinking: 'four more years of this crap?'" Haight said.

...Widely blamed for much of the corruption in modern Afghanistan, Karzai has nonetheless succeeded in gaining the support of most of the country's most important ethnic and tribal power-brokers, including a number of unsavoury characters accused of human rights violations.

...There are also concerns about the independence of the election commission, which opponents accuse Karzai of stacking with loyalists.

Ashraf Ghani, former finance minister once tipped as a replacement for Kofi Annan as UN secretary general, is one of two leading opposition candidates. He is about to hit the campaign trail, but has limited access to television, no official protection, and no helicopter. He echoed Haight's view that the Karzai administration had failed to deliver on security: "In 2001 the Afghan people expected state-building and received bad governance and corruption. Now as a result of the failure of this government and international community, they are demonstrating again the desire for legitimate and accountable state institutions."

You don't have to go too far back in time to recall another nation wrestling with an insurgency and beset by a corrupt and detested government. It was popular discontent that kept the government of South Vietnam from ever consolidating its hold on the country, hastening its collapse.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Farewell Athabasca

Steve and Mike may think the Athabasca Tar Sands are pivotal to Canadian prosperity through the 21st century but not if what Steve was sincere in joining other G8 leaders on global warming.

An 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050. Let's face it - there is no way, none, that we're going to meet that promise without breaking our addiction to fossil fuels. Sorry Steve, Sorry Mike -- they've got to go. Leave the damned bitumen in the ground.

According to BBC News, reaching that target will require revolutionary change.

The commitment by G8 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 suggests that the leaders of those nations are serious about starting a fundamental revolution in the way society meets its energy needs.

Nothing else than a top-to-bottom refit can do the job.

Virtually all electricity generation will have to come from renewables, nuclear power or so-called "clean" coal - if that technology can be made to work on a commercial scale.

The amount of electricity generated in Western countries will have to rise significantly - doubling or even trebling - as transport and the heating systems for homes and businesses switch away from fossil fuels.

Alongside a re-fuelling revolution would go a frugality revolution, as societies put an end to energy wastage.

The article points out that politicians usually don't get around to any tangible action on targets that are 40-years off. This problem is unique because you can't introduce changes of this magnitude without decades of preparation and progress.

Steve's promise spells an end to any nonsense about "intensity based" emissions reductions for the Tar Sands. That has to be totally ruled out. There's no way you can increase emissions for the dirtiest energy project on the planet and slash overall emissions 80% within just two generations.

And Mike - just treat the Tar Sands like asbestos - don't worry about the flip-flops - just say "no."

What Does It Take to Get Harper to a Photo Shoot?

Once again Steve has done it - left fellow world leaders standing around waiting for him to show up to a group photo shoot. So, what's it going to take to get Steve to show up on time? Maybe he needs something like this:

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

It's a Record

Found this over at CBC News. A guy named Mark Malkoff set a world record for the greatest number of flights in a span of 30-days. Malkoff did this by literally living aboard a US regional carrier, Air Tran aircraft and logging between five and a dozen flights a day. So what do you do when you're living on a commuter plane for a month? This clip gives you an idea.

What Are You Doing in 2080?

Relax, I'm pretty sure you're not going to be doing anything in 2080 other than relying on some relative to pull the weeds at your grave.

But in Britain, they are talking about what they'll be doing in 2080 or at least what the next generations of Britons will be doing. That's because the British government has released its annual report warning its citizens of what they can expect by 2080 and urging them to begin planning and preparing for it.

For example, the Brits are warning their public that the country will be at least two degrees warmer by 2080 with parts in the south, including London, upwards of six degrees warmer. That, by the way, is a lot of "warmer."

The British government knows what your government knows. They know that climate change on a serious scale is inevitable and they know that defining and implementing effective measures for adaptation and remediation is a multi-generational challenge.

Telling people what's coming in 2080 allows them to work out, with some accuracy, what changes they can expect along the way. That's because today's generation of Britons needs to know what they'll be dealing with in 2040 and 2060.

So, here's the question. What has your government told you to expect by 2080 where you live in Grand Prairie, Alberta or Dauphin, Manitoba or Port Hope, Ontario or Miramichi, New Brunswick? I know what they've told you because I know what they've told me - nothing.

So here's the next question. Why hasn't your government taken the obvious step of telling you what your area should expect and begin planning for in 2080 and 2040 and 2060? Why indeed? Why haven't the opposition parties been demanding, furiously insisting the government do just that? Why have they stood mute on this while feeding you a crockpot full of garbage about bitumen and national unity?

Maybe they don't want to discuss this with you because they have a pretty good idea of how you might react. Maybe they see this as an unwelcome problem they would just prefer to move down the road, to leave for somebody else to clean up.

Why do we see the Europeans as so strident on slashing global carbon emissions right now? What's with that anyway? It's really quite simple. The Euros don't have to look to the horizon for signs of the approach of global warming. It's already arrived. It's real, tangible. The closer you get to the Mediterranean the more tangible it becomes.

Take Greece, for example. It's forest fire season has expanded by six weeks. The country is beset by the double whammy of heatwaves and drought. Northern Europe is getting wetter, southern Europe is drying out. Several months ago the Greek minister of tourism lamented that his country was becoming unsuitable for visitors during the summer months. Greek agriculture has taken a hard hit. The country has explored options including later planting and alternate crops. Unfortunately the alternates need 40% more water which is problematical when you're confronted with a sustained drought.

Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece are all losing arable farmland to desertification. You don't have to convince these people about global warming, they live it.

So here's a final question. If London, capital of an island nation whose climate is moderated by surrounding seas, is facing a 6 degree temperature increase by 2080, what do you think lies in store for you folks from Toronto and Winnipeg and Calgary by 2080? Do you even want to know?

The Taliban Relocate

The only thing surprising is that anyone should be surprised. Afghan defence officials have told McClatchey Newspapers that the recent American offensive in Helmand province has succeeded - in moving the Taliban to relocate. Like all good little insurgents they've simply moved, this time to the east and the north.

Why should this outcome have been so obvious? Well, what would have been the alternative? The only option the Taliban had was to stand and fight with WWII vintage assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades against American strike fighters, attack helicopters, drones, artillery and tanks. That really doesn't sound too enticing, does it? Especially not when you can hand the Americans a tactical defeat by simply walking away.

It will be interesting to see how long the Americans stick to their promise to "hold" Helmand province. It takes a lot of people to hold turf in an insurgency, a lot of people that neither NATO nor the United States have in Afghanistan. Even with the additional 17,000 troops sent by Obama, they're left with a small force for the job they've been given.

I'm sure the Taliban would be quite content if the Americans want to tie down their new force in static positions in Helmand. Keep in mind that the Taliban's long game is to simply outwait the Westerners.