Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Ounce of Prevention - Mike, Steve, Are You Listening?

Two recent events have clearly demonstrated the essential need for climate change information and preparation. It saves lives, lots of them.

US Samoa was hit by a tsunami yesterday but the loss of life was greatly reduced by public awareness and planning. Now, obviously, the earthquake that generated the tsunami is not a product of climate change but the event does show how proper public education and planning can save lives.

The typhoon that struck the Philippines and Vietnam, Typhoon Ketsana, does make the direct case for climate change education and planning. The Philippines, which was struck first, was relatively unprepared and got hammered. Vietnam had a couple of days warning and, largely due to a properly informed and prepared public, was able to avoid massive loss of life:

Ngo Thi Thanh has weathered dozens of tropical storms and typhoons living in central Vietnam’s coastal region, but in her 60 years she has never seen the kind of destruction wrought by Typhoon Ketsana, which struck late on 29 September.

“It swept through just like an atomic bomb was dropped here,” says Thanh, who lives in Quang Nam, the hardest-hit province, on the south-central coast of Vietnam.

... Ugo Blanco, who is helping to coordinate the UN Development Programme’s response to the storm, says the casualty figures could have been much higher. “The typhoon was one of the worst in intensity, but not in terms of damage,” says Blanco.

This was because “preparation was very, very good. When the storm hit the Philippines it triggered preparations [in Vietnam]. Two hundred thousand people were evacuated. It saved many, many lives.”

In the Philippines where the death count already stands at 250 and the displaced number 730,000, Typhoon Ketsana has fueled demands for urgent action on climate change:

"The death, the pain and the damage in the Philippines help us to understand the necessity of an earnest negotiation," Heherson Alvarez, head of the Philippine delegation to the talks and presidential adviser on climate change, told reporters.

"We should cut deep and cut early in order to moderate these destructive typhoons," he said. "Think of Manila. Think of what can happen in this world." Alvarez said the Philippines experiences about 20 typhoons a year; they have been increasing in speed over the past 30 years from 100km to up to 200km per hour.

The Philippines is gathering scientific data to show the effects of climate change on the country, but Alvarez said there was evidence to show a correlation between an increase in the level of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and the severity of typhoons.

Graciano Yumul, under-secretary at the Philippine government's national Department of Science and Technology, pointed to changing weather patterns in the world's second largest archipelago nation, including rain during the country's normally dry summer months from April to June.

During summer this year, "a lot of people died because three typhoons hit the country. Summer is supposed to be dry, not wet," said Yumul.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Word's Out - We're Backing Karzai!

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the West has decided to hold its nose and support the supposed re-election of Afghan president Hamid Karzai:

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and NATO foreign ministers have reached a consensus that Mr Karzai will probably stay on as president, regardless of the continuing inquiry into vote rigging.

The allies told the Afghan Foreign Minister, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, in a meeting in New York last week that they would support the regime and its policy of persuading Taliban commanders to defect.

...Despite concerns that the US-led military mission could fail if Mr Karzai's weak and corrupt government continued, the allies see him as the only viable option.

Nearly six weeks after polling day, Afghanistan remains in political limbo, with either a certified victory or a decision to hold a second round of voting at least a week away.

Shit, oh dear. Another endorsement from the West for rule by warlords. Does no one realize that our legitimacy over there now can be no greater than Karzai's legitimacy that can, in turn, be no greater than that totally fraudulent election? Not that we had a lot of choice but I think we've just handed the Taliban and its allies the means to transform this insurgency into a genuine civil war.

Don't Allow the Slaughter of Anything More Intelligent Than Your Presidents

Thanks to George w. Bush, that would cover all species of whales and most primates, maybe even a couple of wallpaper patterns. Unfortunately America seems to be moving the other way.

The Environmental News Network reports that the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service is moving to strip the humpback whale of its endangered species protection in the north Pacific.

Since an international ban on their whaling in 1966, populations of the north Pacific humpback have increased about 4.7 percent each year, researchers say. An estimated 18,000 to 20,000 humpbacks now exist in the north Pacific.

Oh great, we'll let the Japanese cull that herd when the herd that really needs thinning is us, mankind.

So Much Hate, So Little Time

From AlterNet. Can you match the hate talk to the hate talker?

1. "We need segregated buses... In Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, 'Yah, right on, right on, right on, right on,'"

2. "... monkeys came running out of the jungle, and they grabbed the golf balls ...and the rule was, you have to play the ball where the monkey throws it."

3. Obama "is most certainly creating a climate of hate against" Jews.

4. Obama has... a "deep-seated hatred for white people… and white culture."

5. "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate."

6. "The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans."

A. Lou Dobbs
B. Glenn Beck
C. Rush Limbaugh
D. Michael Savage
E. Congressman Ray Blount

(Answers: 1-C 2-E 3-D 4-B 5-C 6-A)

Yeah But Did They Use a Fact-Checker?

Sarah Palin's memoir, you bet'cha. Comin' out in November, don'tcha know. She's fixin to tell us her whole life story and it's bound to be a good one - story that is, as in tall tale.

Now we know that Sarah isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. That she made it to the drawer at all was due to a chain of flukes. Sarah may be the darling of America's radicalized right but, like them, she can be a stranger to truth and reality.

I'll tell you who will be snapping up advance copies of her tome - anyone interested in the Republican nomination in 2012, that's who. They'll be parsing every phrase, dissecting every claim, preparing themselves to slice and dice her into slaw during the drawn out nomination campaign.

Oh yeah, somebody else - Tina Fey.

So Many Wars All in One Little Country

Compare and contrast:

1. The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.

2. An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict.

3. War between people of the same country.

Which of these describes the conflict underway in Afghanistan today? Does it matter? In fact it does. The first of these is the US military's definition of terrorism. The second its definition of insurgency. The third is the standard definition of civil war.

When an internal conflict reaches sufficient proportions that the interests of other countries are affected, outside states may recognize a state of insurgency. A recognition of insurgency, whether formal or de facto, indicates that the recognizing state regards the insurgents as proper contestants for legitimate power. Although the precise status of insurgents under international law is not well-defined, recognized insurgents traditionally gain the protection afforded soldiers under international rules of law pertaining to war. A state may also decide to recognize the contending group as a belligerent, a status that invokes more well-defined rights and responsibilities. Once recognized as a belligerent party, that party obtains the rights of a belligerent party in a public war, or war between opposing states. The belligerents stand on a par with the parent state in the conduct and settlement of the conflict. In addition, states recognizing the insurgents as belligerents must assume the duties of neutrality toward the conflict.

At the moment, Western politicians and military leaders deliberately blur the distinction when they describe the war they're fighting in Afghanistan. The continued presence (so we're told anyway) of al Qaeda allows them to maintain they're fighting terrorists, the "9/11" bunch. We have to keep fighting in Afghanistan, the line goes, to prevent that country from again becoming a sanctuary for terrorists.

But the Taliban didn't return as terrorists but as guerrillas in a classic insurgency. That's a nationalist movement, an "organized movement" to be sure but still narrowly based especially in a multi-ethnic state like Afghanistan.

Today, however, that insurgency has morphed into something more closely resembling a civil war. As noted by General McChrystal, the Taliban has been joined by two other groups - Haqqani's forces and Hekmatyar and his militia. Also involved are the drug lords (who may or may not also support Karzai), common criminals (who may or may not also support Karzai), ordinary Afghans who sign on for the pay or to exact revenge and the standard bunch of nationalists who just want the infidels out of their country.

As in a civil war, the Taliban and their supporters actually control territory and contest control in other areas, implementing their own security and justice systems for example. Sure they're brutal but they offer the people relief from Kabul's predations and corruption.

Are these distinctions - terrorism, insurgency, civil war - important? I think they are for several reasons. One of these is that the nature of the adversary defines the type of war you're fighting. Terrorists and insurgents operate differently and must be confronted differently. We're constantly told about "moderate" Taliban fighters but no one is suggesting there's a moderate wing within al Qaeda.

The more troubling prospect becomes the evolution of a full-blown civil war. That's because we, the Western outsiders, Infidels, are propping up one side of that conflict. It's not a very nice side to boot. Without us Karzai wouldn't last more than a few months and he knows it. This past election showed his limited support and how what support he did muster had to be bought. And, all other considerations aside, this is the true measure of how little we've achieved since 2001.

The side we're defending, enabling to remain notionally in power, is decidedly unpopular. As a functioning government it's not viable nor, as the election has shown, is it particularly legitimate. If we're going into a civil war Karzai and his cadre of warlords are not the sort of government who are going to generate a lot of badly needed support for our side. It's one thing if it's Western forces versus the Taliban. It's another thing entirely if it's Western forces versus the people of Afghanistan. We didn't go there to fight Afghan nationalists but, within a short time, we may be reduced to that.

Karzai versus the insurgency. Do you think the Afghan public's perception of the last election is going to garner support for Karzai or for the one party that is directly opposing him? Do you think that election did anything to increase Karzai's acceptability to the insurgents? Answer one - of course not. Answer two - of course not. Anyway you carve it up, that election was a body blow to our efforts in Afghanistan. We ignore that at our peril.

We're not winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. We've been there too long and for too long we've waged war very counterproductively. Afghans can't be counted on to put up with that for very long and a lot of them have already had their fill of us. We may not be winning them over but Karzai is positively losing them. This is a candle burning from both ends.

McChrystal is right; the sort of warfare the West has waged has led us to the brink of failure. Where he's wrong is in contending that he can now do what we actually needed to do as far back as 2003. That's when the Afghan people needed our security. That's when we needed to rid Afghanistan of warlord rule. Unfortunately McChrystal is fighting Afghanistan 2009 not Afghanistan 2003 and he has no means to roll back that clock. Whistling past the graveyard is not a strategy to reverse our failures in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan - Now There's Real Progress

Finally. Finally the Harper government has ordered Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan to either stop or report incidents of Afghan soldiers and interpreters raping young boys. DefMin Pete MacKay announced that yesterday, after years of pretending that Canadian soldiers and others hadn't been complaining about the predilictions of our supposed Afghan allies.

"We require that any wrongdoing that a Canadian soldier would see in Afghanistan or anywhere would be no less than the expectation that we would have in Canada – to do the right thing, to prevent, to pre-empt, to intervene," MacKay said Monday.

Now Pete what about those young girls in prison down the road from Canada's garrison, thrown into the slammer for refusing their fathers' attempts to sell them to other old men? Think maybe we should spring them too?

Vatican Points Pedophile Finger

The Vatican admits it's had a few bumps and bruises from revelations of child molestation, and worse, by its priests but, hey, doesn't every church? In fact, the Vatican says that, when it comes to kid diddling, some other churches are just as bad, even worse:

In a defiant and provocative statement, issued following a meeting of the UN human rights council in Geneva, the Holy See said the majority of Catholic clergy who committed such acts were not paedophiles but homosexuals attracted to sex with adolescent males.

The statement, read out by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent observer to the UN, defended its record by claiming that "available research" showed that only 1.5%-5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse.

He also quoted statistics from the Christian Scientist Monitor newspaper to show that most US churches being hit by child sex abuse allegations were Protestant and that sexual abuse within Jewish communities was common.

So, if the Vatican admits that Priestly Peds are less than 5% of its clergy and excludes from that calculation garden variety homosexual priests who just like to do adolescent males, defining them as "the majority of Catholic clergy who committed such acts," what's the bottom line when you lump in the teen diddlers with the really 'little kid' diddlers?

The statement said that rather than paedophilia, it would "be more correct" to speak of ephebophilia, a homosexual attraction to adolescent males.

"Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17."

Well, unfortunately that last statement invites us to do the math. If the Vatican admits that upwards of 5% of its clergy are peds but, of all its priests committing abuses, 80-90% aren't peds in Rome's eyes but just gay guys who fancy sex with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17 (that's not pedophilia?), then that works out to a whopping 50% overall. And the Vatican is pointing fingers? That's just plain creepy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why are Canadians Being Sold Down the River on Climate Change?

Look at it this way. Civilization is almost certainly doomed, finished if the leaders of the world show the same desultory attitude to climate change as Messrs. Harper, Ignatieff and Layton.

The latest number crunching by the United Nations Environment Programme shows that, even if all countries were to fully meet their carbon reduction targets, we're still going to blow right through the magic 2 degrees Celsius mark accepted as the absolute, "never exceed" limit to salvage our civilization. In fact, if our global leaders are miraculously totally successful in achieving their targets, mankind's emissions will still result in about 3.6 degrees Celsius heating by the end of this century.

There is an enormous amount of hope built into these projections. For example, we hope the earth can handle 2 degrees Celsius of heating without reaching 'tipping points' at which the planet begins releasing its own greenhouse gases - CO2 and methane - at life-snuffing volumes. Remember, these tipping points are just that. They're the point at which we capsize, the point where we lose control and are just along for a truly nasty dunking.

Why are Canadians not discussing this? Why are we not getting the information we need from Ottawa? There are so many things we ought to be considering, things we need to begin evaluating. So why is that not happening? Because we have a prime minister who wants to suppress that information and opposition leaders, Liberal and NDP, who are just fine with that.

Steve and Mike are Tar Sands shills, real bitumen boosters. You can't speak of the Tar Sands and the UNEP projections and not come off sounding like a reprobate. When you bring the two into the light of day together, your grand vision of the nation is revealed to be a sham. So what's Jack's excuse? The diminutive, bald-headed plebian knows that discussing this existential threat quickly and inevitably leads to substantial carbon tax initiatives and this court jester doesn't want to be associated with measures that might hit you in the wallet when you take the gas guzzling pick up to the pump.

When it comes to climate change, these three are afraid - not for what's facing our kids and grandkids, but for how this could derail their political fortunes. This is all about them. They're delighted to drone on endlessly about employment insurance and stimulus spending and Afghanistan and anything else they can transform into political fodder - but they won't discuss climate change, what it's going to mean for today's Canadians and tomorrow's and what we can and should be doing about it.

What kind of men are these three? I have one word that fits but I won't use it here.

Climate Change Numbers Heat Up

There's a new phenomenon sweeping through the halls of climate science - realism. After nearly two decades of constantly understating the problem, of seeing successive projections unexpectedly overtaken by events - and with the ever-important Copenhagen summit just a couple of months away - they're really sharpening their pencils and you're not going to like their results.

Memo to Steve and Mike - these numbers are going to make Tar Sands shills about as welcome as having Nosferatu in to babysit your kids.

Here's the bottom line. Even if every nation fully met its ultimate carbon emissions reduction targets the earth will warm at least 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit or about 3.5 degrees Celsius. Another way of looking at it is that this forecast is almost double the estimated maximum permissible heating if civilization as we know it is to survive. From the Washington Post:

The United Nations Environment Programme report, "Climate Change Science Compendium 2009", breaks from the past. It's not a consensus-based report like the previous IPCC reports that have consistently understated the problem. The denialists and lobbyists aren't going to be allowed to sabotage this report, it's simply too important.

Achim Steiner, UNEP's executive director, told reporters at the National Press Club on Thursday that the report aims to update the IPCC's 2007 findings to reflect both new physical evidence and a more sophisticated understanding of how Earth systems work.

"With every day that passes, the underlying trends that science has provided is . . . of such a dramatic nature that shying away from a major agreement in Copenhagen will probably be unforgivable if you look back in history at this moment," Steiner said. He noted that since 2000 alone, the average rate of melting at 30 glaciers in nine mountain ranges has doubled compared with the rate during the previous two decades.

"These are not things that are in dispute in terms of data," he said. "They are actually physically measurable."

...activists such as director Bill McKibben said politicians worldwide are not taking aggressive enough steps to address climate change.

"Here's where we are: The political system is not producing at the moment a result which has anything to do with what the science is telling us," said McKibben, whose group aims to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, well below the 450 ppm target that leaders of the Group of 20 major nations have embraced.

What makes me so damn mad about this is that Harper, Ignatieff and Layton; the people who ought to be getting Canadians specific, reliable information about this issue, what each of our regions can expect by way of change and what we can do to prepare for it, stand mute and wilfully keep us in the dark. I'm sorry to say this but each of these guys is betraying the people of Canada.

Swiss Nab Polanski - Extradition Next?

Roman Polanski got more than he bargained for when he showed up in Switzerland Saturday to collect an honorary award at the Zurich film festival. He was arrested by Swiss authorities on the 1977 US charges for drugging and sodomizing a 13-year old girl.

No, not for alledgedly drugging and sodomizing a 13-year old girl. Polanski admitted his pedophilic abuses in pleading guilty. He then escaped to Europe while awaiting sentencing.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

America's New Political Class - the Idiocracy

When I watch news clips of the Birthers or the Teabaggers or the typical Limbots or Beckerheads I'm left with this feeling I've witnessed something rarely seen outside of really awful places like North Korea. I realize these nutjobs make up just a minority, although a sizeable minority, of the American people but how many does it take before one of them does something truly horrifying.

It's not like America simply emptied its asylums. If these people were merely running aimlessly through the fields and forests like feral cats it wouldn't be so bad. It's just that they haven't been released, they've been harnessed, mobilized. Perhaps the genius of the Hannitys and Limbaughs and Becks has been to realize that there are enough gullible, unquestioning dimwits to be had and infuriated and scared silly, on the cheap to boot, that they don't have to compete for the hearts and minds of thinking Americans. There's always enough booze left in the empties that if you don't mind tipping back enough of them you can still get hammered.

As America's middle class was slowly choked to death, a new group rose to take its place, to claim its influence - the American Idiocracy. These are people who, for most of their lives, have been economically and politically shackled to their own stupidity, insecurity and superstitions who suddenly find themselves courted by the unscrupulous hucksters who have come to recognize their coarse utility. To these connivers, also known as Republicans, the Idiocracy was the low-hanging fruit, the malignancy of "one man, one vote."

What must they think of their followers, their faithful, as they spoonfeed them the most outrageous lies and watch them swallow them whole until they bloat with hatred and fury. They must hold their constituents in horrible contempt.

Fortunately the Idiocracy's influence may be peaking. They're not powerful enough to form their own party and they're simply too odious to be tolerated for too long amid mainstream parties. Like their religious extremist counterparts, the Idiocracy has served its purpose as far as the conservative Republican movement is concerned and is becoming much more of a liability than an asset for the future. FOX News and open mouth radio will be their mainstay for these media are addicted to the Idiocracy. Morons are their bread and butter and they haven't got religion to fall back on. But, fortunately, the Idiocracy has a limited shelf-life on the national stage, unless this is true:

Idiocracy - Opening Sequence - Amazing videos are here

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Krusadin' in Kandahar?

Is our paramount ally, the United States military, boosting our image as Crusaders in the Muslim world, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan? Chris Roda, in a piece in today's AlterNet, makes the case that our ally is shoving Christianity down Muslim throats, providing invaluable propaganda to Islamist extremists.

One clip from Roda's article is this video of a fundamentalist preacher in Iraq praising the Lord for meeting his soldiers' prayers for bibles in Swahili. Really, Swahili.

Now it should come as no surprise that Swahili is not a language indigenous to any part of Iraq. In fact, here is a map of just where Swahili is spoken:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

And The Winner Is:

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.Here are the 2009 winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus : A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy : Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7.. Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high

8. Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon : It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer, right?

12. Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido : All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.) : Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

Don't Blame Hummer Drivers - They're Not Quite Right In The Head

Maybe you like the sight of a Hummer negotiating the supermarket parking lot but probably you don't. To most of us the Hummer personifies the sort of unrestrained overconsumption that afflicts today's world in so many ways.

So what entices a motorist to sport about in this military surplus behemoth? Many, it seems, do it because they're not quite right in the head. A trio of researchers representing the University of Innsbruck, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and York University set out to find out what's on the minds of Hummer owners.

They investigated various Internet expressions of anti-Hummer sentiment, but they were equally interested in the ways Hummer owners framed themselves as "moral protagonists" in the ongoing debate over consumer values. They conducted in-depth interviews with twenty U.S.-born and raised Hummer owners and found among these consumers an equally strong current of moralism.

"As we studied American Hummer owners and their ideological beliefs, we found that they consider Hummer driving a highly moral consumption choice," write the authors. "For Hummer owners it is possible to claim the moral high ground."

The authors explain that Hummer owners employ the ideology of American foundational myths, such as the "rugged individual," and the "boundless frontier" to construct themselves as moral protagonists. They often believe they represent a bastion again anti-American discourses evoked by their critics.

"Our analysis of the underlying American identity discourses revealed that being under siege by (moral) critics is an historically established feature of being an American," write the authors. "The moralistic critique of their consumption choices readily inspired Hummer owners to adopt the role of the moral protagonist who defends American national ideals."

Their findings shouldn't come as much of a surprise. In a nation that worships gun ownership, it's not a big stretch to see a Hummer as the embodiment of American ideals.

Does Canada Need a Conservative Government Plus a Conservative Government in Waiting?

It seems to me that one Canadian conservative government is enough. Iggiphiles may see the transformation of the Liberal Party of Canada into a mild copy of the CPC as no great problem but what matters aren't Ignatieff backers but Canadian voters. As The Globe's Jeffrey Simpson points out, to many voters Iggy is just the "same old, same old" they've been getting from Harper:

...rhetoric aside, a convergence between the two parties is noticeable, as the Conservatives become big-spending middle-of-the-roaders and learn more about foreign policy, and the Liberals seem incapable or unwilling to present anything terribly arresting.

Both parties agree, for example, on how to eliminate the federal deficit – slowly and largely by counting on economic growth to spare them from making too many hard decisions. They are obviously content to let debt pile up because they fear being honest with voters that without tax increases and spending cuts, the debt burden will be passed on to their children. Both have ruled out increasing taxes on individuals, businesses and spending. Both insist they will protect Ottawa's massive transfers to provinces. Neither dares touch big federal transfers to individuals, such as pensions. Neither has mentioned slowing down the increase in defence spending.

What do these exemptions leave? It's simple mathematics: cuts to other government programs.
But which ones? Neither party will say, fearing political controversy. All the Liberals argue is that if they must cut, their cuts will be more compassionate.

...As for the... ...Liberals' foreign-policy critique, it is astonishingly thin for a party led by a man who lived so long abroad and visited so many other countries, including failed and failing states. Framing a foreign policy based on that experience ought to have been an Ignatieff high card; instead, his speech last week revealed something much lower down the deck.

A secretariat for the G20. A peace institute. These sound good, but are really quite silly. The return of Team Canada missions? Harmless. A new approach to India and China? See above. Complaints that Mr. Harper's government hasn't worked hard enough against U.S. protectionism are simply wrong. On Afghanistan and the Arctic, the Liberal policy is essentially the government's policy.

The one area of true disagreement comes in the Liberal promise to go to bat for Canadians facing death sentences abroad, or languishing without charge in foreign jails. That's a fair point for debate, but it hardly constitutes a different foreign policy, writ large.

The rhetoric infecting these speeches suggests wide differences and new ideas. Strip the rhetoric away, and the differences narrow and the search for interesting new ideas shrivels.

For those of you who think the mere name Liberal is a more than compelling reason to vote in support of the party, Simpson's comments will seem irrelevant or wrong-headed. But for those who believe that Liberal actually means liberal, there's a great depth of meaning in Simpson's observations.

I think Iggles would have been more comfortable running the CPC than the LPC. In fact I think Canada would have been much better off with a Conservative government led by Ignatieff than with a Liberal opposition led by that same man.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama's War

Barack Obama's greatest problem might just turn out to be George w. Bush's second term in office.

In his last four years, Bush ran pretty much on auto-pilot, not doing much beyond fending off his critics while letting his south Asian wars slowly degrade. Bush was so swept up in his Iraq fiasco and so distracted from the Afghan War that he permitted, even unwittingly empowered the destabilization of neighbouring Pakistan. Incurious George massively grew the war he would bequeath to his successor.

Here's something to mull over. These dire warnings and alarms coming today from General Stanley McChrystal truly beg the question of why his predecessors, including the supposedly great Petraeus, weren't raising these warnings four years ago when the AfPak dilemma wasn't so intractable, when there might still have been time to straighten out the central government in Kabul? Why did Petraeus and his underlings stand mute? Were they intimidated by Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney? Were they more interested in their careers than in speaking truth to power?

Why did Canadian generals follow the same path in Kandahar? Why weren't they standing up for their troops to denounce this incompetently waged war? Why have they let Ottawa use their soldiers as political footballs?

The bravest, best trained, best equipped and most highly motivated soldiers cannot overcome weak military and bad political leadership. Maybe, just maybe, Barack Obama can make good America's political leadership deficit from the Bush days but can even a great general overcome the enormous damage caused by eight years of hapless military leadership in Afghanistan?

I don't believe they can and here's why. As McChrystal's report points out, the West isn't just fighting a Taliban insurgency any longer. It's morphed into something quite different with the addition of Haqqani's and Hekmatyar's militias and their ranks may soon be swollen further by dissident nationalists infuriated by Karzai's fraudulent election win. As I've said for some time, I think what was a simple insurgency when Bush was sworn in again in 2005 has now evolved into a genuine civil war. This isn't about terrorism any more, it's about nationalism now and which of two sides will be strong enough to rule Afghanistan.

Humpty Dumpty - make that Hamid Dumpty - has fallen off the wall and all of our horses and all of our men can't put that bugger back together again and we know it. Since we know that legitimizing the Karzai government is a lost cause, can't be done, won't be done, how much sense is there in continuing a losing battle to prop him up? We can always toss him but then who do we find to take over? Dostum, Fahim, Gul Agha - they're worse than Karzai! Abdullah Abdullah? Maybe but then you add Dostum, Fahim and the others to the enemies column.

This is what happens when you allow a warlord state to evolve. In Afghanistan a warlord's loyalty depends on which way the wind is blowing on any given day. History has shown that it won't take much to swing "our" warlords over to the other side. An ominous sign is how miserably we've failed in winning back Taliban allies like Hekmatyar. Evil as the old bastard is, we have tried and so has Karzai. Old Hek is with his historic enemies, the Taliban, for a reason. He's taken a look at the cards on the table and he doesn't see that we're holding any winning hand.

Unfortunately for Obama, leaving Afghanistan is the hard option, simply staying is much easier. If you think a great many Americans are too dumb to grasp the healthcare issue, ask how many don't understand the difference between a military war and a political war? Reagan restored in these people the myth of American military invincibility. Bush Sr. put it on display in Desert Storm and his halfwit son sort of did the same when he toppled Saddam. The real lesson is that America can positively triumph in quick wars but its qualitative edge degrades rapidly in long wars. That's because quick wars are almost always military wars but protracted wars evolve into political wars in which firepower supremacy is often rendered irrelevant or even counterproductive.

In the wake of the Vietnam War the American people were utterly traumatized by the outcome. How could their America lose that war when it won every battle, when it was never defeated in the field? With that, of course, they launched into a witch hunt to identify scapegoats and, of course, settled on those who had criticized the war. To hear them talk back then, Jane Fonda had sabotaged the Pentagon. Magical thinking! What no one wanted to accept was that the decisive struggle in Vietnam was a political war, not a military war. Military victories were not going to win the Vietnam War. At best they could simply prolong it, postpone the inevitable. When America lost interest, as it inevitably must, the issue would be decided by a conventional tussle between north and south, a winner-takes-all civil war.

Back to Obama. Is Afghanistan truly a war that America cannot afford to lose? If so, is that because of this particular war and its geopolitical consequences or is that because America just can't bear losing? If it's the first, Obama must find some way to diminish the adverse consequences of leaving. Since we're the foreigners, the Infidels, maybe bringing in all the neighbours - Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan would be a good start.

Afghanistan may not be well suited to strong, central government. It may just be better off as a loose federation of five or six semi-autonomous states reflecting its marked ethnic or tribal diversity. It's painfully clear that if the West insists on an effective, central government model with provinces ruled by governors answerable to Kabul, we're going to have a tough challenge finding a leader who is up to the job, one man (and yes it will be a man) who will be able to command the support of these unruly tribes.

I think the Kabul government model is a proven loser. It didn't work under the Communists. It didn't work under the Taliban. It's not working under our guy Karzai either. Why do we keep pursuing this failed experiment? Isn't that the definition of madness? Are we trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole?

McChrystal is urging Obama to start again and it's becoming apparent he may have a point. However it's not starting the war anew that's the answer, it's a wholesale political restructuring of Afghanistan that may be the key. That might be Obama's only option to extract at least a draw in the political war underway today in Afghanistan.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Will China, India Shame the US (Canada) on Climate Change?

China and India seem poised to place the United States (and Canada) in a "put up or shut up" position on fighting climate change. The UN's top climate change official, Yvo de Boer, expects Chinese president Hu Jintao to surprise tomorrow's summit in New York by unveiling a series of climate change initiatives that will leave the US trailing badly behind. From The Guardian:

The Chinese and Indian measures — if fully realised — could represent a breakthrough in bringing them into a global climate change deal at a UN summit in Copenhagen in December. Almost all observers say the Copenhagen talks are danderously stalled.

"This suite of policies will take China to be a world leader on addressing climate change, and it will be quite ironic to hear that expressed tomorrow in a country (the United States)
that is firmly convinced that China is doing nothing to address climate change," De Boer said.

...Ed Miliband, the [British] climate change secretary, said that recent moves by India, China and other developing nations had improved the chances of a comprehensive global warming deal at Copenhagen. But, writing in tomorrow's Guardian, he warned that a new kind of diplomacy was needed: "We must be in this together rather than looking for who to blame. The fate of every nation on earth hangs on the outcome of Copenhagen. It is too important to play the cards close-to-your-chest poker games that marked diplomacy of the 20th century."

Let's hope it isn't just Washington that's embarassed tomorrow. Steve Harper's Ottawa also needs to eat a big helping of humble pie.

Afghanistan Can't Afford to Win

We hear a lot of talk about how if Afghanistan just had 400,000 military and security forces it could defend itself against the spreading insurgency.

Just 400,000, that's all. This is a country of between 28 and 33-million people with a life expectancy in the mid-40's with a literacy rate barely exceeding one in four. The country stands 219th in GDP at about $700 per capita. The government has revenues of about $890-million against expenditures of $2.7-billion. It already spends three times what it makes.

How in hell is a country so poor, so weak, so beset with so many problems, going to field - and pay - a 400,000-strong security force? Here's a hint - it's not. Afghanistan is never going to train, equip and deploy a force that size and, if it did, they would have to prey on the public just to survive. Sort of like what they're already doing on a lesser scale.

The only way that could work is if we treated these forces as surrogates for Western troops, if we paid for their training, equipment and deployment. Of course that might give rise to a military command that sees itself as independent of the central government in Kabul and history shows that doesn't always work out too well. Maybe in Afghanistan though a coup would be a real plus.

McChrystal Demands More Troops to Fight Wrong War in Afghanistan

He doesn't get it. He never got it. And that's why president Obama should either refuse his Afghan commander's demand for more troops or find someone else who does understand the war the West is fighting in Afhganistan.

In a 66-page report, General Stanley McChrystal warns (warns Obama of course) that if he refuses to send a lot more troops to Afghanistan, the war will "likely result in failure" (and that would, of course, be "Obama's failure"). It's sort of saying, "give me everything I want or you'll get tagged with losing this fiasco." Blackmail.

The infuriating part is that McCrisco wants more troops to continue to fight the wrong war in Afghanistan. That much is apparent from this statement. “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

Stan wants to "gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum" which can only mean expanding the war, increasing the fighting. Isn't this the very same guy who was also talking about fresh American troops to secure the villages and keep them out of Taliban control? So, he wants an expanded combat force plus a new peacekeeping force and he wants them now. Does he think he's going to do all that with another 20,000 GIs?

But the giveaway was in the part about "defeating the insurgency" may become impossible. Does McChrystal really believe that defeating the Taliban and their associated insurgent groups was ever really possible? Western generals have been boasting about defeating the Taliban for eight years while they've steadily lost ground year by year by year. McChrystal doesn't get that the insurgency isn't fighting his war, his military war. It's never fought McChrystal's war and it isn't about to begin now and that's because his war, the war he wants to expand with tens of thousands of additional troops, it doesn't matter. McChrystal is desperate to stave off defeat in the military war when he's actually facing defeat in the war that matters, the other war, the political war - the Taliban's war.

I do have some sympathy for General McChrystal. He was handed the shitty end of the Field Marshal's baton on this one. He's been ordered to Afghanistan to command a military force fighting a military war. The only thing he can think of is to call for more soldiers and fall back on the now hollow lament about "until the Afghan National Army is ready." In other words, never.

I have more sympathy for Obama. He's being blackmailed. More troops or you'll be scapegoated for eight consecutive years of failure in Afghanistan. The Republicans would dance gleefully around the bonfire at the thought of being able to smear Obama with losing Afghanistan.

Oh dear, this is not going to turn out well. Who could've known?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Who Isn't Convinced on Carbon Capture? Exxon, Chevron and Shell, That's Who

The next time Big Oil and those in their thrall, including Messrs. Harper & Ignatieff, give you the standard drivel about how CCS, carbon capture & sequestration, is going to redeem the Athabasca Tar Sands disaster, tell'em to look Down Under.

Australia. The Gorgon natural gas field off Barrow Island. Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell have agreed to invest in the project - but their money comes with a hitch as Big Oil money almost always does.

In the case of Australia's Gorgon gas field the hitch is an indemnity against damages from all that sequestered carbon dioxide escaping hundreds of years into the future. And that indemnity comes from where? Why, from the Australian taxpayers of course. The Fossil Fuelers negotiated an indemnity from the Australian government for the toxic time bomb they'll be creating underground.

Australian energy minister Martin Ferguson boasts that the Gorgon and similar LNG projects will transform Australia into an "energy superpower." Sound familiar?

The Australian government says "no worries" to the idea of anything ever, ever going wrong with the sequestered CO2 although the Gorgon field sits astride geological fault lines and there have been eight tremors there over the past 30-years.

If they got away with it in Australia, how long before Alberta's Oil Patch goes after Alberta and Ottawa for the same sweetheart deal?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Iggy's Off the Hook

I think Michael Ignatieff ought to send a lovely gift basket to Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe for the wonderful things they've done for the Liberal leader.

First of all, they've shown that all that bluster and indignation about the Libs propping up Harper was so much B.S. How many times did we listen to that sanctimonious bald-headed twerp demand Iggy stand up to Harper - until he did - sending Jack diving headlong into the deepend of the hypocrisy pool.

Most importantly, however, is they've taken Iggy off the hook. He can't trigger an election which is probably much better for the LPC than for the CPC. Here's why. No election means Harper isn't going to be able to duck Copenhagen in December.

Between now and December, Harper is going to have to formulate Canada's policy on slashing greenhouse gas emissions. If he does nothing meaningful, Canada will be seen as a pariah at the climate change summit. If he does come up with an effective, carbon-emissions programme, he's going to have to address the Athabasca Tar Sands problem. That, for Steve, is a no-win proposition. He knows it and that's why he's been ducking it since he came to power.

There's not much middle ground on this one, not enough anyway. Steve can't fall back on CCS (carbon capture & sequestration) any longer. The Oil Patch has been 'calling wolf' on that for much too long for it to be a credible dodge now. Even if it could be made to work, it would take decades to implement and it wouldn't be economically viable to Big Oil. That means the cost of CCS would have to be shifted to the Canadian taxpayer and how do you think that would be greeted?

Iggy has shown himself to be a really amateurish politician but the gods have given him this one, perhaps last chance to fix Harper in a totally vulnerable position. The rest of the world - including the European Union, the scientific community, the medical community, the United Nations, even China and India - will be going full-bore on climate change in the runup to Copenhagen. Harper is going to come out with some gossamer policy and Iggy, if he has any guts, will be able to poke holes right through it.

Let's put it this way. There are a lot more Canadians worried about climate change and global warming than those worried about how much bitumen can be processed in Athabasca. Iggy ignores that at his peril.

Obama Kills Plan to Stage Missiles on Russia's Doorstep

And it's about bloody time, too. Barack Obama has rescinded the Bush administration's mad plan to position anti-missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic ostensibly to defend against rogue missile launches from Iran.

Everyone, and I mean every one, knew that gambit had nothing to do with Iran. Instead it was an integral part of Bush's plan to march NATO right to Russia's borders with a view to shoehorning Moscow out of Central Asia altogether. The prize is the Caspian Basin or, more directly, the massive fossil fuel reserves found there.

What Bush/Cheney never admitted was that Iran has no missiles that could get anywhere near Poland or the Czech Republic. It might have made sense to locate the American batteries closer to Iran, say perhaps in Turkey.

So now Obama has the Poles and the Czechs steamed. They were going to be handsomely rewarded for allowing the anti-missile batteries on their territory and, like the rest of the world, they knew the American weaponry was meant for Russia, not Iran.

The Case for Retaining Capital Punishment

I oppose capital punishment for many reasons but mainly because it doesn't deter capital crimes. That said, I'm beginning to think there might just be an exception or two to total abolition.

I've always thought that maybe, just maybe, an exception should be made for hit men, professional assassins. Lump them in with serial killers, especially those who prey on children. Clifford Olsen, are you hearing me?

Now I'm thinking there might just be another exception - people like the top executives at British oil trader Trafigura for example. These are what I might, for want of a better term, call "greed killers." For the sake of making a several million bucks they're indifferent to the likely consequences to others they prey upon. From The Guardian:

The Guardian can reveal evidence today of a massive cover-up by the British oil trader Trafigura, in one of the worst pollution disasters in recent history.

Internal emails show that Trafigura, which yesterday suddenly announced an offer to pay compensation to 31,000 west African victims, was fully aware that its waste dumped in Ivory Coast
was so toxic that it was banned in Europe.

Thousands of west Africans besieged local hospitals in 2006, and a number died, after the dumping of hundreds of tonnes of highly toxic oil waste around the country's capital, Abidjan. Official local autopsy reports on 12 alleged victims appeared to show fatal levels of the poisonous gas hydrogen sulphide, one of the waste's lethal byproducts.

Trafigura has been publicly insisting for three years that its waste was routine and harmless. It claims it was "absolutely not dangerous".

It has until now denied compensation claims, and its lawyers repeatedly threatened anyone worldwide who sought to contradict its version. It launched a libel case against BBC Newsnight, forced an alleged correction from the Times, demanded the Guardian delete articles, and yesterday tried to gag journalists in the Netherlands and Norway with legal threats.

But the dozens of damning internal Trafigura emails which have now come to light reveal how traders were told in advance that their planned chemical operation, a cheap and dirty process called "caustic washing", generated such dangerous wastes that it was widely outlawed in the west.

The documents reveal that the London-based traders hoped to make profits of $7m a time by buying up what they called "bloody cheap" cargoes of sulphur-contaminated Mexican gasoline. They decided to try to process the fuel on board a tanker anchored offshore, creating toxic waste they called "slops".

...The resulting black, stinking, slurry was eventually dumped around landfills in Abidjan, after Trafigura paid an unqualified local man to take it away in tanker trucks at a cheap rate.

Trafigura is throwing millions at the victims in the hope of settling their claims without admitting liability. It argues the autopsy results are unreliable and that lethal hydrogen sulphide in the slops was only there in "potential" form. The company is the world's third largest oil trader and, according to The Guardian, its 200-traders received annual bonuses of up to $1-million last year.

Trafigura's $31-million settlement is a hit, no doubt about that, but it's still little more than a cost of doing business, a risk that didn't pay out as they had hoped. I'm thinking if the people who made these awful decisions, the real pillagers, had a little something on their minds beyond the prospective fortunes to be had, we'd have a lot fewer of these tragedies.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Is a Hybrid Really Good Enough?

I admit it, I'm technologically challenged, overwhelmed even. I'm a pushrod-era gearhead, a living artifact.

That's why I'm appealing to more current technophiles for a bit of advice. Cars. Hybrid cars. I'm looking at replacing my decade plus old VW. I don't drive much. My regular transport, summer and winter, is my trusty BMW motorcycle. That said, there are times when I need a car especially coming from my little, out of the way town with its all but non-existant public transit.

So I'm looking at new wheels. Thus far I've been checking out hybrids - Ford, Toyota (Prius III and Camry) and Honda. They seem pretty impressive, a clear improvement over their straight gas cousins, but I'm not sure.

Is the hybrid the best way to go today or is there some wonder technology just around the corner that, within a year or two, will make me wish that I'd waited?

If you have any information or suggestions, let me know. Thanks.

Making the Victim Pay

This story from AlterNet. In 8 US states and the District of Columbia, private health insurers classify spousal abuse as a "pre-existing condition" to jack up premiums or deny coverage to abused spouses:

Under the cold logic of the insurance industry, it makes perfect sense: If you are in a marriage with someone who has beaten you in the past, you're more likely to get beaten again than the average person and are therefore more expensive to insure.
In human terms, it's a second punishment for a victim of domestic violence.

In 2006, Democrats tried to end the practice. An amendment introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), now a member of leadership, split the Health Education Labor & Pensions Committee 10-10. The tie meant that the measure failed.

All ten no votes were Republicans, including Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), a member of the "Gang of Six" on the Finance Committee who are hashing out a bipartisan bill.

Only in America. Yeah, sure.

The Mafia's Mediterranean Time Bomb

Italian authorities, tipped off by a Mafia turncoat, have found a scuttled freighter laden with drums of toxic waste lying in 500-meters of water off southwest Italy.

The head of Calabria's environment agency says the mob may have sunk as many as 32-ships in his region. From Reuters:

The ship, which officials say may even contain radioactive elements, lay in 500 meters (yards) of water in the Tyrrhenian sea. TV images showed at least one barrel had fallen from its damaged hull and lay empty on the seabed.

"There could be problems of toxins and heavy metals ... this is an issue for the whole international community," said Silvestro Greco, head of Calabria's environment agency.
The ship's location was revealed by Francesco Fonti, an ex-member of Calabria's feared 'Ndrangheta crime group, who confessed to using explosives to sink this vessel and two others.

Greco said investigators believed there were 32 ships carrying toxic waste sunk by the mafia since the introduction of tighter environmental legislation in the 1980s made illegal waste disposal a lucrative business for crime groups.

"The Mediterranean is 0.7 percent of the world's seas. If in this tiny portion there are more than 30 (toxic waste) shipwrecks, imagine what there could be elsewhere," he said

Averting a Looming Global Health Catastrophe

The upcoming climate change summit to be held in December in Copenhagen will determine whether millions, perhaps many hundreds of millions of people, will live or die.

That reality has prompted two prestigious British publications, The British Medical Journal and The Lancet to issue a joint call for a radically new mindset on climate change. That, in their view, is mankind's only hope of averting a looming global health catastrophe:

The scientific evidence that global temperatures are rising and that man is responsible has been widely accepted since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report in 2007. There is now equally wide consensus that we need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to at most 50% of 1990 levels by 2050 if we are to have even a 50% chance of preventing temperatures from exceeding preindustrial levels by more than 2 degrees, considered by many to be the tipping point for catastrophic and irreversible climate change.

The economic argument that taking action now rather than later will be cheaper has also been widely accepted since the Stern report in 2006. The election of President Obama has shifted policy in the US from seeking to block an agreement to seeking to find one.
So the chances of success should be good, but the politics are tough. The most vocal arguments are about equity: the rich world caused the problem so why should the poor world pay to put it right?

Can the rich world do enough through its own actions and through its financial and technological support for the poor to persuade the poor to join in a global agreement? The present economic climate doesn't help, giving sceptics from the rich world arguments for not acting—or at least not acting now. And the sensitive issue of population stabilisation continues to slip off the agenda but is crucial to achieving real reductions in global carbon dioxide emissions.

These arguments need to be tackled head on. Climate change is global, and emissions know no frontiers. The necessary measures should be seen not as a cost but as an opportunity.

Coal-fired power stations and internal combustion engines pollute the atmosphere and worsen health, and deforestation destroys biodiversity, whereas saving energy helps hard-pressed household budgets, and drought-resistant crops help poor farmers. So even without climate change, the case for clean power, electric cars, saving forests, energy efficiency, and new agriculture technology is strong. Climate change makes it unanswerable.

The threat to health is especially evident in poorest countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, as the recent Lancet and University College London report shows. These countries are struggling to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Their poverty and lack of resources, infrastructure, and often governance, greatly increase their vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Warmer climate can lead to drought, pressure on resources (particularly water), migration, and conflict. The conflict in Darfur is as much about pressure on resources as the desert encroaches as about the internal politics of Sudan.
And the implications for the health of local populations are acute: on the spread and changing patterns of disease, notably water-borne diseases from inadequate and unclean supplies; on maternal and child mortality as basic health services collapse; and on malnutrition where food is scarce. And population stabilisation will not be achieved if, for want of resources, girls are not educated and contraceptives are unavailable.

Climate change is causing other kinds of extreme weather events too: storms, floods, and rising sea levels affecting coastal populations and islands. Every such event has adverse consequences for health. The poorer the country and its infrastructure, the worse are the consequences and the poorer the chances of meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

Crucially for winning hearts and minds in richer countries, what's good for the climate is good for health. The measures needed to combat climate change coincide with those needed to ensure a healthier population and reduce the burden on health services. A low-carbon economy will mean less pollution. A low-carbon diet (especially eating less meat) and more exercise will mean less cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Opportunity, surely, not cost.

This is an opportunity too to advance health equity, which is increasingly seen as necessary for a healthy and happy society. If we take climate change seriously, it will require major changes to the way we live, reducing the gap between carbon rich and carbon poor within and between countries.

The Commission on Social Determinants of Health said that action to promote health must go well beyond health care. It must focus on the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age, and in the structural drivers of those conditions—inequities in power, money, and resources. These insights give further confirmation that what is good for the climate is good for health.

A successful outcome at Copenhagen is vital for our future as a species and for our civilisation. It will require recognition by the rich countries of their obligations to the poor; and recognition by the poor countries that climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution in which we all have to play a part.

It will require a new mindset: that the measures needed to mitigate the risks of climate change and adapt to its already inevitable effects provide an opportunity to achieve goals that are desirable in their own right – the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in the poor countries and a healthier more equal society in the rich world and globally. Failure to agree radical reductions in emissions spells a global health catastrophe, which is why health professionals must put their case forcefully now and after Copenhagen.

The full-bore carbon pimps otherwise known as the Harper government have no interest in radical emission reductions. They say they do and they're lying through their teeth. Anyone who supports boosting Athabasca's environmental atrocity (hey Iggy boosters, that's your guy too) won't be going to Copenhagen with the midset the world needs to tackle this threat while there's still time. And there's no reason for you Dippers to get smug. Layton, with his "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" approach to carbon taxation, is every bit as much a sphincter as the others.

The problem is those who lay claim to the mantle of leaders in Canada don't see Copenhagen as an opportunity but as a problem, something to be handled, managed; a public perception challenge. If they have their way Copenhagen will be a failure. Understand this - Harper, Layton, Ignatieff are not on your side in this or your children's or your grandchildren's side. If they were, they would have been howling about this, loud and clear, long before now to get the Canadian public engaged on this threat. They haven't and that's all you need to know about where they stand.

"A Properly Resourced Counterinsurgency"

Eight years down a long, bloody road and now the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, is beginning to talk about troop increases for the Afghan War as necessary to establish, "a properly resourced counterinsurgency."

Hmmm, Admiral Mike, are you telling America and her NATO allies that the Pentagon has been goofing off ever since it first sent the Taliban packing in 2001? Actually, don't answer that. The question answers itself. The lousy state of Afghanistan today - the growing civil war, the rotten central government, the return of institutional religious fundamentalism, the oppression of Afghan women and children, the predation of the citizenry by corrupt cops and bureaucrats, the resurgence of the Northern Alliance warlords, the flourishing drug trade, the inadequate and unreliable Afghan army, the Taliban's return to Kandahar City and their infiltration of Kabul - answers the question, loud and clear.

Of course the one-track mind of "ol' grampa" hisself, Senator John McCain, was quick to sputter that any delay in sending more combat troops to Vietnam, er Afghanistan, would put American lives at risk. There's no fool like an old fool.

So desperate are the warhawks that they're even resorting to their old bag of tricks, the sleight of hand stuff they picked up in Iraq. The public doesn't have a clue that not one of the core issues that could detonate Iraq into chunks has been resolved, not one. That allows prevaricators like Mullen and his stooge, McCain, to call for the faux victory in Iraq to be repeated in Afghanistan. Oh please, not that!

I'm not sure that Mullen and McCain and their ilk are too stupid to understand the glaring differences between Afghanistan and Iraq. McCain perhaps but not Mullen. Either way there are far more differences than commonalities in the Afghan and the Iraq war. For example, Iraq was successful in establishing a more or less viable, central government within a few years. That's because Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, wasn't born out of the ashes of a civil war. Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, is warlord territory and the power that has devolved to them ensures the central government will never be able to consolidate its hold on the country and that the national army will always be on the brink of fracturing into ethnic militias. Iraq has but two tribes - Arab and Kurd. Afghanistan has Pashtun, Baloch, Uzbek, Hazara, Tajik, Turkmen and a few others. The Afghan people have no recent tradition of secularism unlike the people of Iraq. The Iraqis weren't left to the mercies of drug lords and a narco-economy in the wake of the ouster of Saddam. The list goes on and on and on. It's like comparing an apple and a rock.

What Mullen and McCain won't say is that there will be no successful, viable Afghanistan until the tribalism that spawns the warlord malignancy is overcome, probably through a full-blown civil war and conquest, or that the Pentagon planners aren't even pretending to address this problem. They just want to go back and keep banging away at their increasingly irrelevant and ineffective military war, even as they continuously cede the political war to the steadily growing insurgent/resistance/rebel forces we lump together under the moniker "Taliban."

It's pretty obvious when their very best pitch for more troops presents no plan for ridding the country of the Fahims, Dostums, Hekmatyars, Gul Aghas and the subsequent thugs who will step up to fill their shoes that our military hucksters aren't even serious about winning this thing now, eight years after they began this fiasco. It's about as ridiculous as sending in the troops to prop up the New York and Chicago mob bosses against their rivals in Jersey and Miami.

When, after eight years, the best the Pentagon can come up with is a plea for "a properly resourced counterinsurgency" it's time to read between the lines. That's a thinly disguised admission of abject failure.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A War of "Hearts & Minds" - Your Heart, Your Mind

The Afghan War is a struggle for hearts and minds and, above all else, it's your heart and your mind that matter.

We're told our Western forces are over there engaged in a battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people and that's sort of true but only sort of. The hearts and minds that will actually decide the issue are those found on Main Street, USA; Main Street, Canada; and Main Street, Europe.

The challenge facing Western forces in the Afghan War is to wrap things up before they lose the hearts and minds at home. And they've had a damned good run - eight years now - and they've got little or nothing to show for it.

Our forces have all the jets and helicopters and tanks and heavy artillery. They simply cannot be defeated, militarily defeated, by a few thousand rabble armed with Korean War-vintage assault rifles. Can't be done, won't be done. That's why our forces continue to fight our type of warfare, military war. We're happy with that and so is the other side because they're not fighting a military war, they're fighting a political war. It's their war, the political war, that's going to decide the issue - eventually - and all they have to do to win is survive long enough to wait us out.

The Pentagon and NATO know they're losing the war for hearts and minds at home. Public support at home is faltering and in danger of collapse. We, unlike the Afghan people, have democracies and that means when we're finally fed up with a war that's going nowhere, it's over.

Our leaders, political and military, promised us a great many things out of their Afghan War and they haven't delivered. They haven't delivered a democratic Afghanistan. They haven't delivered a humanitarian Afghanistan where the rights of women and children are upheld and protected. They haven't delivered an Afghanistan with a viable central government subject to the rule of law. They haven't driven out the insurgency or turned the Afghan people against it. They haven't delivered one damned thing they promised and, finally, people at home are beginning to call them on it.

The irony is that the politicians and generals actually had the hearts and minds of the people at home when they started this business and for years afterward as well. They had the hearts and minds at home when they set out to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. Now they're winding up empty handed in Afghanistan and at home.

They try to keep this gin mill going by scolding dissenters with the line that failure is not an option. That's where they have it wrong, dead wrong. Failure isn't an "option," something we have somehow chosen. It is, instead, the result of their inability to prevail, the same result that inevitably befalls the losing side of any conflict. It's outrageous that these politicians and generals who have promised so much and delivered nothing attempt to set us up as choosing the inevitable result of their failure. They have failed the Afghan people, failed their own countries, failed their soldiers and now they have the gall to blame us for it. That's what you get from cowards, miscreants and reprobates.

Is Climate Migration a Universal Human Right?

Now this is a touchy subject for us in the West - climate migration - the mass migration of people from regions rendered less habitable or even uninhabitable by global warming-driven climate change.

Mark my words, this is where our humanitarian self-image is going to collide with reality.

Here's how the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs office puts it:

Specialists studying the likelihood of population movements due to climate change effects offer widely divergent predictions. But most agree policymakers must understand that migration is a vital coping mechanism for at-risk populations and must do more to help destination hubs prepare.

Migration and mobility are always seen as exceptions but they are the norm. Mobility helps people get out of poverty,” said Cecelia Tacoli, senior researcher with London-based NGO the International Institute for Environment and Development. “If people affected by climate change lack access to resources or need to diversify their income sources, this lack should be [addressed] rather than be seen as a problem.”

In moderate to severe-climate change scenarios, mass migration invokes the 'overloaded lifeboat' dilemma. Do we allow the masses to clamber aboard the lifeboat and, if so, how many or do we simply beat them with the oars to save ourselves? You may find that a silly notion but it is expected to be addressed in the Pentagon's upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review. Gwynne Dyer in his latest book, Climate Wars, says some American military leaders foresee a day when America will transform its border with Mexico into a free-fire kill zone.

And it's not just keeping Central and South Americans out that's driving this scenario. It's the prospect of an America struggling with its own, home grown mass displacement and resettlement due to coastal inundation and inland groundwater exhaustion. Even a moderate climate-change scenario could see America with its hands full simply accommodating internal climate migration.

It's the troubling realities of climate migration that will probably leave the West unwilling to discuss measures to actually facilitate or speed up migration. I think that's where we're going to find the real depth of our humanitarianism.

Out of Sight/Out of Mind - the Misery of Gaza

Canadian politicians, including our own global peace expert Ignatieff, don't hesitate to weigh in on Gaza so long as the place is getting pummeled by the Israeli military. The rest of the time, who cares?

Iggy backed the Israeli side during the last onslaught, pretty much absolving the Israelis in advance for the war crimes that ensued. Now there's a dedicated man of peace for you. Lest there be any doubt about Ignatieff's appalling lack of judgment, the United Nations has just released its report into the tragedy, finding that both the Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity to boot. From The New York Times:

The four-member mission, led by Justice Richard Goldstone, a widely respected South African judge, also concluded that neither Israel nor the Palestinian groups had carried out any “credible investigations” into the conduct of the war. If that did not change within six months, the United Nations Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court in the Hague for possible prosecution, the panel concluded.

“The prolonged situation of impunity has created a justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants action,” the members said in their 574-page report on the war, during which some 1,200 Palestinians were killed, including at least several hundred civilians, and 13 Israelis died, 10 soldiers and 3 civilians.

It's too bad that Iggy chose to ignore what Liberals have long known - that there are almost never any clean hands in these conflicts. But there are dirty hands in abundance.

Today's Gaza is undergoing something akin to a medieval siege. We've probably all seen the movies where the attackers surround the castle, cutting off food and water to the defenders inside until they surrender or die. Welcome to Gaza, 2009.

The Gazans too are surrounded, cut off - by Israel - and the siege is strangling the public's access to drinking water. From the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs office:

Unless urgent action is taken, the supply of water fit for human use in the Gaza Strip will be depleted in 5-10 years, according to the Gaza Coastal Municipal Water Utility (CMWU) and UN agencies working there. Only 5-10 percent of groundwater - the most important supply source for human use (domestic, agricultural and industrial) in Gaza - yields potable water, according to CMWU.

...The poor quality of groundwater is due to over-extraction from the aquifer and this has allowed seawater intrusion - hence the high salinity of Gaza’s groundwater. Much of it is unfit for human use.

Tap water in Gaza is known to be very salty and undrinkable. Poor groundwater quality can also be attributed to pollution from wastewater seepage and the infiltration of agricultural fertilizers, according to a World Bank report released in April.

The decrease in useable water reserves has also been linked to climatic changes, such as lower rainfall, which have slowed the recharge rate of the aquifer. Other factors are a rapid population growth and increasing suburban sprawl, leaving little space for rainwater catchment areas.

...“Unlike the West Bank, Gaza is ‘downstream’ of the portion of the aquifer that lies beneath Israel, with lateral groundwater flows coming from Israel into the Gaza portion of the aquifer,” Ghannam said. “The groundwater underneath Gaza is becoming limited due to Israel’s construction of trap wells [about 27 wells] inside Israel, along Gaza’s eastern political border, siphoning water supplies from the aquifer before they reach Gaza.”

According to the Israeli Water Authority, the Gaza aquifer has no impact on Israel and Israel does not prevent the flow of surface water or groundwater to the Gaza aquifer. Blockade Since 2005, Gaza’s water supply has also been affected by restricted access to power, fuel and spare parts, the World Bank said.

Equipment and supplies needed for the construction, maintenance and operation of water and sanitation facilities have been denied entry to Gaza under the more that two-year Israeli blockade of the enclave, tightened after Hamas seized power in June 2007. Israel says that for security reasons it cannot allow certain materials into Gaza.

Gaza’s wastewater infrastructure, which provides partial and intermittent water treatment, is also in desperate need of repair. Most sewage goes raw to lagoons and the sea, or seeps through the soil and reaches the aquifer, according to the World Bank report.

Of course a lot of these claims come from that known terrorist sympathizer, the World Bank. It's incredible. We sit mute while Israel maintains the siege of Gaza and then condemn the Gazans if they retaliate with a handful of hapless rockets.

Poor Jack, On His Knees and Steve Won't Even Give Him the Sweat Off His...

I may be no fan of the IgLibs but Layton & Company's endless sanctimonious castigation of the Libs for propping up SHarper was a bit grating. That's why it was pretty rich to see Moustache Jack bend over and beg Steve to have his way with him if only he will forestall an election the NDP so obviously fears so very much.

I'm sure you Dippers must be cringing at the sight and after all the 'holier than thou' ridicule you've thrown out for so long it looks so awesome on you. The image of a supplicant Jack volunteering to take one for the team pretty much says it all. He didn't pass up an opportunity to berate the Libs for not standing up to Harper until they did and then he immediately offered up himself and his party to be Harper's parliamentary bitch.

It all sounds so scripted. That's the way it sounded to McLean's magazine too which described the plotline thusly:

...this is the part where Jack Layton notices his poll numbers tanking so he climbs into bed with Stephen Harper, a man that for years he has routinely pilloried, condemned and otherwise not liked very much. Striving to create an aura of principled crisis, Jack hogs the political limelight under the pretense of advancing public policy and societal justice, though pretty much everyone attributes his abrupt aboutface to saving his own political bacon. Jack also talks about kitchen tables. Ultimately, Jack votes with a government to which, barely 24 hours earlier, he was philosophically, intellectually, ideologically, morally and possibly even sartorially opposed. He continues to support the government until he is able to crudely manufacture a moment of betrayal that allows him to theatrically withdraw his backing, preferably while surrounded by autoworkers/the unemployed/kitchen tables.

Bye, bye Dippers. You had a good run while it lasted.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A New Type of Economics for a World in Trouble

Whether we like it or not, traditional economic theory is bound to go the way of the Great Auk. It can't last because of the insurmountable hurdles that now confront it. We're running out of stuff - raw materials, energy, water, air, you name it. We're running out of time.

Now French president Nicolas Sarkozy is mulling over a report from leading economists claiming that gross domestic product {GDP} is an insufficient standard for determining economic health and should be expanded to include measures of sustainability and human well-being.

And just what nutbars came up with this radical notion? Well, how about Nobel prize economists Joe Stiglitz of Columbia University and Amartya Sen of Harvard, along with Jean-Paul Fitoussi, a professor at the Institut d’√Čtudes Politiques in Paris. According to The New York Times, these guys assert, "that economic growth had come to be seen as an end in itself, rather than as the means for increasing human happiness. "

What is of “particular concern is when narrow measures of market performance are confused with broader measures of welfare,” the authors said in the report. “What we measure affects what we do; and if our measurements are flawed, decisions may be distorted. Policies should be aimed at increasing societal welfare, not G.D.P.”

The report also notes that “an excessive focus on G.D.P. metrics” contributed to the onset of the financial crisis, as policy makers cheered rising economic growth while other data, like those that showed the increasing and unsustainable indebtedness of households and businesses, were overlooked.

Mr. Sarkozy, professing his dissatisfaction with standard economic measures, created the commission in February 2008, charging the economists with identifying the limits of gross domestic product “as an indicator of economic performance and social progress,” and asked them to consider alternatives.