Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good Enough for Liberals

Michael Ignatieff. He's been the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada for a year and a couple of weeks as tonight ushers in 2010 and what a year it has been for the Liberal Party.

Look at it this way. When the Liberal party faithful anointed Mr. Ignatieff at the Vancouver convention in May, did any of them imagine the party and its leader would be where they stand today? Leaving aside the fact that there was no one else running, did the 97% who voted for the current leader really anticipate this awful mess?

As far as I can recall, Mr. Ignatieff held himself out as ready to lead the Liberal Party when he sought the leadership. I found it curious when, during his year-ender interviews in Toronto, he skirted around the abject shambles he's made by saying he's still 'learning the ropes.' Correct me if I'm wrong but did this fellow ever tell anyone he was running for "apprentice leader" of the LPC?

Why has Mr. Ignatieff fared so poorly? I suspect a main reason is that, like his followers, he somehow thought himself qualified for the job based on his record outside of politics. After all, he's a Harvard PhD with an first-rate academic history. That's all true and it is impressive but, then again, I've had some truly brilliant professors I wouldn't trust to walk my dog. The hallowed halls of Academia are full of brilliant people utterly ill-suited to the world outside where survival sometimes means having to mix it up.

I think Mr. Ignatieff's fatal flaw is that, like his predecessor and fellow academic, he suffers a serious deficiency in political instinct. He doesn't get it. His opponent isn't nearly as well educated as Mr. Ignatieff. Mr. Harper isn't remotely as accomplished, nor as well travelled, nor as highly regarded. But, and here's the truly big BUT, Mr. Harper has keenly honed political instincts. He's quick to take the measure of his opponents, to understand their strengths and their weaknesses. Then, carefully biding his time until the moment is right, Mr. Harper exploits opportunities to match his strength against his opponents' vulnerabilities.

Look at the Harper/Dion election. Battered by scandals, Harper waited until the public memory faded over a long, dull summer. The Dion Libs believed the end of summer would bring the return of Parliament and prepared to pick up where they left off. Mr. Harper, after all, had legislated fixed election dates. The Liberals were dozing off. But then, like a Panzer army bursting through the Ardennes, Harper struck, calling a snap election. Why? No reason. Over what? Nothing really. It wasn't so much an election as a blitzkrieg campaign to overwhelm the Liberal leader, to make the public fearful of his horribly bungled "Green Shift" policy. Harper didn't even introduce any Conservative policy at all until the very last week of the campaign - and he didn't have to - and he knew it. Dion and the Liberals went down in flames.

Anyone who ever underestimated Harper's political instincts after Dion's trashing had no business in opposition politics.

Harper was genuinely cautious about Mr. Ignatieff at the start, even to the point of acting collegial at times. That didn't last long. At first, Harper was worried about his government falling to a coalition. He was so worried about it he furiously lied to a gullible/ignorant Canadian public about plots to illegally topple a democratically-elected government. It worked. The opposition was unable to fight back with the truth. It couldn't even beat Harper over the head with his own lies. Ignatieff got cold feet. Harper called on the Governor-General and got her to prorogue Parliament (which as Madam Jean has recently shown is about as tough as a first-grader getting permission to go down the hall to the bathroom because he has to pee).

Now Mr. Ignatieff, if he had a shred of the political acumen he purported to have in seeking the Liberal leadership, ought to have known the recess marked the commencement of a war and a very limited window to prepare for it. The economy was faltering, Canada was dreading a meltdown and Parliament was locked out. It would return only when the Harper Cons were ready to unveil their idea of a "stimulus" budget. This practically was an engraved invitation for the Libs to roll up their sleeves, toil through the night and be prepared, on the return of Parliament, with an alternative stimulus budget of their own to lay before the Canadian public.

What happened? Nothing. The Liberal leader took the opportunity to focus, not on Canada, but on himself. He used the extended, paid leave to finish writing a book about his mother's family. WTF? When Parliament returned, Mr. Ignatieff arrived rested and empty-handed. He made the Liberal Party of Canada a joke.

Having chosen to return to Parliament utterly unprepared, Ignatieff had little choice but to fall into line and sign on to Harper's "Pinata Budget" while mumbling sophomoric threats about putting the Harper government "on probation." Canadians watched - and giggled - and came to their own conclusions about Mr. Ignatieff.

Then followed 50-some votes in which the Libs propped up the Cons even as they uttered threats to bring down the government. By summer the IgLibs finally mustered the guts to seriously threaten Harper only to be undercut by the NDP until they finally discovered what they should have known - that the Canadian public would kick the Libs to the curb if they forced another election. Yet another black eye for the Liberal Party.

Canada's government is terrible. It's almost as bad as Canada's Official Opposition. Being in opposition is supposed to be much easier than being in government. It's where you have the freedom to begin showing the electorate that you're actually ready to govern. The Ignatieff Liberals, so sadly, haven't shown the public they're ready to be Official Opposition never mind an actual government.

Now Parliament is again prorogued with the Liberal opposition left to whimper and whine. Some suspect Harper will strike again when Parliament returns in March, calling yet another snap election (after he has further stacked the Senate). But wait a second. The Liberals are already booked for March, aren't they? Isn't that when Mr. Ignatieff has scheduled his "Thinkers' Conference" to toss around Liberal policy ideas? Well maybe they'll "think" of something but I'm not betting on it.

We know that Harper can't win a majority on his own and his record doesn't warrant that outcome in any case. However he can and may just win that cherished majority in the next election and, if he does, he'll be deeply indebted to the Liberal leadership current and past. They haven't figured out that, if you want to beat Stephen Harper, you have to think like Stephen Harper.

Maybe, just maybe, if the Canadian voting public gets another chance to press the Liberal's "reset" button, this time they'll listen.

And with that, I take my leave - for the next month or two or three. Things change so quickly these days. Much can happen in barely a season. I will keep my fingers crossed for the Liberal Party and will continue to hope that it will find its way back out of the desert. Bonne Courage!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Countdown to 2010

New Year's Eve will mark many things, among them the demise of this blog.

I'm tired, I'm done. There's a discernable masturbatory element to this blogging business that has always creeped me out, just a bit. Name your favourites, it's the same. The bigs and the smalls, it's all a bit of a Hunter Thompson moment.

Back to the desert.

I experienced two, three decades of professional acclaim and two trips to the cardiac ICU. And for what? We have these celebrities, - right and left -, and why? I have lunched with heads of state and dined with one of the first six men to walk on the moon. I had a private interview with Trudeau and Lalone and James Richardson and David Lewis and so many others.

I have seen great men and small men and all I see today are small men. Liberal, NDP, Conservative - discards, seconds.

Shouldn't matter much to me. I'm heading back to the desert. That is where I find peace.

So anyway, just saying "goodbye."

Does It Really Matter Who Screwed Copenhagen?

Some want to blame China. Others blame China and India. Others still blame the United States. But, when you look at the list of accused, does it matter all that much who is actually to blame?

There are plausible enough arguments to charge and convict the lot - the US, China and India. The fact remains that it doesn't matter. Each of them might be the culprit. They all might be culprits, each in its own measure. That's irrelevant.

What is relevant, what matters, is that not one of these Big Three can stand absolved of responsibility for the failure at Copenhagen. When you have the Big Three emitters and the best you can do is loosely apportion fault among them, you have a very serious problem. How do you move forward from there?

At the end of the day isn't it like identifying a malignancy in the brain and one in the lymphatic system and one in the liver and blaming each for the ills beset on the others?

You see, what's telling isn't who you can actually pin the blame upon but which of these three you can acquit. And, if you cannot absolve any of them, we are truly f__cked. I don't know who is 'most' to blame and I'm not sure that even matters much anymore. In fact, I think maybe it's time I got back on my favourite motorcycle and headed back into the desert where life is so much less complicated.

Michelle Bachman's Christmas Letter?

Simply too good to pass up. In October, 2008, published excerpts from Michelle Bachman's 2003 Christmas letter. Breathtaking:

"...Lucas is a pre-med school “chick magnet” at the University of Minnesota who has an affinity for Mexican dancing. “Areebah!” Bachmann proclaims at mention of this, suggesting that the Congresswoman's only knowledge of Mexican culture has been learned through Speedy Gonzalez cartoons. As soon as he gets into medical school his mom plans to “crank up the heat” in finding him a good wife to clean up after him. She even has a classified ad in mind: "Chick magnate (sic) needs wife to put him through med school, clean house, pay bills and run his life. Must be willing to gamble against onslaught of socialized medicine diminishing return on investment."

"Sixteen-year-old Harrison has all the makings to be a good a husband, Bachmann explains, referring to him as "utter perfection" (a term that becomes a proper noun later in the letter, i.e. "Utter Perfection"). He is also, rather creepily, referred to as a "female fantasy treasure."

But Bachmann doesn't stop there. Her other daughter, Elisa, was well into wifehood training in 2003, when she was 13. Elisa is "ORGANIZED!" Bachmann proclaims, which means she was "born to be the perfect wife and mother." But Elisa comes with a disclaimer: "Future mates will have to apply as she does not advertise herself. Thank God for her modesty; she tries desperately to set an example for her mother." Judging from the Hardball appearance, it was a losing effort.

Bachmann introduces her next daughter with an odd reference to plural marriage: "King Henry had his 6 wives, and if our Caroline had been one of them I think she would have been called Caroline the Vibrant." Mom offers little explanation for this designation, but goes on to reveal Caroline's waist size, saying that she "pulls jeans over her 14" hips," which sounds like a line from a mail-order wife catalog.

Read more here. City Pages has the original posted there.

Another Great Christmas Letter Filched Off the Web

Dear Friends,

For years now, we have enjoyed our many fine friends' Christmas letters. And what fine friends we do have; we are blessed. We so enjoy reading, for example, about the blinding whiteness of their children's perfectly straight teeth. And so many of our friends (and their offspring), continue, year after year, to win MAJOR AWARDS. We have welcomed the news of the "Biggest SUV in the Neighborhood" award, and the esteemed, "I Gave More Money to Charity this Year than Oprah Made" award. Most of our friends' major awards, pardon us, MAJOR AWARDS, do revolve around the beauty and brilliance of their children, however there are also awards for the taste, beauty, and yes, CO$T of their home(s), as well as the level of long-term, sustained passion, devotion, etc., of their marriages.

And we have realized how very selfish we have been in enjoying the most intimate details of others' lives, while year after year, withholding any information about our own equally fascinating, equally envy-inspiring lives. Well this year, in the spirit of the season, we want to share:

Susie has cut WAY back on her drinking. LG and Jif are so happy to report that she comes home now more nights than not! We are finally looking forward to a year in which we meet no "nice officers" bringing her home after a . . . well, an "incident" . . .

LG and Biscuit have suffered terribly this holiday season with earmites. It just about breaks your heart to see them shaking their little heads and rubbing their ears against any rough surface in sight. That's why the photo with our letter is not of our own little ones -- we put halos and angel wings on them and tried to snap a good one, but they just kept on with the scratching and the gnawing . . .

The presidential election was a confusing time for LG. She was quite annoyed with people like her mother, who claimed to be voting for "nader." LG said, "No! You can't say 'nader,' you have to pick one or the other!" We do have much for which to be thankful. Turns out the voices in Jif's head are almost always RIGHT, so how bad is that, really? They even gave him some good investment tips. (The mole rat breeding thing didn't work out, but who could have guessed that the Neighborhood Association has tenets specifically prohibiting that particular enterprise? And those children just shouldn't have gotten so close . . . )

A bit of seasonal advice, and we don't want to say how we know this: it is proper etiquette to buy a separate gift for EACH of the personalities if a loved one is, um, challenged in that way . . . just didn't want you to commit the holiday faux pas that we did last year! Speaking of gift-giving, one of Susie's clients gave her the Christmas gift of two SELF-HELP books: "Why You Act the Way You Do," and "God Has a Plan B for You!" Is someone trying to tell her something? You know, some gifts should just come with a big ol' label stuck right on 'em: Excellent for Re-Gifting! These helpful volumes will definitely be seeing some action in that arena.

Dear friends, if you have received this letter, then you are not one of those from whom we have received the treasured annual Christmas letter -- OR -- and this could be you -- you did send us a letter, but your kids just aren't winning enough MAJOR AWARDS. Your life is just a little too ordinary, and/or we think you're . . . you know . . . FUNNY.

Wishing you every happiness of the season, and a 2005 with AWARDS, REWARDS, etc.,

The Fairchild FamilyJif, Susie, LG*, and Biscuit the Unruly Beast

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blame Obama for Disaster in Copenhagen

"Copenhagen, for me, is a very clear deadline that I think we need to meet,
and I am afraid that if we don't then the process will begin to slip,
and like in the trade negotiations, one deadline after the other will not be met,
and we sort of become the little orchestra on the Titanic."

That, according to The Guardian's environment writer, George Monbiot, is how Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change, a year ago described the need for a breakthrough agreement at the Copenhagen climate change summit. That agreement, of course, didn't happen. Nothing close to an agreement of any substance was achieved.

As they stepped away from the wreckage of Copenhagen, world leaders tried to put a brave face on this disaster. Some such as Canada's EnviroFraud Jim Prentice were positively gushing at the abject failure which was, after all, exactly what the Harper government wanted. Again, from The Guardian:

Human beings can live in a wider range of conditions than almost any other species. But the climate of the past few thousand years has been amazingly kind to us. It has enabled us to spread into almost all regions of the world and to grow into the favourable ecological circumstances it has created. We enjoy the optimum conditions for supporting seven billion people.

A shift in global temperature reduces the range of places which can sustain human life. During the last ice age, humans were confined to low latitudes. The difference in the average global temperature between now and then was 4C. Global warming will have the opposite effect, driving people into higher latitudes, principally as water supplies diminish.

...As people are displaced from their homes by drought and rising sea levels, and as food production declines, the planet will be unable to support the current population. The collapse in human numbers is unlikely to be either smooth or painless: while the average global temperature will rise gradually, the events associated with it will come in fits and starts – in the form of sudden droughts and storm surges.

Monbiot claims that, despite the attempts to blame China for the Copenhagen fiasco, the real culprit was Barack Obama who sabotaged any meaningful deal out of fear of having to fight America's "bought and paid for " Congress:

...Just as George Bush did in the approach to the Iraq war, Obama went behind the backs of the UN and most of its member states and assembled a coalition of the willing to strike a deal that outraged the rest of the world. This was then presented to poorer nations without negotiation: either they signed it or they lost the adaptation funds required to help them survive the first few decades of climate breakdown.

...Why would he do this? You have only to see the relief in Democratic circles to get your answer. Pushing a strong climate programme through the Senate, many of whose members are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the energy industry, would have been the political battle of his life. Yet again, the absence of effective campaign finance reform in the US makes global progress almost impossible.

Cheney's Folly - Iraq's Black Gold Falls to Foreigners

It wasn't supposed to be this way. America was supposed to topple Saddam and, within 60-days, have a proxy Iraqi government in place and ready to start signing long-term oil leases with American petro-giants.

That was so 2003, this is the dawn of 2010 and those oil leases are finally signed, just not with American companies having the leg up Cheney had in mind. Pepe Escobar, writing for Asia Times Online details where Cheney's plan went sideways and predicts Maliki may soon be seen by America's far right as the new Saddam.

Klueless On Kandahar

When you hear Canada's political and military leadership wax eloquently on Afghanistan, it's like listening to kids telling Santa what they want for Christmas. They know what they want and when they want it and they just want it to come down the chimney.

Do you want to really know what's in play in Kabul and what the future of that region might just look like? If so, read this.

But, but, but... wasn't this supposed to be about a war against Islamists, you know, the Taliban? In your dreams. No, it's a geo-political rivalry among India and Pakistan and China that may just see the entire region reshaped, re-aligned. No matter how many fine young soldiers we feed into that gaping maw, we're not going to resolve any of that.

Ho, ho, ho and Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Canada's Copenhagen Clown Car

Harper EnviroFraud Jim Prentice is a scream. He'll decide how not to do his job and says everybody else should fall in line with his rank dereliction of duty.

Literally bursting with glee at the nonexistant Copenhagen Accord the EnviroScammer paused to take a swipe at provincial leaders who he claimed were "working against their own country" by dissing the feds at the climate summit.

I think when we are on the international stage, Canadians need to bear in mind that we are there as a country, speaking as a country.”

Excuse me? Say that again? You and Harper were there and that makes you Canada, speaking for Canadians? That's simply not true. You and your boss are deviants. The Canadian people have said time and again they want action on climate change. You and Harp deviate from what Canadians want, from their clearly stated view and that makes you deviants. Don't bitch at Jean Charest. He's not a deviant, you are. Just because you're trying your hardest to dodge your job, don't complain if Charest doesn't follow suit.

Good for Charest because, unlike you two deviants, he's standing up for Quebec and for Canada. Best of all, the Quebec premier is standing up to you. This is how he put it, "In Copenhagen, the federal government has the power to sign treaties, but it doesn't have the power to bind provincial governments to them."

Besides Jimbo, it's not like you've got a signed treaty. You didn't even come back from Copenhagen with anything you could sign. You came back with precisely what you were hoping to get - nothing.

EnviroFraud Prentice and the Non-Existant Copenhagen Accord

Harper EnviroMin Jimbo Prentice has got to lay off the pills. After he and Harper were sidelined into irrelevance at Copenhagen, Prentice returned to announce that he's pleased with the "Accord."

What Accord Jim? Where is this Accord? Who signed it? What are the short term (2020) and medium term (2050) emission cuts in this Accord? Why did China demand that Europe actually scale back the emission reductions they wanted to implement by 2050?

When you hear of a cheap huckster, a fixer and a shill like Jim Prentice beaming over a supposed climate change "accord" you can bank on the fact that there is no accord and Jimbo is just dandy with that.

A Fair & Equitable Approach to Carbon Reduction

Nations that are disingenuous about cutting greenhouse gas emissions are those that play with percentages and baselines. That, unfortunately, is the approach most in vogue today. What's wrong with it? Plenty.

Beside the fact shown at Copenhagen that the "percentage and baseline" approach, or PB, leads to endless squabbling, suffocation by negotiation, it also preserves the status quo on per capita emissions. In the industrialized West, our per capita emissions tend to run about twice to three times that of developing nations and upwards of ten times that of Third World states. In other words, we're hogging far more than our fair share of the atmospheric carrying capacity when taken on a strictly per capita basis. If we start talking about reductions that don't address that per capita disparity, then we're simply locking in our unfair share.

Germany and the G77 Third World nations want a strictly per capita approach, worldwide. Work out the planet's remaining carbon carrying capacity, annualize that, count all the people, and then award each nation an emissions budget calculated according to its population. That sounds fair, but is it? I don't think so, at least not entirely.

What's unfair about the strictly per capita approach is that it "rewards" countries that have become dangerously overpopulated - China and India for example with several countries in Africa hell bent on catching up. Overpopulation is its own form of environmental scourge that extends into realms beyond global warming. With our planet's population already beyond Earth's resources carrying capacity, we're rapidly exhausting our natural ability to feed and fuel overpopulated societies. This manifests itself in soil exhaustion (desertification), water and air pollution, freshwater depletion - any number of intractable problems. Rewarding overpopulation by per capita allocations is no answer to anything.

So, if PB doesn't work and PC isn't really workable either, how do we find an equitable balance? I think I have a solution, one that I've not yet raised. A modified per capita approach. Here's how it would work.

We know the carbon targets man has to reach. Let's take the total population of the world, X, and the total landmass of the world, Y, and reach an average, landmass per person, or Z. Divide your overall carbon budget by Z to reach a final number which would be the carbon budget per man/hectare. You then work out each nation's landmass and multiply that with the carbon budget per man/hectare to fix that nation's carbon budget.

What's fair about that? It doesn't reward overpopulation nor should it. We've all come to realize the environmental value of landmass preserved in its natural state, particularly forests. They're enormous carbon sinks and we desperately want to arrest deforestation. It seems to me that the nations with the greatest remaining forestlands are, if anything, underpopulated and that deserves recognition.

Take Canada, for example. We have a per capita carbon footprint nearly identical to America's but - and this is a huge "but" - we also have vast tracts of boreal forest and tundra, enormous carbon sinks. Our population density is well less than one-tenth that of America's. There is no equitable way to treat the two countries identically.

Canada is the second-largest nation in the world by landmass. China, which is smaller in territory, has one-thousand, three-hundred million people compared to our paltry thirty-six million. (Think of it this way. The have Thirteen Dollars, we have Thirty Six cents) Their per capita emissions may still be just one-third or ours but, by hectare, they're vastly higher than ours.

A simple landmass calculation wouldn't be fair but a global population divided by global landmass factor strikes a fair balance that roughly redresses disparities in both per capita emissions and population density. It also provides a handy yardstick that we're going to need to address looming problems such as how to allocate dwindling open ocean fish stocks.

What I'm saying is that China and India both have to depopulate and African nations heading in that same direction have to stop. As I've written several times, when I was born the earth's population had just reached an all-time record of two-billion. Today we're at nearly seven-billion. We're already well beyond our planet's carrying capacity and we have to learn to live within the finite limits that Earth provides. We have to grow - smaller, smaller and cleaner. At the end of the day, that's the bottom line. And we all know it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ignatieff, You Idiot! That's Not How You Respond to Harper on Climate Change

The ever feckless Michael Ignatieff has spoken, revealing yet again why he's not up to the job of leading the Liberal Party of Canada. Igs should have been prepared for the failure of Copenhagen and he should have been ready to come out charging against Harper.

Harper, quite predictably, slimed his way out of the Copenhagen climate change summit by blowing Big Oil with this line: “What will be most critical for Canada in terms of filling out the details of our regulatory framework will be the regulatory framework of the United States. If the Americans don't act, it will severely limit our ability to act. But if the Americans do act, it is essential that we act in concert with them.”

In case you haven't figured that out, what Harper said was code for, "I'm off the hook, I can scam this for years to come and that's exactly what I'm fixing to do." Harper can say that because he can get away with it. No one has the guts to stand up to him and call him a fraud.

So, after having been invited to shred Harper's blustering, what does the Liberal Party's Michael Ignatieff have to say? He responds with this: “We cannot allow Canadian environmental policy to be entirely dependent on American politics. We need an aggressive, made in Canada climate-change plan now. And we're willing to work with Mr. Harper on this if his government brings forward a serious plan that treats our provinces fairly and includes pollution reductions for all sectors.”

That's it? That's what we get for letting Iggy put Dion down? That's leadership? Does this guy not know how to go on the attack? Is he running scared of Harper? Shouldn't he be off somewhere writing a book or something?

Why doesn't he attack Harper when the scoundrel is vulnerable? Why let the guy off the hook with vague arguments over emission reductions that will never materialize while Harper has the key to 24 Sussex Drive anyway? Why not turn to this Tory jerk's abject refusal to recognize the change that's already happening and already enroute, his refusal to institute adaptation policies the far north and both coasts will need in the near future? Harper won't do that. He can't, because that would acknowledge the gravity of the threat and leave him having to explain why he's doing Sweet Fanny Adams about it.

If Iggy can't grasp how to kick Harper straight to the curb on this issue then he's worse than useless as leader of the Liberal Party. Don't give us bullshit about "working with Harper on a serious plan" when, unless you're brain dead, you have to realize Harper has no intention of doing anything remotely like that. Harper will eat Ignatieff's lunch if he goes that route. Look how he played the Liberal leader for a sucker on the Pinata Budget.

I'm sorry but Michael Ignatieff is but a meandering political disaster. You don't get moments like this all that often and, entirely true to course, he blew it. If the roles were reversed, Harper would never have passed up this opportunity.

For god's sake Mike, you'll never land a punch if you can't figure out how to throw one. Unless, of course, you're on Harper's side on climate change. Maybe that you chose this week to issue another ringing endorsement of the Athabasca Tar Sands I shouldn't bother positing the question.

Is The Copenhagen Glass 90% Empty or 10% Full?

With all due respect to the optimistic take at DeSmogBlog, I'm siding with The Guardian in viewing the supposed agreement reached in the dwindling hours of the Copenhagen summit a failure.

With 192 countries finally massed for two weeks of deliberations they needed to sink a basket, at least one, and they didn't.

Lumumba Di-Aping, chief negotiator for the G77 group of 130 developing countries, was scathing: "This deal will definitely result in massive devastation in Africa and small island states. It has the lowest level of ambition you can imagine. It's nothing short of climate change scepticism in action.

"It locks countries into a cycle of poverty for ever. Obama has eliminated any difference between him and Bush."

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: "The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport. Ed Miliband [UK climate change secretary] is among the very few that come out of this summit with any credit. It is now evident that beating global warming will require a radically different model of politics than the one on display here in Copenhagen."

Lydia Baker, Save the Children's policy adviser said: "By signing a sub-standard deal, world leaders have effectively signed a death warrant for many of the world's poorest children. Up to 250,000 children from poor communities could die before the next major meeting in Mexico at the end of next year."

There was indeed some progress but this summit needed to produce more than "some" progress. It very much needed to generate something concrete, something to keep the momentum going. That simply didn't happen.

The Most Useless Christmas Present of 2009

Here it is, ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS, the Card Game. Yeah, that's right. Rock, paper, scissors - the game kids have played since my Dad's youth and probably well before that. The difference between our game and this game? Ours was free. Ours involved trying to guess what the other player was likely to do. And ours usually involved a slap to the loser's hand or wrist.

Today's version comes with a box and everything. When I spotted this at the mall I first guessed that it must be for kids who don't have hands. It didn't take long to figure out you needed hands to hold cards. So, what's the deal? It looks like they've come up with a brilliant way to take all the fun out of the original version and soak parents for the privilege to boot.

What's the most useless, dumbest gift you've noticed this year? This should be good.

A Climate Deal at Copenhagen?

Word is out of a climate change agreement of sorts reached at Copenhagen by five countries, including China and the US. Details haven't been released but it is being reported that the emissions cuts are well short of what the United States and Europe have been proposing.

If there is a breakthrough it might be in China's reluctant agreement to a system of independent monitoring of each country's emissions reductions.

Given that a study released this week showed that even a binding deal that met the emissions cut targets prior to Copenhagen would still result in warming in excess of 3 degrees Celsius and that the 'agreement' being touted today suggests a weakening of those initial targets, the cuts envisioned likely won't be effective at avoiding runaway global warming. What seems to be unfolding is precisely the scenario James Hansen feared most from COP15 - a pact that doesn't go far enough but will at the same time thwart further effective emissions cuts.

A Climate Deal at Copenhagen?

Just What Canada Needs - A "Pro-Democracy Movement"

Lawrence Martin fired a shot across Harper's bow. Then Jim Travers did the same. Now it's the Ottawa Citizen's veteran pundit, Sue Riley, proclaiming that Canada needs our own "Pro-Democracy Movement."

One by one they're finally finding the courage to stand up and denounce Stephen Harper as a tyrant, a despot, a dictator who has corrupted the decency of Parliament and quite deliberately gored Canadian democracy in the process.

From the Stalinist way he reorganized the PMO, to the way he has treated the public service - civil and armed - as institutions he doesn't just administer but things he owns, tools to advance his interests, not Canada's - Harper has soiled parliamentary democracy. Aided to no end by an incompetent opposition, Harper has dragged our country dangerously to the far right - that place where unaccountability, deception, secrecy, duplicity and betrayal thrive. He has surrounded himself with a coterie of minions, suited and uniformed, who serve him as Boss. They're not as adept at it as their Boss which is why they so often say such stupid things and so clumsily trip over their transparent lies.

Sue's right, we do need a Pro-Democracy Movement because neither the NDP nor the Liberals are doing the job. We need new leadership, not a college professor but a shipyard worker, someone with the cojones to stand up to that schoolyard bully and clock him right between the eyes.

The Landmine Iraq Can't Defuse

There is one unresolved issue that is as potentially lethal to the future of Iraq today as it was long before Saddam was toppled. It's the fate of Kirkuk and its surrounding oil fields that account for about 25% of Iraq's known oil reserves.

Kirkuk was a Kurdish city before Saddam instituted a policy of cleansing it of Kurds and settling Arabs in their place. When Saddam fell there was a bit of reverse ethnic-engineering that saw Arabs vacate the city and Kurds returned.

The Kurds occupy the northern part of Iraq under what's known as the Kurdish Autonomous Region. Call it a form of "sovereignty association" if you like. They've always been adamant that Kirkuk was theirs and, after restoring the Arab/Kurd balance to their liking, have been calling for a referendum to settle the question. It's a referendum that kept being postponed to avoid tearing Iraq into pieces. That would look something like an Arab Iraq and a Kurdistan in the north but some feel the south would itself break along religious lines leaving a Shiite Arab south, a Sunni Arab central state and Kurdistan in the north.

The Kurds still want their referendum and they want those Kirkuk oil fields and they're getting impatient. Ever since Desert Storm the Kurds have been under the protection of the Americans. In the early years after Saddam was removed, the Kurdish north was America's only safe haven within Iraq. The Kurds have good reason to expect the Americans will side with them now over Kirkuk.

But, it's not that easy. It's never that simple. America made a bucketful of costly blunders when it occupied and administered Iraq. One was to take the Kurds for granted. Bremer assumed they would go along with whatever he wanted and they didn't. Instead they forced the new Iraqi constitution to incorporate their own Kurdish constitution. That was tantamount to screwing the fuze into the grenade.

The Kurdish constitution, drafted with the guidance of controversial American foreign service staffer Peter Galbraith, sets out the groundwork for the whole Kirkuk business and for Kurdish independence. With the advent of a post-Saddam Iraqi government the Kurds realized they had more to gain by remaining within Iraq provided the Kirkuk issue went their way. If they separate they face the prospect of a very hostile, very well armed Turkey on their border.

But, but, but - this is politics. The Americans have cooled to the Kurds and their dreams of independence and the last thing they want is anybody - Kurd or Arab - to pull the pin on Kirkuk and blow Iraq all to hell. The neighbourhood is just too dangerous for that with the Shia south drawn into Iran's orbit, the Sunni centre aligning with Syria and the Kurdish north at war with their Arab countrymen to the south as well as Turkey.

So intractable has the problem become that there's talk of a United Nations mandate to administer Kirkuk. There are equally vexing problems concerning how Iraq's oil wealth is to be apportioned and whether, as the Kurdish constitution insists, undeveloped oil fields within the Kurdish Autonomous Region (including Kirkuk) belong to the Kurds alone. Finally, there's the thorny problem of remilitarization of Iraq so that it can defend itself against its neighbours if need be. Again, the problem is how to arm the Iraqi Arabs without allowing them to become a threat to the northern Kurds.

For all the hoopla about the "Surge" and how Iraq has been pacified, none of these key issues has been resolved. Not one. And they're not going away. If anything they're worsening. One thing is clear. America has a lot to do before it can leave Iraq.


What kind of animal would deface this monument to man's barbarism and human suffering by stealing this sign? The "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign was stolen from the gate of the Auschwitz death camp sometime between 3:30 and 5:00 a.m. today. Museum staff are quite properly calling it a "desecration."
Polish authorities have offered a paltry 5,000 zloty reward (roughly $2000).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

That Sure Doesn't Look Like Yoko To Me

Apparently some church in NZ has sparked a wave of fury for putting this on a billboard. Yawn.

It's Not Just Harper & Company, It's the Media Too

Have you ever thought how the collapse of the Canadian mainstream media played an instrumental role in today's Afghan detainee torture scandal? The parliamentary press corps appears to have Harper and Hillier under a microscope at this moment but who are they to interpret what happened and what went wrong and who is to blame?

Colvin's 16-page brief on the mistreatment, including torture and unexplained disappearance, of Afghan detainees unleashed a Tsunami of controversy. We're all going tsk, tsk, this and tsk, tsk, that. We should be asking why is this so controversial now, as 2009 draws to an end? The answer to that question explains a great deal about how these events came to pass at all.

As many of you have read by now, The Globe's Lawrence Martin has just this day written a nice piece encapsulating how Stephen Harper has subverted Canadian democracy. It's a good column but there's precious little detail that's new to be found in it, few insights beyond the obvious. About the most remarkable thing about Martin's article is that he's the first one to draw these painful links in the four years Harper has been abusing power. Let's hope Martin's is not the last.

But this item is about Afghanistan and about the torture of detainees and the role Canada's media played in enabling that to happen. One of the fantasies that Harper's minions have been spinning is that they had no idea about this until they read about it in The Globe & Mail in 2007. What, really? What kind of preposterous bullshit is that?

Most of what we've read about the Afghan mission from Canadian papers has come in the form of jingoistic journo-snot from third-raters like Christie Blatchford and the Star's Rosie DiManno, two complete duds in a field littered with unexploded reportage. They went out and got embedded with the troops and they talked to Captain this and Sergeant that and they came back and preached their Gospel to the Gullible, angrily reproaching informed, intelligent perspective as a rank betrayal of the troops. They did it, again and again and again, which proves that their editors were all for it.

These people weren't journalists, they certainly weren't war correspondents. They were like concert reviewers treating Canada's Afghan mission as though it was some sort of "gig." It's hard to fault them for that, at least initially, because Canada's involvement in America's Af/Pak war began in a way that sort of resembled a rock concert. We showed up over there as the roadies, providing rear echelon security in Kabul. Then their guitar section split to play in Iraq and we got invited to put in a cameo appearance with the band. We signed on to play one set, in Kandahar, that was clocked to end in 2007. Then we agreed to stay for another set, to end in 2009. Finally we got ourselves into a quasi-open ended committment notionally supposed to end in 2011- wink, wink. With wilfully blind journos like Blatchford and DiManno, the media lost the significance of the transition in Canada's role in Afghanistan and that suited Harper's and Hillier's purposes perfectly.

Colvin's 16-page blockbuster is replete with corroborative sources to verify his claims. Most of those sources - the UN, the US, the NGO stuff - were readily accessible to any Canadian reporter who could be bothered to enquire. And there were almost none of those, Graeme Smith perhaps being one exception.

The Canadian media couldn't see the war for the battle, they couldn't see the forest for the trees. They never really grasped the nature of an insurgency. They never understood the distinction between a political and a military war. They never delved deep enough to realize that the war we were fighting in Afghanistan was a myriad of political, military and criminal battles all being played out simultaneously. Instead they presented us a GI Joe war that never really existed.

Remember Operation Medusa a few years back, Canada's glorious battle to destroy the Taliban in Panjwai? Our generals boasted that they had thousands of Taliban trapped, surrounded. Our cordon was so airtight there was no rush to close with the insurgents. Our top general bragged that the Taliban were trapped and were left to chose whether to surrender or die.

While that battle was underway, I corresponded with Jonathon Landay of McClatchey Newspapers, a guy who has been in Afghanistan since he ran those hills with the Mujads fighting the Soviets. I asked Landay what he thought of this ridiculous claim that we had these guys trapped. He responded noting that this region was laced with vineyards and orchards all of which featured deep irrigation ditches. Landay predicted that the Taliban would just wait until dark, grab their weapons and anything else of value, and simply walk through our lines, undetected, through those ditches. He said it was what they've always done. He was right.

When Canadian units did finally move in there was no fighting. The bad guys were gone. So, since they weren't there to be killed or captured, the narrative changed. We'd already killed them all. Oh, who knows? Maybe Allah Raptures his people up too.

The point I'm trying to make is that the Canadian media were out of their league in covering the Afghan war from the start and they still are. Worse, instead of playing catchup and taking the time to learn what was really going on and what that really meant, they sent hack reporters over to cover battles and not the war, reporters who understood as much about war as Roxanne Pulitzer knew about playing the trumpet. And so they missed the war and, through them, we missed it too. And so Colvin's revelations caught us by surprise. And so Harper and his minions, civilian and military, thought we were so damned ignorant all they had to do was deny and viciously attack this man's credibility.

Had the media done their job, little if anything in Colvin's report ought to have taken us by surprise. Then again, had the media done their job and covered the Af/Pak war properly, Harper and his gang would have known that this issue was potentially explosive. They ignored it because our media led them to believe they could get away with it and that was not an unreasonable assumption.

And what does this say of the opposition? Nothing flattering. They could easily have made good the media's failure. They could have brought this issue out in public, if not in 2006, in 2007 in any case. They didn't have to wait until Mr. Colvin appeared in 2009.

This isn't criticizing from hindsight. This information was out there in 2006. People were chronicling it, people were talking about it, people were analyzing it and what it all meant when put together. People were taking the time to inform themselves about the Dostums and Fahims, the Hekmatyars and Haqqanis, the Karzais and the Gul Agha Shirzais, all that scum - on our side and on theirs.

The whole business is just a goddamned travesty. There are no clean hands from this filth.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Druggies In Afghanstan are Our Guys, Not the Taliban

Asia Times Online has scrutinized the UN Drugs and Crime Office's latest report, "Addiction, Crime, and Insurgency: The Transnational Threat of Afghan Opium," to discover that it blatantly distorts just who is feeding off Afghanistan's opium trade. Hint, it's not the Taliban.

The Taliban does get opium money, about 4% of the total, around $125-million. That's a healthy piece of change but the UN officials found it's still only 10-15% of the insurgents' overall funding. 85% of their money comes from non-opium sources.

Afghan farmers pocket 21% of the opium haul but the remaining 75%, "is captured by government officials, the police, local and regional power brokers and traffickers - in short, many of the groups now supported (or tolerated) by the United States and NATO are important actors in the drug trade."

That ties in neatly with the recent story in Harper's about the Canadian military's buddy, the Afghan Border Police commandant in Spin Boldak, the same guy we know is one of the biggest drug traffickers in the Kandahar/Helmand/Pakistan border region.

Shouldn't we at least be getting a cut of the action? It seems to me that a lot of people are getting awfully rich due in no small part to our efforts at keeping the insurgency from blowing up into a business-disrupting civil war.

So, cutting out the farmers, that would make it 75% to our side, the good guys, and a paltry 4% to the Taliban, the bad guys. And who says Karzai & Company don't have a good thing going for them - thanks to us.

Obama's Silent Surge

The 30,000 additional troops Barack Obama has ordered to Afghanistan could be dwarfed by another surge of up to 56,000 more civilian "contractors."

America's contractors have been the hidden Afghan army for years just as they were/are in Iraq. When added in to the total of US forces, the Pentagon actually fielded a considerably larger force in Afghanistan than the Soviets had there at their peak. Now with a reinforcement upwards of 86,000 military/civilian personnel, the combined US contingent will eclipse the Soviet effort.

There was a remarkable story on CTV National News this evening. Afghan Generalissimo Stan McChrystal was in Ottawa where, according to the rarely-reliable, marginally-intelligible Conservative Television Network, he vowed to "defeat" the Taliban by this time next year. That's defeat as in D-E-F-E-A-T, as in "game over-we win"! Wait a second, I've got it. McChrystal is simply going to send them personnel carriers full of greenbacks and relabel them "contractors." Brilliant.

Meanwhile Lloyd himself barely stifled a yawn as he launched into the obligatory Afghan torture/Richard Colvin clip. In the highest Conservative Television Network standard it was craftfully edited to have Colvin appear first followed by a re-run of old video of Hillier denying claims Colvin made the first time. Cheese and grease, all in the same story.

Returning to McChrystal, he did mention that he'll defeat the Taliban within the next twelve months but there's a catch. He'll do it by next Christmas provided the Afghan government is purged of corruption by then and Pakistan relocates to some other shitty corner of the world.

Shit, oh dear.

China Says No Copenhagen Climate Accord

The news service Reuters is reporting that China has told UN climate change delegates that there'll be no deal coming out of the Copenhagen summit. Instead the Chinese have recommended the attending nations issue, "a short political declaration of some sort."

The collapse of COP15 has seemed inevitable since the developing nations and G77 countries turned angry and suspicious of the motives and agenda of the industrialized West. Failure at Copenhagen could leave in its wake a legacy of distrust that would make it much more difficult to get an effective, global agreement in the future.

Opponents of climate change action - the Denialists, the fossil fuel industry and their bought and paid for political helpers - won't pass up the opportunities to build on their perceived success in a Copenhagen failure.

The Ball Is In Your Court Harper, Even a Conservative Can See That.

Even loyal Conservatives who can claim any sense of self-respect and decency must be troubled at the manner in which they have been persistently and outrageously deceived by their prime minister and his political and military underlings on the Afghan detainee torture affair.

We heard what Richard Colvin said and then we heard just the opposite, outright denials and dismissals from a coterie of Con artists including Harper cabinet ministers and top generals. Then, today, Colvin releases a 16-page indictment laying out the blatant lies and coverups these blackguards invoked as their smokescreen. Their response? Nothing to see here, move on.

Safely retired ex-general Michel Gauthier says there's "no substantive new information" in Colvin's retort. That hardly sounds like a denial. Besides, says Gauthier, the accountable cabinet ministers should have been those who, in December, 2005 created the policy. Not the cabinet ministers and generals who, in 2006, 2007 and afterward knew or ought to have known what was happening and did nothing or, worse, even rallied to support one of the torturers.

If the extensive detail furnished by Mr. Colvin in this letter wasn't new information to Gauthier, he must have known it all along. He must've known it when he and his cronies dummied up before the Commons committee.

MacKay's greaseball secretary Laurie Hawn took the most despicable low road, throwing up allegations that the government's critics were accusing Canadian soldiers of war crimes. What manner of cowardly filth is that man?

The nice thing is that Colvin's rebuttal is long and packed with rich detail. Even a reporter of the calibre of today's Canadian media can see where it leads, where to look and how to quickly verify just who is telling the truth and, better yet, who is lying and why.

What's most telling is that Colvin has made such a substantive reply; he has furnished meaningful corroboration and probative sources for his claims. What do we get from the other side; from Harper, O'Connor, Hillier, Gauthier and MacKay? They're the guys with all the documents. They have all the advantages when it comes to proving what they say. Yet they still stand there like a bunch of thugish goons and say "we didn't know anything about it" so go away.

Even if you're a really gullible Conservative, it's obvious that Colvin has presented a case that Harper, O'Connor, MacKay, Hillier and Gauthier have to meet. But they're in too deep and they know it and now all that's left to them is to run for cover.

Just In Time for Christmas

Can't figure out what to get for your Dad, your Brother, your Son? Here it is, just in time for Christmas

Available at Tory Toys'R Us at a strip mall near you.

The Opposition's First Real Blunder

I was as angry as anyone when Harper, aided and abetted by the GG, prorogued parliament last year. But, I thought, well at least it presented the new Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, an invaluable opportunity to come up with a Liberal stimulus budget, a genuine alternative to place before the Canadian public when Parliament returned.

So what did the Leader (as so many of you chose to call him) make of this rare opportunity? Well he saw it as the perfect opportunity to finish his book about his mother's family. Just what Canada needed when we were facing a global economic meltdown that had the Harper regime totally off-balance and looking very wobbly.

When the schoolyard bell rang signalling the end of recess, the Leader came back empty-handed (except for the book of course). There being no passable alternative to Harper's utterly pathetic "throw a deck on the cottage" stimulus budget, the Leader had no choice but to support it, to make it his own too. And that was the birth of the "Pinata Budget".

Dismayed as I was with Harper, I was even more disappointed that the Liberal leader had blundered so badly in his neglect of the recession issue. Chantal Hebert makes the same point in today's TorStar:

Take the handling of the recession: It could be argued that it is hard to make enemies by doling out billions of public dollars. But producing an economic plan to which the Liberals could not come up with a comprehensive alternative really made a political difference this year.

Despite the recession, the economy never really emerged as a wedge issue this past year, even after the Liberals tired of supporting the government.

I don't raise this bit of recent history to flog Iggy again for screwing up a golden opportunity. I raise it because I don't want a repeat of Igsomnia on climate change. He can't blunder again. He can't let this one also slip through his fingers. Harper's like the schoolyard bully. You'll always be his bitch until you stand up and clock him straight between the eyes. If Iggy's prepared to just keep handing over the Liberals' lunch money, you need a new leader.

No Wonder Hillier Has Dummied Up on Torture

Safely retired former general Rick Hillier recently said he hasn't been following the Afghan torture scandal. Yes, sure, and the sun isn't going to rise in the morning. There might be another reason for the Big Cod's laryngitis on Afghan torture and just what top Canadians knew about it. It might have something to do with the fact that the guy they've tried so furiously to discredit has decided to fight back and he's willing to name names and offer up documents we've only seen blacked out.

In a 16-page letter intended to rebut his critics' claims, Richard Colvin - who used to be Canada's second top civilian staffer in Afghanistan - has laid it out, chapter and verse. Yes they knew, at the top echelons of DND and as far up as the PMO, and they did nothing about it. Worse yet, he contends, when Afghanistan-based bureaucrats sounded warnings about the oh-so bent governor of Kandahar province, DND pushed back to defend the animal. He was their guy. From TorStar:

The new allegation is contained in a two-year-old report by Richard Colvin, the whistleblower foreign service officer. Colvin's disgust that Canada would support a "known human-rights abuser" was palpable and formed the most incendiary paragraphs of the report. References to Khalid were entirely blacked out in the version of the report publicly released to the Military Police Complaints Commission.

But an uncensored version of the end-of-mission report was shown for the first time to The Canadian Press on a confidential basis.

"As far as I know, Canada has never suggested to (President Hamid) Karzai that Asadullah be replaced," says the memo, dated Oct. 24, 2007.

"In the one meeting where the subject was discussed, in July 2006, it was the president [Karzai] who raised the issue; Canada defended the governor, thereby ensuring his continued tenure."

The uncensored report sheds further light on Colvin's testimony last month before a special House of Commons committee, where he stated the governor was considered a "bad actor" on human rights.

It also makes clear the division between the Canadian military, which supported Khalid, and diplomats, who became increasingly vocal about allegations of corruption, drug-running and prisoner abuse.

...The warnings about Khalid – whose brazen decision to display the battered dead body of a revered Taliban leader to local Afghan media, before refusing to return it for a proper burial, triggered a massive bombing campaign in Kandahar city in the spring of 2007 – were heard loud and clear in Ottawa.

Concerns were serious enough to be raised at the highest levels of the federal government, foreign affairs and defence sources said.

A meeting was called in December 2006 in Ottawa to discuss the matter. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's national security adviser, Margaret Bloodworth, attended the session, sources have said.

...throughout 2007 the warnings kept getting louder.

A foreign affairs source said a memo sent by Colvin in the winter of 2007 was searing in its criticism and indicated the governor was corrupt, dangerous, self-serving and deeply unpopular with Afghans.

One Afghan government official apparently pleaded with Canadian diplomats and police officers for Khalid's removal during a meeting in February 2007, said the source, who has seen a document outlining the meeting. The official made a direct request to Canada to intervene with the president, the source said.

It's no wonder Harper's MPs are boycotting the Commons hearings into this business. They must know the guys who sit at their head table have a lot to hide and even more to lose unless these hearings are derailed. It's too bad Hillier had to go all the way to Afghanistan to deal with scumbags when there were so many just a short walk away from his office right in Ottawa.

One thing seems pretty clear. If Colvin's allegations are true, and a steadily increasing number of officials are speaking to to say they are, then our prime minister is a lying piece of dirt and so are a number of his key deputies.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What's It Going to Take To Make Iggy a Liberal Leader?

This man's political instincts are - abysmal. With the Copenhagen summit underway, Iggy managed to come out with another ringing endorsement of the Athabasca Tar Sands.

If there was ever a Liberal Party leader on the wrong side of an issue, this is it. Perhaps a Liberal Party leader who recklessly plunged Canada into the Iraq War would've been a bad - oh wait a minute.

The Conservative carbon plan leaked to the CBC reveals that whatever emissions reduction plan Harper comes up with, his Athabasca Tar Sands are in for big, possibly huge exemptions. Harper EnviroStooge Jim Prentice pretty much admitted that to a CBC reporter today.

So, here's the deal. The Filthy Energy Superpower plan is still on. The Tories want the Tar Sands expanded threefold by 2020. The CBC has crunched the numbers from Harper's backroom plan and has figured out that Canada probably won't achieve any emissions cuts at all if Harper pulls this off.

Ontario and Quebec smell a rat and so they should. Those exemptions are going to have to be made up by other provinces and that isn't going to be Manitoba or Prince Edward Island. If Ignatieff is looking for an issue on which he can actually stand up for Canada, this is it. The country needs just that, now and in a big way. It needs a real Liberal leader. This is Michael Ignatieff's big chance to show he's up to the job.

Look Alberta, It's Your Oil But It's Not Your Atmosphere!

Even before the cramped, shaking hand of Stephen Harper inks the next climate change agreement his EnviroStooge Jim Prentice has let the cat out of the bag. When Harper does get around to announcing this country's GHG emissions reductions targets, the Tar Sands are going to be let off the hook.

The CBC got its hands on a Tory cabinet policy paper or proposal that would largely exempt Athabasca from emissions cuts:

The Conservative government has not ruled out giving special breaks to oilsands companies when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, Environment Minister Jim Prentice acknowledged Tuesday.

...The draft proposal suggests that the oil and gas industry would have to cut 15 megatonnes of emissions, rather than the 48 megatonnes proposed in the Turning the Corner plan.
It also says projected growth in greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands in northern Alberta will be 165 per cent by 2020 and proposes to cut that growth — not emissions — by 10 per cent.

The proposal raises questions about how the Tories could cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 — a target they insist they can reach — while weakening the targets in the oil and gas sector.

The CBC story posted on their website brought the predictable "angry man" outrage from Albertans. How dare anyone meddle in Alberta's affairs? Why the province should separate. The rest of us are all a bunch of gullible dupes trying to hold Alberta down.

Here's the problem. The tar is Alberta's, no argument. But the greenhouse gas emission from the Tar Sands project are Alberta's too. The atmosphere into which Alberta currently emits those greenhouse gases isn't Alberta's. That atmosphere belongs to no one and to everyone - around the world. Alberta has no greater right to foul that atmosphere than anyone else.

Just as soon as Alberta comes up with a way to keep all those emissions safely in Alberta, great. All of those emissions. If they think they can pump all that CO2 into the ground, be my guest. If they're bound and determine to poison their groundwater, I suppose that's not my business.

This idea that Alberta has some unfettered right to foul the atmosphere is, well that's trailer trash thinking.

When Your Friends Bet Against You

When you're in a drawn out fight with no end in sight and even your friends start betting on the other side, it's time to consider your options.

That pretty much describes our predicament in Afghanistan. We're fighting a fight we cannot win. The rules are not in our favour. We win when, and only when, we destroy our opponent, the rebel/insurgents. They win by nothing more than not being utterly destroyed, by surviving, by simply running out the clock. That's the war we're fighting in a nutshell.

Eight years on we don't have much, if anything, to show for our efforts. Our enemy, on the ropes in the first round, has bounced back and has grown and spread its control over many parts of the countryside. Our enemy has become such a threat that we're mustering our forces and falling back in defence of the cities - "defence" being the operative word.

We demand things of the guy we placed into power that he has no intention of delivering. From time to time he angrily ridicules us even as he plays us for all he can get. The worst of the gang of warlords who once made themselves scarce are back, confident they're safe from even being tried for their own wanton cruelty and butchery. These guys aren't sticking their necks out to help us help them. They're laying low, watching from the sidelines, planning their own next moves.

But the guys who are really betting against us are our very best allies in the War on Terror, the government and military leadership of Pakistan. They're not even pretending any more. From The New York Times:

The Obama administration wants Pakistan to turn on Mr. Haqqani, a longtime asset of Pakistan’s spy agency who uses the tribal area of North Waziristan as his sanctuary. But, the officials said, Pakistan views the entreaties as contrary to its interests in Afghanistan beyond the timetable of President Obama’s surge, which envisions reducing American forces beginning in mid-2011.

...the Pakistani leadership has greeted the refrain with public silence and private anger, according to Pakistani officials and diplomats familiar with the conversations, illustrating the widening gulf between the allies over the Afghan war.

Former Pakistani military officers voice irritation with the Americans daily on television, part of a mounting grievance in Pakistan that the alliance with the United States is too costly to bear.

The core reason for Pakistan’s imperviousness is its scant faith in the Obama troop surge, and what Pakistan sees as the need to position itself for a regional realignment in Afghanistan once American forces begin to leave.

It considers Mr. Haqqani and his control of large areas of Afghan territory vital to Pakistan in the jostling for influence that will pit Pakistan, India, Russia, China and Iran against one another in the post-American Afghan arena, the Pakistani officials said.

Unless Washington can somehow get Islamabad to reverse course and do what it has never done, truly join the fight against the Taliban, our Af/Pak war is over. We lost. The only question remaining is how long it will take for us to realize it. But rest assured. We can go on bombing and shelling and machine gunning vast tracts of Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas for years yet. And we probably will.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Decencies We Owe Others

The Decencies We Owe Others. That, according to Guardian environment pundit, George Monbiot, is what the "angry men" of the denialist community rail against in their war to derail the global warming campaign:

[Copenhagen] is a meeting about chemicals: the greenhouse gases insulating the atmosphere. But it is also a battle between two world views. The angry men who seek to derail this agreement, and all such limits on their self-fulfilment, have understood this better than we have. A new movement, most visible in North America and Australia, but now apparent everywhere, demands to trample on the lives of others as if this were a human right. It will not be constrained by taxes, gun laws, regulations, health and safety, especially by environmental restraints. It knows that fossil fuels have granted the universal ape amplification beyond its Palaeolithic dreams. For a moment, a marvellous, frontier moment, they allowed us to live in blissful mindlessness.

The angry men know that this golden age has gone; but they cannot find the words for the constraints they hate. Clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged, they flail around, accusing those who would impede them of communism, fascism, religiosity, misanthropy, but knowing at heart that these restrictions are driven by something far more repulsive to the unrestrained man: the decencies we owe to other human beings.

Humanity is no longer split between conservatives and liberals, reactionaries and progressives, though both sides are informed by the older politics. Today the battle lines are drawn between expanders and restrainers; those who believe that there should be no impediments and those who believe that we must live within limits. The vicious battles we have seen so far between greens and climate change deniers, road safety campaigners and speed freaks, real grassroots groups and corporate-sponsored astroturfers are just the beginning. This war will become much uglier as people kick against the limits that decency demands.

I suspect that those who "get" the global warming crisis already have a sense of the undeclared war now quietly underway that Monbiot describes. I think we've felt its presence for some time even as most of us chose to dismiss the Denialists as simply uninformed, misguided on anthropogenic global warming.

The world has indeed reached a point where GHG emissions is but one of a number of vexing issues we're going to have to confront. For example, take fisheries and collapsing global fish stocks. More than three billion people rely on these fish stocks as their main or sole source of protein. Yet we're steadily fishing our way down the food chain and emptying large parts of our oceans. We bottom trawl, devastating the seabed on which so much marine life depends. We hunt species without regard to bycatch that is caught, killed and dumped over the side like so much garbage. And now we're acidifying the oceans so rapidly, especially the more absorbent northern oceans, that fish stocks essential to the marine food chain may soon be virtually eliminated. It's a chain. You break a link and it may be broken entirely.

The mentality the Denialists are showing, the war they're quietly and so effectively waging, will be refought on each of these secondary and collateral issues. Monbiot is right. This is a fight to define humanity and that's a fight we can't afford to lose. We have to uphold and respect the decencies we owe others.

The Tehran Smoking Gun?

"If these documents are genuine... ."

The Times of London has published what it claims to be a leaked Iranian memo suggesting that the country was indeed working on a nuclear weapon as recently as 2007. The document refers to uranium deuteride or UD3, a neutron source specifically used in atomic weapons.

Now the question becomes, "is this document genuine?" Is it something ginned up by a Western or Israeli intelligence agency? It's not as though the media, particularly the right wing variety, haven't been willing dupes for this sort of thing before.

Remember WMDs and Iraq? Hopelessly doctored nonsense but, run it in the media a half dozen times, and it becomes accepted truth.

Afghanistan - Two Years and Out, Everybody

Whenever I read of politicians or generals spouting off about Afghanistan I'm reminded of that old saying about how everyone's entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts. I think we're much too often fed opinions that are based on either outright lies or incomplete facts cherry picked and deployed in isolation.

For example consider Hamid Karzai. No one ever wants to address the total futility of "the mission" to Afghanistan in the context of the criminal enterprise that is the Karzai government. Let's face it. With the help of some of the most despicable, brutal warlords in a country full of despicable, brutal warlords, Karzai stole the last election. His very office is a proceed of crime and yet we're turning to Hamid, expecting him to purge corruption from the Afghan government which, of course, will necessitate purging the criminality and corruption rife in the Afghan economy at the same time. This guy is a glorified mayor of Kabul, governing only at the sufferance of thugs, murderers and rank criminals, and we expect him to get rid of them? C'mon.

Then there's this fantasy of a nascent Afghan National Army. This, most warlike nation has had eight years to field an army capable of defending the place. We've provided training, weaponry, money, the lot. After eight long years, the Afghan National Army ought at the very least to be able to train its own recruits. It ought to be able to field an effective, independent force to fight the Taliban.

Look at it this way. If you were footing the bill for your kid's university education and, after eight years, he/she told you they were making great progress toward that BA and wouldn't need your help at all in just another 15-years, what would you do?

Let's face facts. These guys are jerking our chain. They've grown dependent on our civilian and military support. We enable them to rake in fortunes from the drug trade while we hold the Taliban at bay for them. For an Afghan, this is the ultimate gravy train. And that, sadly, is how Hamid Karzai continues to cling to power.

Enough nonsense. These guys can build as a good an army as they want to build within two years, max. Watch how fast they do just that when we tell them we're gone in two years. The tribal elders won't be sending their village idiots down to the recruiting centres any longer. The locals won't be indifferent to the enormous desertion problem anymore either. Not when the only chain they'll have left to jerk is their own.

It's Time to Go To the Tapes

I'm really puzzled at what happened to Canadian sci-fi author Peter Watts at the Port Huron border crossing. The only facts that seem really clear are that he was stopped by US customs officers. They searched his car. He got out and apparently didn't immediately respond when ordered to get back in. He was arrested, charged with assaulting some customs officer and then released, sans car or coat, the following day on the Sarnia side.

Watts has given an account that seems a little vague on some pertinent details. Some information doesn't appear to be there which makes his account a bit puzzling. I can't say that he's not being honest but I can't say he's telling the entire story either. This was obviously a fast-moving, unexpected and even traumatic event so it's probably unfair to expect Watts to deliver a fully comprehensive narrative.

Why don't the Americans simply release the closed-circuit video they're bound to have of what actually happened at Watts' car. We know that they constantly video everything that goes on at their border crossings. Surely the video will fill in the detail that Watts hasn't yet provided. If he's right, that he was the one assaulted, that should be apparent.

Something Rotten in the State of Denmark?

Copenhagen is unravelling. The rich nations (aka the "major emitters") and the African nations are at loggerheads with the Africans accusing the West of trying to subvert Kyoto at their expense. From The Guardian:

The confrontation in Copenhagen began when the Africa group called a press conference in the Bella centre. Seven countries, led by Algeria and including South Africa and Nigeria, said that rich countries were trying to collapse the Kyoto protocol.

This followed moves by Japan, Australia and other rich countries at the weekend who argued that a new single treaty had to be presented to heads of state to be signed.

Developing countries fear that rich nations will ensure that a new treaty will not place strict and legally binding commitments on the developed countries to cut their emissions, unlike the Kyoto protocol.

Victor Fodeke, head of the Nigerian special climate change
unit, said any attempt to remove the Kyoto track would be disastrous for the talks. "Africa is on death row. It has been sidelined by some countries. If there is any attempt to remove one of the tracks of negotiations, then it's obvious the train will crash."

"This is of paramount importance. We cannot, we can never accept the killing of the Kyoto protocol. It will mean the killing of Africa," said another spokesman for the group.

And there's the nub of it, the narrative that could come back to haunt us, the idea that we in the richest nations are inflicting devastation upon the poorest and that we're utterly indifferent to their suffering. That's the sort of message that can radicalize people, particularly when it's true.

I'm Wrong, Michael Ignatieff's Right

It's all my fault. I didn't get what he was really talking about when he praised Athabasca's bitumen as a "key to national unity" in Canada. The Tar Sands, or rather the Tar Sands greenhouse gas emissions, or rather the rapidly expanding Tar Sands greenhouse gas emissions may just be the key to unlocking Canada's fragile national unity.

Provinces like Ontario and Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba are beginning to suspect the Wiley Harper, Canada's top coyote, will end up slipping them the carbon bill for Alberta and Saskatchewan's Tar Sands production. From the Toronto Star:

"I don't think it takes a genius to figure out that ... they want to continue to develop those (oil sands) and obviously if they are developed there may have to be larger greenhouse gas emission (cuts) elsewhere in the country in order to meet our targets," Ontario Environment Minister John Gerretsen told reporters Sunday.

It may be hard for governments in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba to remain chummy with oil-rich provinces if they feel they're taking a hit for a tarsands boom. "Whether or not it's going to be the next national unity issue, I'll leave that to the columnists," Gerretsen said.

Let's face it. When it comes to avoiding at all costs the greenhouse gas problem, the Wiley Harper is trying to pound 10-pounds of wet crap into a 5-pound paper bag. That's why he's proposing an emissions cut protocol that's weaker than our initial Kyoto obligations. Remember that line about how figures don't lie but liars figure. In this case Harper has merely changed the figures, going for a 2006 baseline instead of the 1990 baseline specified by Kyoto.

Harper may just be hand-delivering to the Liberals the greatest Christmas gift they could ever hope for, a wedge issue that could reverberate through every province the Libs need to reclaim. It would be dandy if the Libs had a leader who was on the right side of this argument but I suppose there's always time for that.

I know how to solve this, an idea even the Liberals can understand. Simply adopt the German approach to emissions regulation, what they call the "budget approach." Count the legs, divide by two, and then tell each province this is your carbon budget and this is your share and this is your share and so on. After all, doesn't that conform to the treasured Canadian value of universality? Of course it does.

If this issue gains traction, the next government won't be Conservative and it can tackle the "20 by 20 from 2006" chicanery. That never was more than a bookkeeping entry conjured up by a minority government without consultation with either the opposition parties or the provinces. There is absolutely no consensus on that notion and the Wiley Harper knows it.
It was disappointing to read Paul Martin's comments on the Tar Sands this weekend. He wants them expanded and he wants the emissions problem put on Washington's books because, after all, the US is getting that oil. Guess who would love that idea? China. India and China. They'd love it because it would let them offload their emissions onto the countries buying their stuff and, judging by the shelves at WalMart, that'd be us. I still like Paul Martin but this was one of the most boneheaded ideas I've ever heard come out of his head.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Crips and Bloods - Afghan Style

In some ways Afghanistan resembles a gang war. It's a bit like a Crips versus Bloods sort of thing only with the cops siding with one gang against the other. A battle between gangs wearing reversible clothes, one side red, the other side blue.

From everything I've managed to read, Afghanistan was and remains a warlord society. Safely-retired general Rick Hillier spoke warmly of these warlords even calling them some of the finest fighters he'd ever met. That's Rick for you, always looking on the bright side.

There are plenty of lesser warlords but the big ones you could count on two hands. Karzai is one. Others include Gul Agha Shirzai, Dostum, Fahim, Hekmatyar and Haqqani. Some are Crips, some are Bloods. The trick is figuring out which is which at any given time. There are a couple of traits that appear common to Afghan warlords - cruelty and treachery. They keep one eye on which way the wind is blowing and they have a habit of changing sides on whim. It is said there doesn't exist a major warlord in Afghanistan who hasn't, at one time or another, been allied with or at war with every other warlord.

The point I'm trying to make is that you're not going to find a lot of clean hands in Afghanistan. Finding an ally over there often is very much a "my enemy's enemy" sort of thing. You can't be too picky or you might wind up allied with nobody and, when you're babysitting a civil war, that's not a good thing.

There's a fascinating article in this month's Harper's magazine entitled The Master of Spin Boldak, undercover with Afghanistan's drug trafficking Border Police, by Canadian freelance writer Matthieu Aikins. It relates Aikins travels from Pakistan into Afghanistan and his meeting with Colonel Abdul Razik, the leader of a tribal militia and head of the border police in a region spanning Kandahar and Helmand provinces. Just 30-years old, Colonel Razik is the most powerful Afghan Border Police commander in the two provinces that produce 80% of Afghanistan's opium crop that, in turn, furnishes 90% of the world market for illicit opiads.

With the collapse of the central government in the early 1990s, Kandahar descended into anarchy. Local warlords divided up and pillaged the province. Even the city of Kandahar itself was split among several commanders, and throughout the province roads were strangled by hundreds of checkpoints at which theft, rape, and murder were common.

It was in reaction to such depredations by the warlords that the Taliban emerged, in 1994, from the districts around Kandahar city. Their first major victory was the capture of Spin Boldak on October 12, 1994, an event encouraged by the Pakistani trucking mafia, who saw the group as a means of clearing the roads north to Central Asia.

Canadian forces have been active in Spin Boldak since they arrived in Kandahar province. As Aiken points out, ISAF commanders have come to rely on Colonel Razik despite his involvement in smuggling and drug trafficking because he opposes the Taliban. They go along to get along but, it may be a short-sighted policy.

A grim irony of the rising pro-Taliban sentiments in the south is that the United States and its allies often returned to power the same forces responsible for the worst period in southerners’ memory—the post–Soviet “mujahideen nights.” In the case of Gul Agha Shirzai (now governor of Nangarhar but still a major force in Kandahar), the same man occupied the exact same position; in the case of Razik, nephew of the notorious Mansour, it is the restoration of an heir. By installing these characters and then protecting them by force of arms, the ISAF has come to be associated, in the minds of many Afghans, with their criminality and abuses. “We’re doing the Taliban’s work for them,” said one international official with years of experience in counternarcotics here....

“We were facing the worst-case scenario in 2006—a conventional takeover by Taliban forces,” said Brigadier General Jonathan Vance, the Canadian commander of ISAF forces in Kandahar Province. He was proud that his country’s small contingent had been able to hold the insurgency more or less at bay. But he admitted that the life of the average Kandahari had become less secure as the Taliban began to tighten their grip on Kandahar city. “I don’t have the capacity to make sure someone doesn’t rip their guts out at night.”

Military officers like General Vance find themselves in a peculiar fix when confronted with characters like Abdul Razik. These entrenched figures hold posts or wear uniforms whose legitimacy must be respected. But many of those who maintain their power through corruption and coercion were originally installed by the U.S. military—a fact not lost on Afghans, who tend to have longer memories than Westerners here on nine- or twelve-month rotations.

I asked General Vance if he was aware that Razik was directly involved in the drug trade. “Yes,” he said. “We are completely aware that there are a number of illicit activities being run out of that border station.” He had few illusions about Razik, with whom he interacts directly. “He runs effective security ops that are designed to make sure that the business end of his life runs smoothly, and there is a collateral effect on public order,” he told me. “Ideally, it should be the other way around. The tragedy of Kandahar is that it’s hard to find that paragon of civic virtue.”

The irony of our "mission" to Afghanistan is that we truly cannot defend the ordinary people and the people we can defend, the corrupt and criminal class, aren't worth it.

When he announced the mission to Kandahar, the Big Cod, Rick Hillier, puffed himself up and said our soldiers were going to "kill scumbags." He left out the part about only killing the scumbags on one side while backing the scumbags on the other.

"Prevaricating Peter" MacKay Under a Microscope

The Ottawa Citizen's veteran reporter Sue Riley has done a terrific job putting Peter MacKay, or at least his honesty and integrity, under a microscope. Trust me, it's not a pretty sight.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What the Germans Know About Arresting Climate Change

The Germans know that human nature, or at least that strain of it that evolves into the nature of state governments, is inherently ill-suited to implementing effective measures to confront global problems, especially when those 'problems' affect each state differently.

The Germans also know that there are invaluable resources such as our oceans and our atmosphere that can belong to no one and, hence, must be taken as belonging to everyone, living and yet to come, equally. No nation has the right to lay claim to our atmosphere or the life-supporting resources it holds - the oxygen, the wind, the humidity; all those things that sustain life as we know it.

Once you accept that the atmosphere is a common asset to which all mankind, now living and those to come, has an equal claim you have the basis for an agreement to effectively arrest anthropogenic global warming. The key lies in equality for that alone establishes the common interest in a challenge that affects each corner of the earth differently, in some cases very differently.

Without acting in recognition that the atmosphere is indeed a commons, you revert to the mentality of a passenger in an overloaded lifeboat focusing on what you have to do to ensure you're not the one pitched overboard all the while the boat continues to ship water.

We're all climate change sinners, except perhaps those who live pre-industrial lifestyles such as nomadic herders of the sub-Sahara. I'm not championing a return to the pre-industrial era even if that was possible (which, blessedly, it's not). To the contrary, I think the global warming challenge presents us with an example of mankind's essential interest in acting collectively to find ways to live in balance with our planet, our biosphere.

We're not going to ditch our post-industrial way of life but we are going to change our way of life or it will be changed for us. Smoking three packs a day is not good for you and if you want to continue to enjoy life, you're going to have to quit. Oh, sure, it may not get you but the odds are overwhelming that it will.

At the moment we're chain-smoking carbon as never before and the projections show that we're going to be up to four, maybe five packs a day in another decade or two. Essentially, we're poisoning the atmosphere and, through that, indirectly poisoning ourselves. Sane people would say, "this has to stop."

Quitting smoking isn't easy. Trust me, I know. Quitting our carbon addiction will be even tougher, by a wide margin, than giving up tobacco. We live in a civilization built on fossil fuels and, for centuries, have nurtured a growing dependency that's now reached toxicity. We have to reach out for alternative energy and, instead of fretting about transitional impacts on our economy, we should delight in simply having alternatives at all. Yes it will cause some disruption of our economy and, yes, we may have to rethink our 19th century economic models and prejudices, but there is life after carbon and it could be significantly better than the best we've had so far.

Big Oil and Big Coal, reprising the role of Big Tobacco, aren't going without a fight. As long as they can detect the scent of carbon addiction, they're going to fight and fight fiercely to feed it. They'll know when they're done when we tell them they're done and this Denialism campaign they're waging now is intended to forestall that day for as long as possible. They don't have science on their side but they have powerful weaponry such as wealth and greed and fear in their arsenal and decades of experience in how to wield them.

I think it's time all of us started listening to the Germans. We need to learn and understand what they know. The more you learn of their approach, the sooner you'll be convinced that it's really the only way.

Remember this. Switching to an alternative fuel economy and an alternative fuel society probably isn't going to get easier with time. It won't get safer with time. It won't get less disruptive with time. One thing we don't have in abundance is time.

Rest assured we will find a solution to the global warming problem because we really don't have a choice. The great unknown is what solutions will remain available to us when we're finally prepared to act or forced to act. The best solutions probably slipped through our fingers in the 60's when we didn't know any better. In the half century since then the carbon problem has grown enormously and our range of solutions is narrower and potentially costlier. Without courageous action the problem is going to worsen significantly and the solutions will become fewer, more costly and potentially even dangerous.